A "Philosophical Worldview" in Nature and Life
Doing 'deep ecology' by any academically trained philosopher might be daunting insofar as it involves the task of conceiving environmental crisis in philosophical terms. If there is anything warranted by this task it is the intention of thinking the relationship between nature and life by way of explicating the 'unity of the world.' But 'philosophy,' for Jürgen Habermas, 'can no longer refer to the whole of the world' particularly in the sense of 'totalizing knowledge.' How then a philosophical worldview of nature and life (in the sense of its totality) is possible? The answer to this question can be found in the philosophical approach of Md. Munir Hossain Talukder who invites us to take the universe in its totality as a way of correcting the metaphysics of 'self' and its relation with the nature.
His recently published book, Nature and Life: Essays on Deep Ecology and Applied Ethics (which has been published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, UK in 2018) is the culmination of all his efforts so far at portraying a philosophical image of life while not giving up the totality of the nature or the universe as linked together. The book begins by drawing insights from the Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess' 'deep ecology' (or ecosophy) that considers all organisms — human/other life forms and plants/other natural entities — as a 'total-filed image', and suggests that 'our goal should be a rich life that is harmonious with other forms of life' (p. 8). In order to dissolve the anthropocentric (or man-in-environment centric) understanding of environment, it thus argues in this part for establishing a more symbiotic relationship between nature and human as foundational to the attainment of what he calls 'ecological wisdom.'
The book develops this argument in chapter 2 through a conversation about Naess's 'Self-realization' and its potential in dismissing any hierarchical chain among the human beings and the non-human world. It accepts that the 'Self' with a capital S stands for the totality of individual 'selves,' which denotes the realization of the 'organic wholeness' as well as some sort of 'rectification' of our selves. While defending it as a morally neutral phenomenon, this chapter argues that 'Self-realization' is an extension of Plato's view of self-development and Aristotle's biocentric holism. The position that Self-realization is a 'morally neutral virtue' is further justified by its fit to Gandhi's non-violence theory and Buddhism. In doing so, Professor Talukder's use of Aristotelian virtue ethics vis-à-vis self-realization (as elaborated in chapter 6) and its Kantian reading appears to be quite revealing.
Chapter 3 is designed to demonstrate "identification" as a common environmental value "which exists in various forms in both the Western and Eastern cultural traditions" (p. 45). By analyzing both these traditions, it therefore argues how valuing "identification" can help us construct a correct metaphysics of "ecological self" through which human beings can feel/achieve a harmonious coexistence with nature. This is followed by an illuminating discussion in chapter 4 which explores the Asian (Chinese and Indian) attitude towards natures. While describing the companionship with nature in Asian perspective, it argues that "[…] Asian environmental ethics is neither anthropocentric nor non-anthropocentric. We may call it place-based and 'kin-centric' because kinship relations not only imply equality or ontological continuity, but they also ensure an emotional bond with place that is in addition to mutual respect" (p. 59). It is for this attitude that the book finds "Asian holism" as very promising for a complete reconstruction of environmental ethics.
Seeking identification and holism, Professor Talukder turns again to the question of virtue to provide us with a significant guideline as to how we should understand our relationship with broader moral circle such as the environment. Engaged in the debate on "balanced caring," he criticizes Michel Slote's idea of "intimate caring" that moralizes more caring for those who are intimates or closer in degree. Slote's scheme of priorities seems to leave the environment at the bottom of the list. Professor Talukder has therefore refuted this scheme even by reversing the priorities according to which caring for those who are less close — here caring for the environment t— rather than favoring oneself is thus a virtuous character trait.
In the latter half of the book (chapter 7-11), Professor Talukder deals with some issues of health care and bioethics which are closely aligned to the question of the life and nature as broadly understood in his project. It examines the ethics of inducement in health care in order to argue that inducement does not necessarily violate informed consent. Offering a philosophical reflection on the concept of "personhood" in bioethics, the book proceeds to explore the ethical determinates of the patient-physician relationship in which informed consent can be ensured as the "natural outcome" of such relation. It further identifies the limitation of different models for patient-physician relationship, and calls for an alternative or "context sensitive" model that could be developed through "relational autonomy" as understood from the perspective of care ethics.
Apart from this, the book also devotes one important chapter on multiculturalism, which defends "geo-cultural identity" by criticizing Will Kymlicka's view of minority rights in multicultural society. The argument in this chapter is crucial for it involves, albeit tenuously, the sense of quality life inasmuch as it relates to people's "psychological identification" that they have with their land and culture. The book is concluded with an inquiry into the question of whether an ethical expertise is possible in both epistemic and perfomitive sense. While arguing that such expertise is possible only in epistemic sense, it seems to delimit the boundaries of ethical expertise in linking the life with nature in one hand, and contextualizing the ethical determinants of relations among the human beings as involved, among others, in the question of minority culture, bioethics and health care, on the other.
Of all the far reaching insights, the one most relevant of Professor Talukder's book is his engagement in exploring the issues of values, virtues and attitude towards life and nature through a common lens of culture in which the "quality of life" is emphasized not only as a logical outcome of "Self-realization" but also as a common denominator of (bio)ethical choice. This way of thinking as such would contribute profoundly to the ongoing dialogue about deep ecology and applied ethics, generated from the renewed interests in transforming the metaphysic of self into a philosophical worldview of life and nature.
The reviewer teaches philosophy of law at Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka.