Animal Vegetable Mineral: Expanding the boundaries of dignity

Winter, Christine Jill (2016). 'Animal Vegetable Mineral: Expanding the boundaries of dignity' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Key Words
Dignity, Intergenerational Justice, Environmental Justice, Indigenous Justice
The anticipated harms of the Anthropocene have provoked a reassessment of nature’s place in justice theory, particularly in intergenerational, indigenous, and environmental justice (IIEJ). Switzerland, Ecuador, Bolivia and Aotearoa New Zealand (the four nations) have passed legislation granting nature rights and privileges previously considered human-only domains, and in so doing may have drawn nature into the sphere of justice.
While justice, rights and personhood traditionally depend on a conception of dignity for their normative foundation, dignity itself is frequently left undefined. I argue no modern Western conceptualization of dignity is capable of providing a foundation for these new legal recognitions nor IIEJ in the Anthropocene. However, by conceptualizing dignity from the ontological perspective of Aotearoa New Zealand Māori, recognizing a potentiality for being and energy in all matter, it is possible to establish dignity in and respect for nature on which to ground these new legal recognitions and justice. Conceptualized as an immersive functioning dignity, it can underpin legal rights, personhood and justice for nature and for the capabilities approach (CA) to address issues of IIEJ.
Dignity provides the normative grounding for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and Nussbaum’s CA. They claim duties and obligations of justice must support the dignity of the dignity holder (Habermas, 2010; Kateb, 2011; Nussbaum, 2007; 2011; Schachter, 1983; Schroeder, 2010; Waldron, 2012). This claim is so uncontroversial the UDHR does not define dignity: it represents dignity as universal and intuitively understood.
Exactly what dignity is, however, is unclear. Nussbaum argues it is insufficient to base justice on intuition (Nussbaum:2011; 29). In her conceptualization she includes individual nonhuman living beings (Nussbaum, 2004; 2011): drawing particularly sentient animals into the moral community. Building further, Katy Fulfer locates dignity in ecosystems (Fulfer, 2013). However, neither conceptualization is capable of the normative grounding required in the four nations: they cannot support dignity of the inanimate.
The four nations have attached duties and obligations of rights and justice to all matter. If dignity grounds rights and justice, how do we conceptualize dignity to embrace all matter as this legislation suggests we must?
Drawing on key elements of Aotearoa New Zealand Māori philosophy, this paper identifies how Māori locate normative obligations to matter. Three key concepts are used: mauri, tapu and mana. Translation across ontological and epistemological boundaries is difficult, however arguably the attribution of legal identity to Te Awa Tupua and Te Urewera (a river system, and a forested mountain range) has already achieved this translation.
Starting from a recognition that everything animate and inanimate has ‘energy chains within, and dynamic relationships beyond (Durie 1998: 243)’, we begin to understand the conceptual purpose of mauri or life essence. Everything with life essence is a site of tapu and mana—which very loosely translate to dignity and respect.
Tapu and mana are an inseparably twinned word pair, much as dignity and respect are (Bendik-Keymer, 2014). Where tapu is abused mana is debased, where mana is revered the tapu is preserved (Henare, 2001; Shirres, 1982). In practice this places obligations on Māori to respect and improve the wellbeing of both human and nonhuman entities.
Drawing from Māori tradition this paper parses a conceptualization of dignity that incorporates the nonhuman, meets the demands of the four nation’s legal frameworks, and provides a foundation for IIEJ.
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