This past Sunday, Michael Marder, the Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country and author of a forthcoming Columbia University Press book, published an op-ed in the New York Times examining ethical questions that might arise from new research into plant “thinking.” In this article, titled “If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them?“, Marder asked readers to consider whether it is “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 [plants’] swift response to stress leave us coldly indifferent, while animal suffering provokes intense feelings of pity and compassion?”
Many readers made it clear, both in the Times and in other forums, that they believed that Marder was attacking or marginalizing the moral reasoning behind vegetarianism, veganism, and various animal rights movements. In an upcoming article for the New York Times, Marder responds to these critics, claiming that it was not his intent to in any way minimize animal suffering in discussing new research about plants. We have a brief excerpt from this article, in which Marder clarifies his stance on dietary ethics.
Dietary ethics attuned to vegetal life does not imply that we should start eating more animal flesh, or, for those who are neither vegans nor vegetarians, continue consuming it in good conscience. Plant stress certainly does not reach the same degree and does not express itself the same way as animal suffering—a fact that must be reflected in our practical ethics. Nevertheless, the commendable desire to ameliorate the condition of animals, currently treated as though they were meat-generating machines, does not justify strategic argumentation in favor of the indiscriminate consumption of plants. Ultimately, the same logic submits to total instrumentalization the bodies of plants, animals, and humans by setting them over and against an abstract and rational mind. And this means that the struggles for the emancipation of all instrumentalized living beings should be fought on a common front.
For the full article, keep an eye on the New York Times’ philosophy op-ed section, The Stone.