Providing grounds for agricultural ethics: the wider philosophical significance of plant life integrity - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2012

Providing grounds for agricultural ethics: the wider philosophical significance of plant life integrity

Sylvie Pouteau


Growing and breeding plants is pivotal to agriculture including also animal keeping. To understand what agricultural ethics implies, the significance of plant life ought to be given new attention. So far, little literature has been devoted to plant ethics and granting a moral standing to plants remains a difficult endeavour at this stage. One difficulty may be that, due to the unification of biology as a scientific discipline based on the theory of evolution, plants are granted the same theoretical standing as animals. Yet, for common sense plants and animals belong to different fields of perception and experience, a difference that used to be captured by the notion of kingdom. To make sense of common sense, a framework inspired by pragmatism and aesthetics is used to assess on novel grounds the specificity of plants. By considering morphogenetic forces embodied in biophysical forms and organic performances, it is shown that plants exhibit completely original features that make them incommensurable with animals. Because of their unique ontology, plants appear to be « non-topos », i.e. non-centred, unlimited, indeterminate, unsplit (having neither inside nor outside) entities. They are, along with algae, the only living beings able to directly convert sun energy into chemical energy and store it within organic matter. This matter does not represent food but their very body gradually coming to existence. Hence, although this may sound quite thought provoking, one has to realise that plant physical integrity actually encompasses soil, environment, living beings, and the cosmos. Here, the notion of integrity proves especially interesting because it captures both descriptive and normative contents. Because of their – literally – outstanding nature, plants require a completely new ethical approach. It is proposed that this is embedded to some degree in organic agriculture and agroecology. Indeed, the emergence of organic agriculture about a century ago was prompted by the advent of chemical fertilizers that caused disruption of crop life integrity at soil level. This emergence was not only an implicit call to respect plant life integrity but also a first step towards a comprehensive philosophy of agriculture, a philosophy that is clearly centred on the fertilisation of the world by plants. The recent development of farm seed and participatory plant breeding networks might represent a second step in the mental revolution that brings the plant, besides land and soil, to the forefront of agricultural concerns.
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hal-03994283 , version 1 (17-02-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-03994283 , version 1


Sylvie Pouteau. Providing grounds for agricultural ethics: the wider philosophical significance of plant life integrity. EurSafe 2012 « Climate Change and Sustainable Development: Ethical Perspectives on Land Use and Food Production »,, Universität Tübingen; EuroSafe - European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics, May 2012, Tübingen, Germany. pp.154-159. ⟨hal-03994283⟩
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