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May 9th, 2012 at 10:28 am

Michael Marder — Is Plant Liberation on the Menu?

Positively understood, the project of plant liberation would allow plants to be what they are and to realize their potentialities, often in the context of cross-kingdoms co-evolution.
–Michael Marder

Michael MarderYesterday, the New York Times published a second editorial by Professor Michael Marder on the ethical problems raised by new plant science: “Is Plant Liberation on the Menu?“. Marder is the Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country in northern Spain, and is the author of the forthcoming CUP book Plant Thinking: Toward a Philosophy of Vegetative Life, in which he addresses many of the same issues he raises in his article.

In this new article, Marder addresses the questions, concerns, and criticisms raised in the comments section on his first article concerning the ethical issues raised by plant thinking, “If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them?.” First of all, he explains in greater detail the research he discussed in his original article and makes clear what he means by “plant thinking”:

Contemporary research into plant intelligence, spearheaded by Anthony Trewavas (University of Edinburgh), Stefano Mancuso (University of Florence) and Richard Karban (University of California, Davis), among others, complicates this tripartite division. For example, studies have found evidence of “deliberate behavior” in plants: foraging (note that the botanists themselves use this word usually associated with animal behavior) for nutrients, the roots can drastically change their branching pattern when they detect a resource-rich patch of soil, or they can grow so as to avoid contact with roots of other members of the same species, in order to prevent detrimental competition. Of course, plants are not capable of deliberation or of making decisions in the human sense of the term. But they do engage with their environments and with one another in ways that are incredibly sophisticated, plastic and responsive — in a word, intelligent, though not perhaps conscious.


Marder also takes time to show that his article was in no way meant to undermine the animal liberation movement. We featured an excerpt of this part of his article on the CUP blog on May 3rd.

Finally, Marder lays out a program for a potential moral project of plant liberation:

Positively understood, the project of plant liberation would allow plants to be what they are and to realize their potentialities, often in the context of cross-kingdoms co-evolution. Inasmuch as humans and animals share the vegetal soul with plants, the potentialities of the latter are also ours, though often it is virtually impossible to recognize them as such. Since the nutritive capacity is part and parcel of vegetal life, questions regarding dietary ethics are crucial to this project. We cannot subsist on inorganic matter alone, as plants do, but we can critically question our dietary choices without prescribing a perfectly violence-free and universally applicable eating pattern. A mindful dietary pattern would combine distinct parts of the Aristotelian soul: the nutritive capacity, which forms the vegetal heritage in us, and the reasoning capacity, which Aristotle deemed to be properly human. And, when it does, plant liberation will finally be on our moral menus.

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