Morality, Metaphysics and Religion

Enlightened Agriculture – indeed, all of life’s strategy, if we seriously want to live at all – is founded on the one hand in matters of fact (what is actually the case) and on the other in morality (what is it right to do). Matters of fact are most readily approached through science – how do plants grow, and so on. Morality is discussed by moral philosophers.

Yet science and moral philosophy, on their own, seem ungrounded. Or at least, in western societies, their grounding remains unstated, and so is unexplicit. For both in the end are rooted in metaphysics –  and in the western world, metaphysics has dropped out of formal discourse. This, as the Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr points out in Man and Nature, may well be the root cause of all the world’s troubles.

Metaphysics goes beyond philosophy and science.  It deals with what Professor Nasr calls “ultimate questions”. A crucial question for farmers and for all who presume to frame farm strategy must be, “What should our attitude be to nature, and why? Specifically, do we have a right to exploit our fellow creatures in the way that industrial agriculture in particular now takes for granted?”

This to an extent is a matter for science (for if we treat nature badly it will collapse and we’ll all die) and to some extent for moral philosophizing (it surely is wrong to be so destructive). But in the end the way we regard the rest of nature is a matter of attitude – and attitude is rooted in intuition: what we feel in our bones is the case, and is right. In reality philosophers and scientists rely on intuition like everyone else to tell them what is true, yet intuition is not part of their formal “method”. Formal exploration of intuition – bone feelings – is in the realm of metaphysics.

So if we are serious about farming – or indeed about life – then we must discuss metaphysics. The discussion takes us deep into the world’s religions, including the traditional kinds. It should become very rich.

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