From: International Society for Environmental Ethics [mailto:ISEE-L@LISTSERV.TAMU.EDU] On Behalf Of Holmes Rolston
Sent: Monday, August 25, 2014 3:00 PM
Subject: [ISEE-L] Intelligent Plants - Defending their Values

Intelligent Plants - Defending their Values

Three recent studies of the intelligence in plants are:

Matthew Hall, Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Bounty.   Albany, SUNY, 2011.  Reviewed in Environmental Ethics, Spring 2014.   Hall is a botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.   Plants as “persons” might be a stretch; shrimp as “persons,” is already a stretch.  But Hall is convincing about “plant knowledge,” information in plants by which they defend lives that they value--often in complex and intriguing ways.  “Like other living beings, plants actively live and seek to flourish.  They are self-organized and self-created as a result of interactions with their environment” (pp.  12-13).

Michael Marder, Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life.  Columbia University Press, 2013.   Revisits Aristotle, Goethe, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and others.  Looks at a 2008 Swiss Federal Ethics Committee expressing the need for the “moral consideration of plants for their own sake.”   Argues that humans can learn from plants and ought “to live and think in and from the middle, like a plant partaking of light and darkness” (p.  178).  Marder is Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz, earlier at the University of Toronto, Georgetown University, and others.

Michael Pollan, “The Intelligent Plant,” The New Yorker, December 30, 2013.  Online at:
Plants have a repertoire of appropriate defenses in promoting their survival (such as shifting the toxicity in their leaves, if facing over-grazing), which demonstrates their intelligence.  They do considerable signaling.  Though without neurons and brains, they also have forms of memory.

If you are mostly worried about weeds in your garden, then consult, Terra Brockman, “When is a weed a weed?” Christian Century, August 20, 2014, pp.  28-30.    A weed is a plant in the wrong place at the wrong time.   Yes, some weeds need to be chopped out.  But a number of them have surprising benefits.  If your crop fails, you can eat them. When they rot and decay, they make good fertilizer.  Some of them keep out worse weeds.

Holmes Rolston