The Snow Leopard
By Jackie Morris
High in the mountains of a magical realm, there lived a Snow Leopard who protected a small valley by singing enchanted songs. But as time pushed forward, the Snow Leopard needed to find a new guardian for the valley, as her time was coming to an end. While she searched for the new guardian, she stopped singing her magical songs, and soldiers came and began to ravage the village. Soon, she found the girl who would be the next guardian and began to train her. Together the Snow Leopard and the girl ran the soldiers out of the valley. When the girl was ready, she became the new Snow Leopard, and the old Snow Leopard leapt into the stars.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Emily Tilton and Ziyi Wang
The Snow Leopard by Jackie Morris is an unorthodox children’s book that brings up interesting questions about the value of nature and our obligations to the environment. In the book, there is a Snow Leopard who protects the valley, there are the villagers who live peacefully within the valley, and there are the soldiers who come through and ravage the valley. These different relationships naturally lend themselves to a discussion about environmental ethics.
Environmental ethics is a discipline in philosophy that aims to answer not only what humans are required to do to protect the environment, but also what the basis of that obligation is. For example, many people would agree that it is wrong to destroy the rain forests, but why is it wrong? Is it wrong because it makes the world less inhabitable for future generations? Or is it wrong because the plants and animals that make the rain forests their homes are inherently worth valuing and protecting?
The former view, that it is wrong because it is bad for humans, is anthropocentric. Many anthropocentric views, especially those in the west, are influenced by the Bible’s characterization of nature, namely as something that exists solely to be used by people. In contrast, there are biocentric theories, which claim that plants and animals themselves have intrinsic value; this means that we are obligated to save plants and animals not because they are valuable or useful to humans, but simply because they themselves are worthy of being protected. In addition to these two views, there is a third that occupies a sort of middle ground—it doesn’t claim that both plants and animals are intrinsically valuable in the same way that humans are, it only claims that animals are. This theory is capable of cutting out plants because the only sorts of things that are intrinsically valuable are things that are capable of having desires, or preferences; in other words, things that are sentient—this is a sentientic view. Through this view, we are obligated to protect animals because they are themselves worth saving, while we are only obligated to protect plants because they are useful to ourselves and to animals.
The goal of discussion with the children should be to ease them into discussing these sorts of theories. A good way to broach this subject would be to have the children consider the different relationships that are present in the book. Take the Snow Leopard: the Snow Leopard spends her entire life actively protecting the environment; the Snow Leopard seems to embody the biocentric theory. This relationship could be used to discuss why plants or animals have intrinsic value, if they have any at all. The soldiers, who ruin the valley while looking for gold, clearly embody the anthropocentric theory. Talking about the soldiers’ relationship with nature could be used to help the children discuss when it’s okay to use natural resources for our own benefit, and when it’s unacceptable. The theory that the villagers embody is a little less clear— discussing whether or not they hold anthropocentric, biocentric, or sentientic views can lead to a discussion about how each theory could be used to cultivate a healthy relationship with the environment. Through these sorts of discussions, the children will touch on many of the issues at the heart of environmental ethics.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Value of Nature
“Child and Leopard called to the snow and a blizzard of white formed fresh fortress walls, hiding their world in mist and in memory.”
Exploitation of Nature
“Down in the valley soldiers came with fire and fear, in search of gold and slaves.”
“The child leaves her home, takes the form of the snow leopard to protect the valley.”