i open with this plea. R_E_S_P_E_C_T = ahimsa.
ahimsa is ecology before ecology. how? let's consider the folowing argument:
all jiva are sentient
we (jiva) are all ONE
himsa-ing jiva is hima-ing ONEself, i.e., all. THUS, himsa-ing is wrong.
in the cosmology of jainism there's a balance between jiva (human & non-human animalia & plant life, fungi & protista & non cellular life) & ajiva, i.e., our idea of matter. both jiva/ajiva are manifestations of ONE (we don't have time to pursue this point here).
what brings jiva/ajiva together? karma. in a sense karma's "duty" is to preserve a cosmic balance with ahimsa becoming a regulating principle of co-existence. ahimsa can be approached as a conclusion of jainist metaphysics, a global egalitarism of all sentient beings (admittedly, it gets more complicated).
to address the idea of jiva balance let's take a look at emmanuel kant's categorical imperative. though they seem far apart, let's try to explain the former in terms of the latter.
for kant, an action is right if it can be made universal and reversible. he grounds morals in the following simple question: was soll ich tun? (what ought i to do?), which implicitly goes back to the ancient golden rule. any reversible action can be made universalizable. how? for kant it becomes a law. the law is a product (i think) of transitivity. there's a set X, with each member being in it because of a particular faculty (vermögen), i.e., reason (vernunft). if reversibility works locally between any a&b it has to work globally. vernunft is the universal moral voucher (what is revolutionary here is that kant is grounding morals in our ability to reason).**
kant comes close to the jaina argument above, the only problem is he makes his vernunft standard too narrow. in the so-called second formulation of the categorical imperative he gets closer:
Handle so, dass du die Menschheit sowohl in deiner Person, als in der Person eines jeden anderen jederzeit zugleich als Zweck, niemals bloß als Mittel brauchst.
treat people as ends never as means to an end (this is aretha's R&B plead).
why only (Menschheit)? a jainist would retort.
"universalizability" does not obtain exclusively amongst "Menschen." true universalizability must include all jiva i.e., by definition all sentient beings (including non-human animals). would kant agree? not insofar as he remains a product of the enlightenment. we're jiva insofar as we have vernunft ("... der Wille ist ein Vermögen, nur dasjenige zu wählen, was die Vernunft unabhängig...").
non-human animals don't partake of the moral compact. instead of vernunft why not apply a broader standard? all jiva kingdom has sentience (the british utilitarians had a better intuition).
jainism finds kantian's ethics way too anthropocentric. jainas defend a universal jiva-centered democracy! is kant's view limited? its human-centeredness discounts lesser-conscious jiva, i.e., non-human animals.
how about ajiva? again, jainism is naturally closer to ajiva than other systems. a centerpiece of jainECO is we're all ONE. it's easier to extend ahimsa to ajiva (as far as jiva permits, i.e., jiva has to eat in order to survive), and to extend ahimsa via aparigraha (non-possessiveness), i.e., nature is not ours to possess.
let's problematize our conclusion. we cannot stop interacting with nature. human technology (an evolutive trait) presupposes a constant messing with and fixing nature. so, aside from the formulations, i.e., practically speaking, how could we extend kant's second formulation to all jiva?
(to be continued)
* i.e.: let X be a transitive set such that any x∈X has the property that any proper transitive subset of x is an element of x. then X has the same property. each x's reason for being in X is vernunft. **we know kant's rule has been challenged, my point here is historic. *** for jainism sentience has different levels of conscious / semi-conscious / almost unconscious / existence, from its more developed form in adult human beings to, say, invisible embryonic modes at 'lower' animal and plant levels. sentience is not merely pain-pleasure bounded. as some psychical activity may continue to occur subconsciously or at unconscious levels. jiva subsists in a contingent relation to the quantity of karma it has accumulated through its activity, volitional and non-volitional. each sentient being has to act in accordance within its relative level of bondage and limited freedom (think of baruch spinoza's conatus).