Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life

Gianni Vattimo
Santiago Zabala
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The margins of philosophy are populated by non-human, non-animal living beings, including plants. While contemporary philosophers tend to refrain from raising ontological and ethical concerns with vegetal life, Michael Marder puts this life at the forefront of the current deconstruction of metaphysics. He identifies the existential features of plant behavior and the vegetal heritage of human thought so as to affirm the potential of vegetation to resist the logic of totalization and to exceed the narrow confines of instrumentality. Reconstructing the life of plants "after metaphysics," Marder focuses on their unique temporality, freedom, and material knowledge or wisdom. In his formulation, "plant-thinking" is the non-cognitive, non-ideational, and non-imagistic mode of thinking proper to plants, as much as the process of bringing human thought itself back to its roots and rendering it plantlike.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53325-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Botany & Plant Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    On August 29, 2009, the democratically elected president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, was declared the “World Hero of Mother Earth” by the General Assembly of the United Nations in recognition of his political initiatives against the destruction of the environment caused by the global hegemonic economic system. According to the president of the Assembly, Rev. Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, the Bolivian politician has become “the maximum exponent and paradigm of love for Mother Earth.”¹ However, Morales is not the only South American leader to promote the environment; together with other socialist politicians, such as Castro and Chávez, he has been consistently...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Introduction: To Encounter the Plants . . .
    (pp. 1-14)

    The recent explosion of philosophical interest in the “question of the animal”² has contributed at the same time to the growing field of environmental ethics (with approaches ranging from Tom Regan’s defense of animal rights to Peter Singer’s utilitarian argument for animal liberation) and to the de-centering of the metaphysical image of the human, who, as we now realize, stands in a constitutive relation to its non-human others.

    Despite strong tendencies toward the silencing of ontological preoccupations in certain ethical considerations of animality, it would be a mistake to segregate the two sets of contributions into distinct philosophical subfields. Ontological...

    • 1. The Soul of the Plant or, The Meanings of Vegetal Life
      (pp. 17-53)

      Modern readers are likely to greet positive references to “the soul of plants” with suspicion. This is not only because it seems absurd to locate the seat of the soul (and,mutatis mutandis, existential possibilities) in any being other than human, but also because we have grown deeply mistrustful of the heavy metaphysical and theological baggage weighing down this paleonym. Eighteenth-century French philosopher Julien La Mettrie, famous for the bookL’ homme machine(Man a Machine), has encapsulated his objections to his contemporaries’ revisiting of the outmoded theories of vegetal soul in a lesser-known treatiseL’ homme plante(Man a...

    • 2. The Body of the Plant or, The Destruction of the Metaphysical Paradigm
      (pp. 54-90)

      What does metaphysics have to do with plants? What can this group of heterogeneous beings, as different from one another as a stalk of wheat and an oak tree, tell us about being “as such and as a whole,” let alone about resisting the core metaphysical values of presence and identity that the totality of being entails? A pessimistic response to these questions is that metaphysical violence seeking to eliminate differences—for instance, between a raspberry bush and moss, or a mayflower and a palm tree—results in a reduction of the bewildering diversity of vegetation to the conceptual unity...

    • 3. The Time of Plants
      (pp. 93-117)

      The assertion that contemporary philosophy ought to take plants seriously and probe their ontological particularity does not call for a tightening of the conceptual-appropriative grasp, which vegetal being has thus far successfully evaded. The demand it poses before post-metaphysical thought is, as I mentioned in the introduction, to expose itself to the possibility, the chance, and the risk of undergoing a drastic transformation—to the point of turning unrecognizable—as a consequence of the encounter with vegetal life. A philosophy touched by the existence of plants will become livelier and more robust in the wake of such contact, but more...

    • 4. The Freedom of Plants
      (pp. 118-150)

      Across a monolithic metaphysical tradition—subtending the thinking of the free will as much as the political ideal heralded by the French Revolution, the Kantian and the Hegelian equation of freedom with the capacity for self-determination, Isaiah Berlin’s thematization of “negative” and “positive” liberties, and most recently, the existential-ontological “freedom unto death,” to mention but a few vivid examples—silent consensus reigns: the possibility of freedom is foreclosed to the plant. What can we glean about freedom from a being presumably devoid of selfhood, whose roots tether it to the earth, making it into a veritable symbol of stupor and...

    • 5. The Wisdom of Plants
      (pp. 151-178)

      The reflections on vegetal intelligence gathered in this chapter ought to be taken as a footnote to Nietzsche’s provocative suggestion that, on the quest for the “principles of a new evaluation” (the title of book III ofThe Will to Power), “one should start with the ‘sagacity’ of plants.”² The revaluation, from the ground up, of all values after the de-centering of the human and in the aftermath of the ensuing nihilistic malaise requires a thorough demolition of beliefs about the nature of “knowledge” and “truth” held dear even by the sworn enemies of the dogmatic slumber of reason: Descartes,...

  8. Epilogue: The Ethical Offshoots of Plant-Thinking
    (pp. 179-188)

    In 2008 the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Nonhuman Biotechnology released a report titled “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants.” In this document, perhaps for the first time in human history, a government-appointed body issued recommendations for the ethical treatment of plants, or, as the subtitle of the report indicates, for the “moral consideration of plants for their own sake.” The Swiss Committee reached an unprecedented agreement: that vegetal life not only deserves to be treated with the kind of dignity extended to all other living beings but that it also possesses an absolute moral value, irreducible...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 189-206)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 207-216)
  11. Index
    (pp. 217-224)