The attitude we think it appropriate to take toward living things depends on how we conceive of them and of our relationship to them. What moral significance the natural world has for us depends on the way we look at the whole system of nature's production and our role in it. With regard to the attitude of respect for nature, the belief-system that renders it intelligible and on which it depends for its justifiability is the biocentric outlook. This outlook underlies and supports the attitude of respect for nature in the following sense. Unless we grasp what it means to accept that belief-system and so view the natural order from its perspective, we cannot see the point of taking the attitude of respect. But once we do grasp it and shape our world outlook in accordance with it, we immediately understand how and why a person would adopt that attitude as the only appropriate one to have toward nature. Thus the biocentric outlook provides the explanatory and justificatory background that makes sense of and gives point to a person's taking the attitude.

The beliefs that form the core of the biocentric outlook are four in number:

  • The belief that humans are members of the Earth's Community of Life in the same sense and on the
  • same terms in which other living things are members of that Community.
  • The belief that the human species, along with all other species, are integral elements in a system of interdependence such that the survival of each living thing, as well as its chances of faring well or poorly, is determined not only by the physical conditions of its environment but also by its relations to other living things.
  • The belief that all organisms are teleological centers of life in the sense that each is a unique individual pursuing its own good in its own way.
  • The belief that humans are not inherently superior to other living things.

To accept all four of these beliefs is to have a coherent outlook on the natural world and the place of humans in it. It is to take a certain perspective on human life and to conceive of the relation between human and other forms of life in a certain way. Given this world view, the attitude of respect is then seen to be the only suitable, fitting, or appropriate moral attitude to take toward the natural world and its living inhabitants.

If we now ask, "Why should moral agents accept the four beliefs that make up the biocentric outlook?" the answer lies in showing that, to the extent that moral agents are rational, factually informed, and have developed a high level of reality-awareness, they will find those beliefs acceptable. The acceptability of the beliefs is linked with the rationality, factual enlightenment, and reality- awareness of moral agents in such a way that moral agents who have those properties accept the beliefs because they are rational, informed, and aware of reality.