Beyond “Second Animals”: Making Sense of Plant Ethics [Book Review]

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 27 (1):1-25 (2014)
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Concern for what we do to plants is pivotal for the field of environmental ethics but has scarcely been voiced. This paper examines how plant ethics first emerged from the development of plant science and yet also hit theoretical barriers in that domain. It elaborates on a case study prompted by a legal article on “the dignity of creatures” in the Swiss Constitution. Interestingly, the issue of plant dignity was interpreted as a personification or rather an “animalization of plants.” This sense of irony makes sense when one realizes that on scientific grounds the plant is a “second animal,” i.e., it differs from the animal in degree of life or some ethically-relevant criterion but not in nature. From the point of view of ethics however, plants should be defended for what they are by nature and not by comparison to external references: the ethical standing of plants cannot be indexed to animals. It is thus reckoned that to circumvent this odd fetishism, the plant ethics can only be adequately addressed by changing the theory of plant science. Common sense tells us this: plants and animals belong to radically different fields of perception and experience, a difference that is commonly captured by the notion of kingdom. In this paper we remind the ethical conversation that plants are actually incommensurable with animals because they are unsplit beings (having neither inside nor outside), i.e., they live as “non-topos” in an undivided, unlimited, non-centered state of being. It is concluded that the unique ontology of plants can only be addressed through a major change from object-thinking to process-thinking and a move from ego-centric to “peri-ego” ethics



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References found in this work

A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia.Gilles Deleuze - 1987 - London: Athlone Press. Edited by Félix Guattari.
We have never been modern.Bruno Latour - 1993 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Animal Liberation.Peter Singer (ed.) - 1977 - Avon Books.
On the origin of species.Charles Darwin - 2008 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Gillian Beer.
Knowledge of Life.Georges Canguilhem - 2022 - Fordham University Press.

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