The book is, as frequently the case when Framarin writes, very clearly argued. In each chapter, the Introduction anticipates the gist of the argument and the Conclusions summarise it again. Each step is fully argued for by taking into account all possible scenarios. Thus, as with his previous book, Desire and Motivation in Indian Philosophy (2009), and as readers of the Indian Philosophy Blog have seen in his lecture here, the book starts with long discussions of the competing views and only at the end reaches the view which is the one Framarin endorses. For his own argumentation, Framarin appeals to intuitions, in the way analytic philosophers do. Examples of the intuitions he uses are the intuition that in case of a car accident we should save the person involved, although this could lead to harming a plant. Slightly less controversial (in my opinion) is the intuition that ceteris paribus we should prefer humans over animals and animals over plants, but I will come back to that later.
Christopher G. Framarin. Hinduism and Environmental Ethics: Law, literature, and philosophy. 192 pp. London and New York: Routledge. 2014. 140 USD. Hardcover
[Book Review Editor’s Note: This book has previously been reviewed on this blog by Stephen Harris. See Harris’s review here.]
A further asset of the book is that it is an extensive bibliographical survey of Anglophone literature related to the topic of environmental ethics in Hinduism. I wrote “Anglophone” because most articles and books cited are either originally written in English or are quoted from their English translation, but an important exception are Framarin’s important references to Madeleine Biardeau’s interpretation of the episode of the burning of the Khāṇḍava forest in the Mahābhārata.
Framarin analyses the literature with upmost attention, the kind of attention other scholars (probably: me included) only reserve to primary texts and extracts out of the scattered or systematic remarks of the various scholars three competing interpretations of why flora and fauna should have moral stand in “Hinduism”. Framarin labels the first interpretation “Instrumentalist interpretation” and explains that according to it we should avoid harming flora and fauna because non-violence leads to merit and merit leads to good things, whereas violence leads to demerit, which leads to bad things (thus, non-violence is instrumental to something else). The second interpretation is the “Interconnectedness interpretation” according to which we should avoid harming flora and fauna because, due to karman and rebirth we are all part of the same continuum and sooner or later the harmed animal will in turn harm us. The third interpretation, called “Sameness Interpretation” holds that the whole world, including flora and fauna is either an emanation of brahman or nothing but brahman erroneously conceived as something else. Thus, we should not harm it, because the brahman has moral standing.
Framarin shows how all interpretations have flaws (actually he is so convincing that the flaws seem obvious). Framarin discusses the issue with much more detail, but starting with the last theory, the main problem appears to consist in the fact that if the world is (as with the Advaita Vedānta-flavored version of the Sameness interpretation) just illusion and only the brahman exists, then there is nothing bad we can do at all when we affect the illusory world, whereas if the world is an emanation of brahman (as with the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta-flavored version of the same interpretation), then the theory is just wrong, since hairs also emanate from human beings, and yet do not derive from this derivation the fact that they have also moral standing. The Interconnectedness interpretation is wrong, among other things, since it stands on premisses not found in the texts (which do not mention interconnectedness as a value) and since it leads to the counter-intuitive conclusion that all living beings have equal moral standing. Last, the Instrumental interpretation does not work, since this leads to the counter-intuitive conclusion that if ahiṃsā led by itself to salvation although flora and fauna had no moral standing, then this would lead either to circularity (ahiṃsā leads to mokṣa because it is meritorious but, given that fauna and flora have no moral standing, it can only be meritorious because it leads to mokṣa) or to arbitrariness (ahiṃsā leads to mokṣa by chance), which is counter-intuitive.
By contrast, Framarin maintains that the texts he examines (Mahābhārata, Mānavadharmaśāstra, and Yogasūtra, henceforth MBh, MDhŚā and YS respectively) uphold the moral standing of flora and fauna on the basis of the fact that they say that ahiṃsā leads to merit and merit leads to pleasure. Now, given that this pleasure is not instrumental to liberation (in fact, it might even be counterproductive, as shown by the fact that in heavens where there is too much pleasure no one can reach liberation), it must have an instrinsic value. If it has an intrinsic value, then it makes sense that causing pleasure to one is at least a prima facie reason for performing a certain action. The reverse applies to pain and its intrinsic disvalue. Thus, entities which can feel pleasure and pain have moral standing (with “moral standing” being described as that which should orient our actions).
So far, so good, or even very good, and the book (which contains way more than I could summarise here) recommends itself as a clear and analytic study of the issue both for analytic philosophers and for Sanskritists.
Given that the book solved all it directly raised, in the following, I will need to focus on some questions the book implicitly raised, hoping to initiate a discussion with Framarin.
1. Is it really the case that the case in which “a human agent must choose between destroying an animal and allowing a plant to live, or destroying an animal and allowing a human being to live” is not a “genuine moral dilemma”? I agree that we would all save the human being trapped in the car, but would we necessarily save a tree over an insect? Or a rare tree over a common rat? Or over a starfish which is reproducing too fast and devouring coral reefs? And, more importantly, is the fact that we would save the human being trapped in the car even if this meant killing thousands of rare plants and rare animals a moral choice or just a speciesist choice, just like the choice of one who would save her own sibling even if this meant letting thousands of other people die?
2. Framarin’s argument from the intrinsic value of pleasure to the moral standing of flora and fauna seems to me to neglect an aspect of the question, namely the fact that the texts speaking of pleasure and pain as the results of merit and demerit could be just trying to engage people of lower intellect, who would not understand that the only things which really counts is mokṣa. Thus, they could claim that merit leads to pleasure because claiming that merit leads to mokṣa would not be enough to motivate people to undertake a certain meritorious action. I think we can still reasonably argument (as Peter Singer does, and as Śaṅkara and Arindam Chakarabarti do, see p. 86 and p. 121 of Framarin’s book respectively) that pain is in itself bad and that we need to avoid it for us and for any other being. But I am not sure that the intrinsic value of pain follows directly from merit according to the texts (MBh, MDhŚā and YS) that Framarin quotes.
3. One of the reasons in favour of his final interpretation that Framarin quotes is the fact that it “contribute[s] to an explanation of the common Hindu dietary recommendations [=vegetarianism] that the other accounts have trouble explaining” (p. 165). However, vegetarianism could also be justified on the basis of the fact that plants are deemed not to be sentient at all, a position which was common in philosophical texts (see Schmithausen 1991, unfortunately not present in the bibliography of Framarin, and see also my own studies thereon), although common sense might have rather run against it, as attested by the formula “from Brahmā to grass”, to refer to all living beings. I imagine that Framarin could easily reply that he is not concerned with Indian philosophical texts, but only with MBh, MDhŚā and YS, which is completely legitimate, but leads me to the following point:
4. The only aspect of the book I am not completely satisfied with is its dealing with generic categories such as “plants”, “animals” and “Hinduism”, although (see again this article of mine and more importantly Findly 2009) Indian authors distinguished between the status of grass and that of trees, that of cattle and that of wild animals and although different Indian schools had different attitudes towards these issues. But, again, ad impossibilia nemo tenetur and no one can expect an author to take everything into account!
Reviewed by Elisa Freschi, Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia, Vienna