Ecocriticism, Ethics and the Vedic Thought
Author(s): T.J. Abraham
Source: Indian Literature, Vol. 51, No. 6 (242), Golden Jubilee Issue (November-December
2007), pp. 179-186
Published by: Sahitya Akademy
The essay claims to address some fundamental issues plaguing the discipline of ecocriticism and show why in its present form, it is destined to fail as a movement.
- The present deadlock in ecocritical thought springs as much from its inherent contradictions as from the absence of a firm ethical, philosophical underpinning.
- This study tries to highlight a few such paradoxes in ecocriticism, especially in its western variety, and calls for a perspectival shift in the form of a philosophical framework
- human beings cannot entirely do away with the ‘use’ of non-human sphere because cultural productions of all sorts necessitate the use, and even some exploitation, of nature.
- impossible to differentiate the ‘right’ use of nature from the ‘wrong’ one.
- the radical ecologists advocating a return to forests deride the activists of protection of environment describing them pejoratively as “environmentalists” who value nature solely for human survival and for ensuring the promotion
- The fourth paradox concerns ecology and textuality, both about the possibility of an extra linguistic reality and also about the reliability of language-mediated reality. Any signifying system including language cannot be neutral, but only pro speciesist.
- The western enlightenment project, by and large, reinforced the anthropocentric assumption of the centrality of human individual and upheld the view that the nonhuman world existed for human welfare. As a corollary, nature came to be viewed as not only thoroughly knowable but also to be mastered and exploited by man.
- Chaos Theory demolishes the totalizing truth claims of contemporary science, as it cautions us about the mysterious forces (known as strange attractors, butterfly effect, etc.) in control of natural systems, due to which predictions about nature cannot be made with certainty.
- Complexity Theory talks about self-organizing systems in a world teeming with complex systems. The theorists of this school claim that systems, both human and nonhuman, are self-organizing, and that self-organization is a spontaneous process occurring at certain critical periods of time, especially at what they describe as the ‘edge of chaos’.
- Ecocriticism, hence, engages the question of justice and argues for the rights of the nonhuman sphere
- Contemporary western ethical thought, with its deep-seated humanist bias, is not conducive to the acceptance of ecocritical philosophy which insists on a comprehensive ethics appropriate for a more than human world.
- The God equals man equals nonhuman equation, a view that has taken the centre stage down the centuries in the mainstream Indian thought.
- An ethical framework genuinely anti-humanist at its core singularizes the dominant Indian tradition which accorded equal status to the human and non-human spheres.
- Such an egalitarian view was instrumental in engendering a philosophy of immanent monism (advaita). Indeed, the rise of the advaita philosophy may be traced to the realization that human beings live in a more than human world, characterised by mutual interdependence and more importantly, that any alienation of the two spheres could spell doom for the earth.
- In the Taittiriya Brahmana, we are told that “the same divine milk that circulates through creatures here on earth lights the suns—all the suns of the galaxy. It condenses also into the forms of the clouds. It pours down as rain and feeds the earth, the vegetation and the animals. The individual with the awareness of this secret cannot be avaricious for any portion of the abundant food that may come to him. He will share it willingly with his companions. He will not wish to break the circuit by hoarding the substance to himself…. His food avails him nothing: when he eats, eats his own death” (2.8.8).
- The aphoristic words from Aruni to his son “That thou art” (Tat tvam asi) sum up the entire vedic conception of reality including the nonhuman sphere. Tat tvam asi enjoins one to be aware of the identity of one’s core essence with the hidden substance of all and everything, and not to be alienated from the nonhuman world.
Essay: The Postcolonial Animal
Author: Philip Armstrong
- Postcolonialism has not shown interest in the fate of nonhuman animals. This could be because of the fear f trivializing the issues of human beings.
- The similarity between colonial slave trade and modern treatment of animals was shown by Spiegel. Yet he acknowledges that humans find comparison to animals as slur and derogatory.
- The native Americans named themselves after the animals they admired. This provides a theme for animal studies which believes that the idea of absolute difference between humans and animals is a result of the colonial legacies of modernity. However, it has two limitations- 1. not all animals are honorable, 2. not all colonized cultures did the same.
- So the other option would be to find other affinities between colonization and animal studies- common enemy which is the notions of supremacy based on rational self and ego.
- Another affinity between colonization and animal studies is “agency” or the ability to affect the environment and history which, according to Armstrong, is integral to both postcolonization and animal studies. But, Berger’s idea of “disappearance”of animal and Baudrillard’s idea of the “speechlessness” of animal, agree with Gayathri Spivak who argues “the subalterns cannot speak.” However, other critics attack this as overestimating the colonizer and underestimating the non western cultures.
- According to Armstrong, the most promising collaboration between postcolonialism and animal studies is the production of local histories of the roles that animals and their representation have played in colonial and postcolonial transactions.
Article: Laboratory animals and the art of empathy
Author: David Thomas
Journal of Medical Ethics, (May, 2005), pp. 197-202
In his paper, Laboratory animals and the art of empathy, David Thomas presents his case against animal experimentation. According to Thomas, the obvious comparator with animal experiments is non-consensual experiments on people and if the latter is considered unethical, so should be the former. He proposes that consistency is the hallmark of coherent ethical philosophy and at the same time admits that nothing can be proved or established in ethics, with the result that what we are left to operate with are people’s feelings i.e. it is not possible to demonstrate something as morally wrong and it can only be hoped that most people feel strongly against it.
Thomas makes three claims in his paper:
1. that we should empathise with all creatures who can feel pain and suffer,
2. that we should be consistent in condemning things based upon a similar degree of suffering involved and so treat like cases alike, and
3. that we should take consent seriously, and, where the possibility of consent is absent, take seriously the notion of the best interests of the creature involved.
Thomas concludes his paper with “we should look at things from the perspective of the victim, human or animal, not that of the would be exploiter. By this yardstick, animal experiments are as immoral as non-consensual experiments on people. In each case, the degree of immorality is in direct proportion to the degree of suffering caused—experiments causing severe suffering are more immoral than those causing only mild, transient suffering. Crucially, however, an experiment causing severe suffering to an animal is as immoral as one causing severe suffering to a person.”
Initial 3 pages of the essay:
Peter Singer, the author of Animal Liberation, reviewed The Case for Animal Studies by another writer Tom Regan after reading which Regan made clear that he preferred the label “animal rights movement” over “animal liberation movement”. “Animal Liberation or Animal Rights?” is a reply by Singer to Regan’s response.
Singer proposes for a minimal characteristic which would be possessed by both human and non-human animals to decide the rights of animals. Because, according to him, if rationality, autonomy, self-consciousness, the ability to enter into contracts or to reciprocate are placed as bases for rights, then infants and humans with congenital disorders/brain damaged humans would be left out. Also, if being a homo sapiens is the eligible criteria to access rights then that would be speciesism which, again according to him, is a form of favouritism and discrimination as unjustifiable as racism. That is where he realizes the need to have a more minimal characteristic inclusive of both humans and nonhumans.
While other philosophers try to elevate the moral status of animals by attributing rights, Singer tries to do so by arguing that animals have interests.
JSTOR article: “Animal Liberation or Animal Rights?” by Peter Singer
Source: The Monist, Vol.70, No.1, Animal Rights (January, 1987), pp.3-14
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27903010
Accessed: 9-6-2016, 10.09 UTC