Almost forty years after animal rights advocates began asking us to put down our steak knives, plant advocates may start asking us to relinquish our salad forks as well.
Plants have rights too, they say, and we ought to “reconsider our ethical approach to eating them.” Michael Marder, a philosopher writing recently for the New York Times, bases a call for “plant liberation” on the idea that plants possess a primitive form of “awareness,” in that they have a capacity to react to certain stimuli, and that they engage in a simple form of biochemical communication, through the release of chemical hormones that can send signals to other nearby plants.
Now, most readers of this argument will think that the idea of plant rights is silly—indeed, many responders to his article said so. But while Marder’s argument is ridiculous, his goal is serious, dangerous, and not to be ignored. Here we should take the advice of Ellsworth Toohey, villain of The Fountainhead: “Don’t bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes.”
So what does Marder seek to accomplish through his call for “plant liberation”?