And now, plant rights

Philosopher Michael Marder, with a platform in the New York Times, takes the next step, after summarizing some research as to how peas “communicate” their condition to other peas:

The research findings of the team at the Blaustein Institute form yet another building block in the growing fields of plant intelligence studies and neurobotany that, at the very least, ought to prompt us to rethink our relation to plants. Is it morally permissible to submit to total instrumentalization living beings that, though they do not have a central nervous system, are capable of basic learning and communication? Should their swift response to stress leave us coldly indifferent, while animal suffering provokes intense feelings of pity and compassion?

Evidently, empathy might not be the most appropriate ground for an ethics of vegetal life. But the novel indications concerning the responsiveness of plants, their interactions with the environment and with one another, are sufficient to undermine all simple, axiomatic solutions to eating in good conscience. When it comes to a plant, it turns out to be not only a what but also a who — an agent in its milieu, with its own intrinsic value or version of the good. Inquiring into justifications for consuming vegetal beings thus reconceived, we reach one of the final frontiers of dietary ethics.

Recent findings in cellular and molecular botany mean that eating preferences, too, must practically differentiate between vegetal what-ness and who-ness, while striving to keep the latter intact. The work of such differentiation is incredibly difficult because the subjectivity of plants is not centered in a single organ or function but is dispersed throughout their bodies, from the roots to the leaves and shoots. Nevertheless, this dispersion of vitality holds out a promise of its own: the plasticity of plants and their wondrous capacity for regeneration, their growth by increments, quantitative additions or reiterations of already existing parts does little to change the form of living beings that are neither parts nor wholes because they are not hierarchically structured organisms. The “renewable” aspects of perennial plants may be accepted by humans as a gift of vegetal being and integrated into their diets.

But it would be harder to justify the cultivation of peas and other annual plants, the entire being of which humans devote to externally imposed ends. In other words, ethically inspired decisions cannot postulate the abstract conceptual unity of all plants; they must, rather, take into account the singularity of each species.

via If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them? – NYTimes.com.

With no God, there is no Image of God.  And so nothing qualitatively to differentiate human beings from animals.  And once we have arrived at that point, there is really little to distinguish animal life from plant life.

Also at work is a squeamishness at the necessity of sacrifice, that all life depends on the sacrifice of other life to sustain it.  This is a physical fact as well as a spiritual fact.

And yet, I see some hope in this earnestly scrupulous moralizing.  Not a single member of the cat family or the dog family feels the slightest qualm about killing and eating meat.  And it would never occur to cattle and other plant-eaters to feel guilty about grazing on vegetation.  Professor Marder is demonstrating that, for better and for worse, human beings are different after all.

 

HT:  Wesley J. Smith

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    So, I will ask Mr. Marder, “If I eat the nuts that fall from my trees, be they pecan, walnut or hickory, am I committing a plant ‘abortion’?”

  • SKPeterson

    So, I will ask Mr. Marder, “If I eat the nuts that fall from my trees, be they pecan, walnut or hickory, am I committing a plant ‘abortion’?”

  • Dan Kempin

    Yet I suspect Mr. Marder would see no ethical qualms about ending a human in a “vegetative” state. I’d love to see the logic on that. seriously. Also, I’d love to know his position and reasoning on human abortion.

  • Dan Kempin

    Yet I suspect Mr. Marder would see no ethical qualms about ending a human in a “vegetative” state. I’d love to see the logic on that. seriously. Also, I’d love to know his position and reasoning on human abortion.

  • Spaulding

    What does Mr. Marder propose humans eat then?

  • Spaulding

    What does Mr. Marder propose humans eat then?

  • Michael B.

    “With no God, there is no Image of God. And so nothing qualitatively to differentiate human beings from animals”

    “And it would never occur to cattle and other plant-eaters to feel guilty about grazing on vegetation. Professor Marder is demonstrating that, for better and for worse, human beings are different after all.”

    –Isn’t that a contradiction? It’s rather easy to demonstrate that people are more valuable than plants without resorting to some scripture verse. As stated, one reason we see people as more valuable is because there is such a wide range in the difference in how a plant and human may experience life. For example, if it were discovered that trees were sentient, capable of experiencing physical and emotional pain, and perhaps able to enjoy something like a symphony, we would be forced to change our views on chopping down trees.

  • Michael B.

    “With no God, there is no Image of God. And so nothing qualitatively to differentiate human beings from animals”

    “And it would never occur to cattle and other plant-eaters to feel guilty about grazing on vegetation. Professor Marder is demonstrating that, for better and for worse, human beings are different after all.”

    –Isn’t that a contradiction? It’s rather easy to demonstrate that people are more valuable than plants without resorting to some scripture verse. As stated, one reason we see people as more valuable is because there is such a wide range in the difference in how a plant and human may experience life. For example, if it were discovered that trees were sentient, capable of experiencing physical and emotional pain, and perhaps able to enjoy something like a symphony, we would be forced to change our views on chopping down trees.

  • Joe

    This is why people make fun of philosophers.

  • Joe

    This is why people make fun of philosophers.

  • Joe
  • Joe
  • Tom Hering

    And now, plant rights

    “And now”? The plant rights movement has been around for years. The number of people who take the idea seriously, like Michael Marder, are very few and very far between. They’re representative of pretty much nothing going on in the real world. But that doesn’t stop conservative bloggers from taking the idea seriously, and jumping on it whenever someone like Marder is given a brief moment in the media.

    Well, that’s how you know it was a slow day for newspaper editors – and for conservative bloggers. The latter have, in the past, mostly used the opportunity to make an argument in favor of eating meat. Now it’s happened again, here, with a little bit of “sacrifice” and “spiritual” talk thrown in.

    It kind of gives “thinking biblically” a bad name.

  • Tom Hering

    And now, plant rights

    “And now”? The plant rights movement has been around for years. The number of people who take the idea seriously, like Michael Marder, are very few and very far between. They’re representative of pretty much nothing going on in the real world. But that doesn’t stop conservative bloggers from taking the idea seriously, and jumping on it whenever someone like Marder is given a brief moment in the media.

    Well, that’s how you know it was a slow day for newspaper editors – and for conservative bloggers. The latter have, in the past, mostly used the opportunity to make an argument in favor of eating meat. Now it’s happened again, here, with a little bit of “sacrifice” and “spiritual” talk thrown in.

    It kind of gives “thinking biblically” a bad name.

  • Patrick Kyle

    “But that doesn’t stop conservative bloggers from taking the idea seriously, and jumping on it whenever someone like Marder is given a brief moment in the media.”

    Good. These ideas should be opposed, ridiculed, and exposed for the ridiculousness they are at every opportunity, lest they take root in the popular culture.

  • Patrick Kyle

    “But that doesn’t stop conservative bloggers from taking the idea seriously, and jumping on it whenever someone like Marder is given a brief moment in the media.”

    Good. These ideas should be opposed, ridiculed, and exposed for the ridiculousness they are at every opportunity, lest they take root in the popular culture.

  • formerly just steve

    Tom, #7, in the NYT feels Marder’s ideas are newsworthy, why aren’t his rebuttals? I don’t see Dr. Veith broad-brushing anything or overstating the influence of Marder’s ideas but if they are published by credible sources–to the degree that they NYT is still credible–then I don’t see why he shouldn’t address them..

  • formerly just steve

    Tom, #7, in the NYT feels Marder’s ideas are newsworthy, why aren’t his rebuttals? I don’t see Dr. Veith broad-brushing anything or overstating the influence of Marder’s ideas but if they are published by credible sources–to the degree that they NYT is still credible–then I don’t see why he shouldn’t address them..

  • formerly just steve

    Spaulding, #3, we could all keep a Jain diet and only consume food the fruit of plants. They go so far as to not eat roots or tubers or anything that takes the life of the plant.

  • formerly just steve

    Spaulding, #3, we could all keep a Jain diet and only consume food the fruit of plants. They go so far as to not eat roots or tubers or anything that takes the life of the plant.

  • http://1minutedailyword.com Steve Martin

    fjs,

    That sounds sensible and compassionate to me.

    It has a peal.

  • http://1minutedailyword.com Steve Martin

    fjs,

    That sounds sensible and compassionate to me.

    It has a peal.

  • Patrick Kyle

    ‘Spaulding, #3, we could all keep a Jain diet and only consume food the fruit of plants.’

    Oddly enough, in Genesis the original human diet was fruit nuts and seeds.

  • Patrick Kyle

    ‘Spaulding, #3, we could all keep a Jain diet and only consume food the fruit of plants.’

    Oddly enough, in Genesis the original human diet was fruit nuts and seeds.

  • formerly just steve

    #11, Ha! I think I actually heard a rim shot after reading that one.

    #12, I’ve often thought about the theological implications there. Are we called to go back to the diet of Eden? We’re certainly not called back to the levitical diet, necessarily. Obviously, our bodies are different after the fall. Is the desire for animal-based protein part of that?

  • formerly just steve

    #11, Ha! I think I actually heard a rim shot after reading that one.

    #12, I’ve often thought about the theological implications there. Are we called to go back to the diet of Eden? We’re certainly not called back to the levitical diet, necessarily. Obviously, our bodies are different after the fall. Is the desire for animal-based protein part of that?

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Professor Veith,
    “And yet, I see some hope in this earnestly scrupulous moralizing. “
    Perhaps this scrupulous moralizing should not be the cause of hope.
    Empathy for a plant will not segue into empathy for something (ultimately someone) higher. Instead, the feeling of moral self regard that this moralizing brings will be a compensation for the withholding of love for others, such as unborn children. We’ll save the baby seals so we don’t have to think about the baby humans. Strain at a gnat, but swallow a camel.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Professor Veith,
    “And yet, I see some hope in this earnestly scrupulous moralizing. “
    Perhaps this scrupulous moralizing should not be the cause of hope.
    Empathy for a plant will not segue into empathy for something (ultimately someone) higher. Instead, the feeling of moral self regard that this moralizing brings will be a compensation for the withholding of love for others, such as unborn children. We’ll save the baby seals so we don’t have to think about the baby humans. Strain at a gnat, but swallow a camel.

  • SKPeterson

    fjs @ 13 – I have heard it argued that after the Fall, since the ground became cursed, plants were no longer able to provide the same level of nutrition as they had previously. As a result, animal proteins became a necessary part of the human diet. Over time, this decline in nutritive content coincided with the decreased lifespans evidenced in the Genesis accounts. Arguably they declined substantially that for over 2,500 years the average life expectancy decreased to about 40 to 45. Over the last 200 years or so, we have developed techniques, capital and horticultural skills that have allowed for vastly improving the quality and nutritive content of many plants; in fact, it is the cumulative affect of these nutritional improvements in plant cultivation and genetics that now allows many people to choose a vegetarian lifestyle.

  • SKPeterson

    fjs @ 13 – I have heard it argued that after the Fall, since the ground became cursed, plants were no longer able to provide the same level of nutrition as they had previously. As a result, animal proteins became a necessary part of the human diet. Over time, this decline in nutritive content coincided with the decreased lifespans evidenced in the Genesis accounts. Arguably they declined substantially that for over 2,500 years the average life expectancy decreased to about 40 to 45. Over the last 200 years or so, we have developed techniques, capital and horticultural skills that have allowed for vastly improving the quality and nutritive content of many plants; in fact, it is the cumulative affect of these nutritional improvements in plant cultivation and genetics that now allows many people to choose a vegetarian lifestyle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    > What does Mr. Marder propose humans eat then?

    Why, each other, of course. That would be good for the planet.

    Barring that, we could eat made from ….. well, read about it here .

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    > What does Mr. Marder propose humans eat then?

    Why, each other, of course. That would be good for the planet.

    Barring that, we could eat made from ….. well, read about it here .

  • DonS

    Don’t click Mike’s link — at least while you are eating.

    And yet, I see some hope in this earnestly scrupulous moralizing. Not a single member of the cat family or the dog family feels the slightest qualm about killing and eating meat. And it would never occur to cattle and other plant-eaters to feel guilty about grazing on vegetation. Professor Marder is demonstrating that, for better and for worse, human beings are different after all.

    Excellent point, Dr. Veith! Too bad its inarguable logic would be utterly lost on the likes of Dr. Marder.

  • DonS

    Don’t click Mike’s link — at least while you are eating.

    And yet, I see some hope in this earnestly scrupulous moralizing. Not a single member of the cat family or the dog family feels the slightest qualm about killing and eating meat. And it would never occur to cattle and other plant-eaters to feel guilty about grazing on vegetation. Professor Marder is demonstrating that, for better and for worse, human beings are different after all.

    Excellent point, Dr. Veith! Too bad its inarguable logic would be utterly lost on the likes of Dr. Marder.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Reading this makes me want prime rib and salad.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Reading this makes me want prime rib and salad.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    This guy is nuts “N V T” nuts…

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    This guy is nuts “N V T” nuts…

  • Jon

    In Psalm 1 the reader is told that meditating on the law will make him like a tree that grows by rivers of water. The gospel itself is likened to a seed that is sown. Tons of agricultural references in Scripture. Plant rights? I hope so.

  • Jon

    In Psalm 1 the reader is told that meditating on the law will make him like a tree that grows by rivers of water. The gospel itself is likened to a seed that is sown. Tons of agricultural references in Scripture. Plant rights? I hope so.

  • Jacob

    I think this attempt to elevate the value of plants, like its counterpart animal rights movement, has as its goal to devalue humans by comparison. It is no coincidence that the same people who fret over the rights of animals or now plants often become estatic talking about what ever-expanding categories of humans they would like to exterminate.

  • Jacob

    I think this attempt to elevate the value of plants, like its counterpart animal rights movement, has as its goal to devalue humans by comparison. It is no coincidence that the same people who fret over the rights of animals or now plants often become estatic talking about what ever-expanding categories of humans they would like to exterminate.

  • Jon

    “Corporations are people, too, my friends.” Is bankruptcy, then, the equivalent of abortion?

  • Jon

    “Corporations are people, too, my friends.” Is bankruptcy, then, the equivalent of abortion?

  • SKPeterson

    Reincarnation, Jon.

  • SKPeterson

    Reincarnation, Jon.

  • kerner

    Mike @16:

    Soooo…the Japanese are seriously suggesting that we all eat $#!+ and die? But when you come down to it, what they are really suggesting is that we eat the protein from a lot of dead bacteria. Which prompts the question: Is it ethical to kill and eat bacteria?

  • kerner

    Mike @16:

    Soooo…the Japanese are seriously suggesting that we all eat $#!+ and die? But when you come down to it, what they are really suggesting is that we eat the protein from a lot of dead bacteria. Which prompts the question: Is it ethical to kill and eat bacteria?


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