Book Notice: Hinduism and Environmental Ethics: Law, Literature, and Philosophy by Chris Framarin

Chris Framarin’s new book, Hinduism and Environmental Ethics: Law, Literature and Philosophy, was released by Routledge in Feb 2014.  The introduction and a review follows.

 

The Introduction of the Book:

The literature on Hinduism and the environment is vast, and growing quickly. Much of this literature is concerned, at least in part, with the question of whether certain Hindu texts and traditions prescribe the proper treatment of nature.

Scholars writing on this topic often disagree over whether a specific text or tradition prescribes the proper treatment of nature. They tend to agree almost unanimously, however, that in order for a text or tradition to prescribe the proper treatment of nature, it must attribute “direct moral standing” to animals and plants. To say that an animal or plant has direct moral standing is to say that human agents morally ought to consider the animal or plant for its own sake in deciding what to do.

In the first half of this book, I subject this literature to careful scrutiny. First, I argue that the standard arguments against the claim that certain Hindu texts and traditions attribute direct moral standing to animals and plants are unconvincing. While ahiṃsā (non-harm) toward animals and plants is often cited as a means to the attainment of mokṣa (liberation), it cannot be that animals and plants matter only as a means to the attainment of mokṣa. Although many Hindu texts and traditions describe the saṃsāric world as overwhelmingly painful and best abandoned, this cannot entail that living entities within the saṃsāric world are entirely unimportant. And even if some Hindu texts and traditions seem to describe the saṃsāric world as entirely illusory, this cannot entail that living entities within the saṃsāric world lack direct moral standing.

Second, I argue that the standard arguments for the claim that certain Hindu texts and traditions attribute direct moral standing to animals and plants are unconvincing as well. Some of these arguments claim that certain Hindu texts and traditions entail that all of nature is interconnected, and hence that all of nature – including animals and plants – has direct moral standing. Others cite relations between individual living entities, on the one hand, and brahman and/or the ātman, on the other. I argue that each of these arguments is unconvincing.

In the second half of the book, I advance an original argument for the claim that certain Hindu texts and traditions attribute direct moral standing to animals and plants. I consider important passages from three seminal Hindu texts – the Manusmṛti, the Mahābhārata, and the Yogasūtra (works of law, literature, and philosophy, respectively) – and argue that all three attribute direct moral standing to animals and plants (1) because they are sentient (that is, they are capable of having experiences of pleasure and pain), (2) because they are alive, and (3) because they possess a range of other relevant attributes and abilities. I also argue that this interpretation avoids the objections that undermine the more standard interpretations.

 

 

Review of the Book:

“This is an important new contribution from a scholar who has already established an impressive track record in the field. It takes a sophisticated environmental ethics approach to seminal Hindu texts, breaking new ground, especially on the question of the moral standing of non-human life. A must-read for anyone wishing to understand Hindu attitudes toward the natural world.”

– Lance Nelson, University of San Diego

About Stephen Harris

Stephen Harris currently teaches at the Institute for Philosophy and the International B.A. program at Leiden University. He has also taught philosophy at the University of New Mexico and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He specializes in Comparative and Indian philosophy, with a particular interest in Buddhist ethical texts.

5 thoughts on “Book Notice: Hinduism and Environmental Ethics: Law, Literature, and Philosophy by Chris Framarin

  1. Thank you, Stephen! I have been working a little bit on this topic (two papers are already available on Academia, I will add soon a third one and I thus look forward for reading the book. In a nutshell, my impression is that non-philosophical texts such as the Manavadharmasastra or the epics assume as obvious the sentience of animals and even plants, whereas philosophers tend to be rationalist and dismiss such ideas (possibly because they were just based on a popular form of anthropomorphism).

    On a lateral and minor point: English is neither my first nor my second language, but I would have thought that the last lines do not constitute a “review”. They rather seem like the eulogy one finds on the last page of a book’s cover.

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