The Philosopher's Plant

The Philosopher's Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Philosopher's Plant
    Book Description:

    Despite their conceptual allergy to vegetal life, philosophers have used germination, growth, blossoming, fruition, reproduction, and decay as illustrations of abstract concepts; mentioned plants in passing as the natural backdrops for dialogues, letters, and other compositions; spun elaborate allegories out of flowers, trees, and even grass; and recommended appropriate medicinal, dietary, and aesthetic approaches to select species of plants.

    In this book, Michael Marder illuminates the vegetal centerpieces and hidden kernels that have powered theoretical discourse for centuries. Choosing twelve botanical specimens that correspond to twelve significant philosophers, he recasts the development of philosophy through the evolution of human and plant relations. A philosophical history for the postmetaphysical age, The Philosopher's Plant reclaims the organic heritage of human thought. With the help of vegetal images, examples, and metaphors, the book clears a path through philosophy's tangled roots and dense undergrowth, opening up the discipline to all readers.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53813-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Botany & Plant Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VIII-X)
    (pp. XI-XI)
    (pp. XIII-XX)

    Few among the intellectual giants of the West professed a greater love for plants than Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Through his immersion in a meticulous study of botany, which surpassed the limited scope of an empirical science and became for him an instance ofl’art divin, the philosopher hoped to get back to our natural origins, which were obstructed by the perversions of civilization. Alexandra Cook fittingly grouped Rousseau’s botanical reflections and practices under the heading of “the salutary science,” a therapy for curing the modern soul by purging it of destructive passions and putting it back in touch with the simplicity,...

  5. Part I. Ancient Plant-Souls
      (pp. 3-19)

      Plato was notoriously averse to the arts of rhetoric. In florid discourses and techniques of persuasion he saw the trademarks of his sworn enemies, the sophistic sleights of hand that dispensed with the real work of thinking at the heart of true philosophizing. No other negative attitude of his rivaled this aversion, except a glaring distaste for myths. Churning out dogmatic answers to humanity’s quest for origins, the received wisdom of mythological narratives interfered with the philosopher’s relentless questioning of reality and of himself. Myth beckoned with the exact opposite of the Socratic profession of not-knowing, which, if we are...

      (pp. 21-37)

      Nicknamed “the Reader” by Plato himself and known as Ille Philosophus, or The Philosopher, in the Middle Ages, Aristotle was responsible for singlehandedly systematizing philosophy and gifting it with a unique technical vocabulary. Words with humble everyday meanings received a new lease on life when, at the hands of the Master, they were transfigured into abstract concepts. Nearly two and a half millennia after Aristotle, most of these have withstood the test of time and remain the indispensable tools of our trade. Philosophers of every historical epoch will keep on dreaming of a dispassionate and purely logical discourse of truth....

      (pp. 39-56)

      Plotinus did not just philosophize; he led a philosophical life. If we are to trust his most illustrious student, Porphyry, his existence was scrupulously self-effacing. Plotinus did not celebrate his own birthday but offered sacrifices on the birthdays of the long-dead Socrates and Plato. He did not wish his portrait to be painted, as he reckoned the body to be a worthless image of the soul, and its artistically produced likeness an image of an image. He also “seemed to be ashamed of being in the body” (Porphyry,On the Life of Plotinus, 1, 2), praising instead the virtues of...

  6. Part II. Medieval Plant-Instruments
      (pp. 59-77)

      After the publication of hisConfessions, Augustine was unable to rid himself of a nagging suspicion. What if the success of the book was attributable to something other than the moral-pedagogic purpose he had in mind? It quickly became obvious that readers were attracted to the text out of perverse curiosity provoked in them by Augustine’s narrations of his sexual tribulations. They were excited to learn about the carnal temptations that had continually thwarted his conversion. In short, the book of repentance was received in some circles as an erotic bestseller of the fourth century AD.

      Nonetheless, the first comprehensive...

      (pp. 79-95)

      A Persian wunderkind born in the tenth century AD, Avicenna (the Latinized version of the name ibn Sīnā) knew a thing or two about plants. In addition to his enviable expertise in mathematics and physics, philosophy and astronomy, geology and Islamic theology, Avicenna was a practicing physician and the author of a five-volumeQanun,The Canon of Medicine.

      For centuries after its composition,The Canoncontinued to be revered as the gold standard of the medical profession in Europe and outside its confines. This medieval state-of-the-art manual dealt with plants as the components of a human diet and, numbering in...

      (pp. 97-112)

      Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon (abbreviated as Rambam and known in the Western world under the name Maimonides) performed for Judaism the same invaluable service as Aristotle rendered to ancient Greek philosophy. The classical philosopher presented a unified worldview, one both building on and disputing the theories of his predecessors; the rabbi from Cordoba systematized disparate religious laws into a colossal fourteen-tomeCodetitledMishneh Torah, orRepetition of the Torah. For this reason, the disciples of Maimonides nicknamed himha-nesher ha-gadol’, “the great eagle,” as a tribute to the panoramic vision of the Law he bequeathed to future generations.


  7. Part III. Modern Plant-Images
      (pp. 115-131)

      The year: 1685. The place: the gardens of Herrenhausen, the Electoral Palace of Princess Sophie in Hanover. A frantic search is under way, led by the distinguished courtier Carl August von Alvensleben. No, the ladies and gentlemen of the Hanover court were not looking for a lost earring of Princess Sophie. The object of their quest was much more prosaic than that; they were trying to find two leaves that were exactly alike. Why this sudden obsession with the plants growing in an undeniably magnificent Baroque garden, the most emblematic of its kind in Europe? The answer thrusts us into...

    • 8 KANT’S TULIP
      (pp. 133-151)

      Just two marginal references, en passant and without any apparent significance. That is what Kant’s tulip boils down to in hisCritique of Judgment.The first mention is nothing more than a footnote, where the tulip is cited as an example of a beautiful flower, “beautiful, because we meet with a certain finality in its perception, which, in our estimate of it, is not referred to any end whatever.”¹ The second time a tulip germinates on the pages of the same book, it is charged with the task of substantiating the difference between the logical judgment “All tulips are beautiful,”...

      (pp. 153-170)

      During his extensive travels throughout Europe, Hegel wrote letters to his wife, Marie, recounting what had happened in his voyages. On a pleasant afternoon of September 24, 1822, he found himself in the West Prussian town of Koblenz. We can imagine the great dialectician exactly the way he describes himself at the opening of the letter he composed on that day: sitting by the window, contemplating a splendid view of the Rhine, and “eating grapes—and what grapes! the sweetest and the tastiest in the world.”¹ When time comes to bring the letter to a close, the grapes suddenly reappear...

  8. Part IV. Postmodern Plant-Subjects
      (pp. 173-191)

      So much has been said and written about the piquant details of Heidegger’s life that any future mentions of his shameful “Nazi period” or the affair with his gifted student Hannah Arendt are only likely to distract from the content of his philosophy. The best strategy to adopt is to accept the advice Heidegger himself gave in a lecture on Aristotle. A perfect factual summary of a thinker’s biography, he opined, would be: “He was born, he worked, and he died.”¹ In this bare-bones statement, the first and the third verbs do not in the least distinguish a philosopher from...

      (pp. 193-211)

      Scene 1.Seventeen-year-old Jackie is seated on a bench in Algiers’s Laferrière Square immersed in the “ecstatic bedazzlement” of reading Jean-Paul Sartre’sNausea. At times, he would tear his gaze from the book, raising his “eyes toward the roots, the bushes of flowers or the luxuriant plants, as if to verify the too-much of existence, but also with intense movements of ‘ literary’ identification: how to write like that and, above all, not write like that?”¹ [Press thepausebutton . . .]

      This scene is full of mirrors. On the one hand, the excess of human existence is reflected...

      (pp. 213-230)

      Despite the opinion, prevalent today both in academic and nonacademic quarters, that philosophy is a thing of the past, a thing to be found exclusively in the textbooks of intellectual history, the love of wisdom is flourishing like never before. Having thrown off the straightjackets of metaphysical reasoning, living thought turns toward corporeity stamped by finitude and sexuate difference, to the world around us, to the rhythms of the earth, and to a wealth of non-Western philosophical traditions.

      The work of Luce Irigaray is open to and rooted in all these dimensions of experience, which it has been able to...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 231-244)
    (pp. 245-254)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 255-265)