Plant Sophia, Wisdom of our Vegetal Other

Is there wisdom in the trees/plants? What can we learn from them? If we accept evolution, we are descendants of the trees. We have benefited a lot from the trees. They have been our food. We have built our cities and villages out of them. They have given us fire and the entire pyro revolution. We wrote our philosophies on them. Besides, the coal and fossil fuel cooked in the pressure cooker of the earth, have been almost depleted by us. The ecocrisis that is facing us compels us to move away from anthropocentric philosophies and embrace philosophies from a post-humanity point of view. We can trace philosophers like Michel Serres and Michael Marder working within the field of post-humanities to produce de-anthropocentric thinking. Mander strives to present a philosophy of plants/ the wisdom of plants. If philosophy is the love of wisdom, we can come to love the wisdom of plants.

We do have to overcome human arrogance and take up a humble approach to open ourselves to learn from the plants/trees. The bias against the trees is very deep in philosophy in the West. It takes us to Socrates in Phaedus who wants to return to the city, the heart of knowledge as he thinks that there is nothing that one can learn from the trees in the wild. Similar bias particularly against plants can be found in St. Thomas Aquinas as well as several Western thinkers. Thus, the question is not just what is philosophy but where philosophy can be done. From the time of Socrates philosophy was confined within the city walls. There was no place for philosophy in the countryside. Philosophy had to serve the common good of humanity. This common good did not include the good of animals and plants. There was no higher calling to philosophy other than the one that calls it to serve humanity. But today with our stance towards post-humanities, we are challenged to be more inclusive.

There is a pedagogy of the non-human. We can certainly learn from them. Just as Paulo Freire taught us the pedagogy of the oppressed, threatened by climate change, we have the challenge to learn the pedagogy of the extinct. Marden says that thinking is not just a human privilege. Plants do not have brains yet it doesn’t mean that they are not thinking. We who have converted the earth into a dump have to learn from the plants and with the plant we may be able to save our dying planet Earth. Marder teaches that plant thinking is a non-cognitive, non-ideational, non-imaginistic mode of thinking that is proper to them. Marder admits the subjectivity of plants which of course is drastically different from humans. He offers vegetal existentiality, referring to the time, freedom and wisdom of pants.

Right from the time of Aristotle, it has been admitted in the West that plants have a vegetal soul but philosophy degraded it and did not consider that it could think. But Marder finds ethics in the being of a plant. To him to be a plant is to grow endlessly towards the outward other. Plants generously throw seeds to the wind and fruits to the ground. Thus so-called the ‘lowest’ manifestation of life is characterised by growth, emergence, excess gift, otherness, and thrownness. This manifests that plant life is a condition of (im)possibility of rational, privatising autonomous human subjectivity that takes upon itself to rule over vegetative life. Hence, we need to sensitise ourselves to the vegetal difference and cannot totalise it with our digestive thinking. Learning from Jacques Derrida we have to pay heed to the vegetal difference and the plant proto-writing. Beginning with thrownness, plant life is ec-static always exhibiting an intentionality oriented towards the other. Hence, we do not just have to learn altruistic ethics from plants but also learn to be democratic from what Jean-Luc Nancy presents as vegetal democracy. Without learning from the plants, we may not be able to reverse the clock on climate change. Let’s learn from our vegetal other.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao