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Rabindranath Tagores Thought of Environment: Lessons and Implications

for the Discipline of Environmental Economics

Rabindranath Tagores Thought of Environment: Lessons and Implications

for the Discipline of Environmental Economics

Ahmed Javed Chowdhury
ID # 13211007
(4 Semester, 2014)

Submitted to:
Dhaka School of Economics (DScE)
(A constituent institute of University of Dhaka)
4/C Easkaton Garden, Dhaka

Thesis proposal submitted for the requirement of

Partial requirement of
Master of Economics (MEcon) in Environmental Economics

26th June 2015

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Rabindranath Tagores Thought of Environment: Lessons and Implications for

the Discipline of Environmental Economics
The Oxford Dictionary of Economics (2003, p. 150) notes: Environmental Economics is concerned
with the effects of economic activity on the environment, and the costs and benefits of measures to
control them. The Environmental Economics text book titled Environmental Economics: An
Introduction (Field & Field, 2009, p. 2) describes: Environmental Economics is the application of the
principals of economics to the study of how environmental resources are managed. The
Environmental Economics text book titled Environmental Economics (Kolstad, 2000, p. 1) defines:
Environmental Economics is concerned with the impact of economy on the environment, the
significance of the environment to the economy, and the appropriate way of regulating economic
activity so that balance is achieved among environmental, economic and other social goals.
The philosophy of Environmental Economics discipline, as the definitions of the discipline
suggests falls under the rubric of anthropocentrism where human being is the centre of ethical
activities (Das, 2013, p. 31). Precisely, the first and second definition place human at the center of
economic activity and demonstrate the authority of human over environment. The third definition
appears to be concerned with environment. However, this concern is expressed for the well-being of
human beings, and it does view environment as an intrinsically valuable entity. Environmental
economics is concerned about environment, as the third definition suggests, only because it is relevant
in social and economic life of human beings. Rabindranath Tagores philosophy rejects this
anthropocentrism. Tagore puts forward non-anthropocentric view where every living and non-living
entities including the biosphere is valued as an ethical entity. In other words, everything in the whole
troposphere has its self-value like human beings. This study explores Tagores non-anthropocentric
environmental thoughts and search for its relevance today in the discipline of Environmental


This study intends to:
1. explore Rabindranath Tagores thought on environmental economics by examining his
literary and social writings.
2. locate and analyze Rabindranath Tagores thought on Environment and Economics.
3. examine the possibility of utilizing Rabindranath Tagores Philosophy of Environmental
Economics in the pedagogy of Environmental Economic discipline.
2.0 Literature Review
2.1 Tagore and Environment

In his book Social and Environmental Thinking of Rabindranath Tagore in the light of Post-Tagorian
World Development (2011), Rahman defines Tagore as a moralist philosopher who warned us
regarding the violence against nature and wanted to save the earth. According to Rahman, Tagore
conceptualizes oppression of labor and class antagonism of society, the male-centric ego and selfish
individualism as the cause of destruction of environment. Rahman notes: according to Tagore the
uncontrolled individualism has its destructive consequences which are now knocking at the door. He
points out that Tagore perceived nature as an organic part of our being or existence. Tagore, through
his different creative works of essays, poems, dramas, paintings and different social establishments
shows the connection between nature and human. For example, the great poet perceived summer as
the expression of thirst, loneliness and pain; and the monsoon as the embodiment of love and lovers
thirst etc. Thus, Tagore established a path to find out a metabolic relationship with nature. Tagore
rethinks about the relationship between nature and human and resents the exploitation of nature for
uncontrolled productive purposes.
Das (2013) in his article Rabindranath Tagore and Environmental and Ecological ethics
explained Rabindranath Tagore as a non-anthropocentric thinker. This world view of eco-ethics of
environmental philosophy holds that different life forms, animals, ecology and biosphere have
intrinsic value of its own. So, non-anthropocentrism does not believe that human is the centre of
ethics and non-human orgasms are only valued when it is (or at last part of it) useful to human being.
This anthropocentric view originated from German transcendental metaphysical Philosopher
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). But Rabindranath Tagore, according to Kali Prasanna Das, rejects this
world view. The non-anthropocentric view of Tagore is manifested in the novel Banaful (1875) where
he viewed environment as nearest or closest relative of human. Kamala, the protagonist of the novel
prefers eco-civilization rather than human civilization. Kali Prasanna quotes from Tagores writing
titled Tapavan (1909):
Indian sub-continent does not refuse human superiority, but only lordship over nature and
sheer consumption cannot be the prime aspect of this human-centered superiority. The
foremost and probably the most important characteristic of human being is that they can
meet/solidarities with all other orgasms of nature. But this solidarity shall not be sprout from

ignorance or unconscious rather it is the solidarity from deepest heart and from pleasure
Sarma (2007) in his book Nisorgo, Nirman O Nandanik Bhabna also explains Tagores
environmental thought. He believes that Tagores poetry book Banabani (1926) could be a major
instrument of movement for preservation of nature in the western world. In the introduction of
Banabani Tagore writes, my silent-friends around my house..if you listen to them carefully, you
will hear the song of emancipation in your heart, and thus you will hear the unfolded meeting verse of
meeting every life throughout the whole world. Professor Sarma also pointed out that machine-based
civilization has its inherent conflict with nature. Western world has set a different kind of equilibrium
in their own way but countries like ours has very limited scope to imitate them since ours have
different historical constraints. Moreover, our ancient agricultural-civilization was destroyed by the
machine-based western civilization/colonization. But Rabindranath Tagore showed what direction
should our consciousness and development philosophy should take.
Bagchi (2014) in his article Rabindranath Tagore and Human Condition portrays Tagore in
the context of Indian subcontinent. Bagchi started his essay by quoting Hannah Arendts (1958:5)
view of labor (fetters of labor). But Bagchi pointed out that Arendt wrote in the context of welfare
states of North Atlantic countries whose reformation was notably imitated from 1917s onward by
Soviet Union where there are full employment policies and trade union struggles. But countries like
ours have unemployment problem and lack capital-intensive technologies. Bagchi situates Tagore who
thinks about how human being can exercise their agency regardless of these external circumstances.
According to Bagchi, Tagore redefined selfhood by connecting and intermingling with others and
nature as a whole. For this Tagore wanted human being to transcend limits of morality with endless
creativity. Tagores creative work of paintings and poems took us beyond not only the colonial or
liberal capitalist state but to find humans who search a harmony of life and nature. Bagchi depicts
Tagore as an antithesis of William Shakespeare. In the writings of Shakespeare, love, ambition,
passion about lineage, conflict over notions and claims of kinship and different notions of morality are
the essence of his tragic or comic situations; whereas Tagore finds out human fragility and uncertainty
of their existence. So, in Tagore, the context is prime of human beings certain behavior but in
Shakespeare there are inherent desire and values that determines the shape of human being.

Shakespeare did not raise question to the state but Tagore explicitly or implicitly questioned state
because of poverty, disparity, discrimination, inequality etc. and he did not stop with questioning only
but showed solutions to change the society/world. Professor Bagchi notes that Tagores writings on
nature citing the example of his English monograph Sadhana (1914). Tagores definition of human
is different from the 19th century liberal Lockean western philosophy. According to Tagore, the idea of
complete human being is only possible when they live in harmony with nature rather than trying to
dominate it all the time whereas the Lockean idea of full human being connect human with other
human being, past, present and future directed by self-interest.
Professor Akash (2012) explained Tagores philosophy in his article Rabindra Bishwabikhha
O Bartaman Bishwa (The World Outlook of Rabindranath Tagore and the Present World Order
(published in Mashik Uttaradhikar, Baishaq 1419, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, pp 23-40) explained the
epistemological essence of Tagorian Philosophy. Professor Akash revealed Tagores system of thought
in his essays Tin (Three) and Tintala (Three Storey). According to Professor Akash Tagores thought
stands on three founding pillars; they are: truth, virtue/welfare (Kollayan) and happiness. Professor
Akash reminds us of one of the major western philosophers Hegel (1770-1831) who had parallel but
different method of theses, antitheses and syntheses. He defines Tagores philosophy as a highly
nature-inclusive method. Tagores harmony is different from Hegelian harmony. He combines unity of
the opposites (parallel to Hegel) but his premises are different. Akash pointed out that Tagore
described subjects under the law of nature where human being cannot function against the law of
natural force. If someone violates the law, the person will encounter difficulty. Tagore observed that
human nature knows no bound s/he expresses his/her free will in pursuit of happiness. It means that
human beings want to put off the shackles of law. The happiness can only be achieved by
implementing ones free will. Eventually, the person may find his/her own desires similar to someone
elses one. The unity of individuals will may be fulfilled if they had common aim to establish a social
welfare. And thus human being and nature could have harmonious relationship not as binary
opposition of self and other. Professor Akash also indicates Tagore loved Bengals flower-fruit-riverweather which is expressed by his numerous creative works. Tagore converts love for nature into love
for human being and ends in love for the world. According to Akash, Tagore did not forget to mention

that nature had adverse realities of volcanoes, epidemics, earthquakes, cyclones etc. He alerted us, the
nature will take revenge on us. Tagore also admitted his limitations of knowledge of the world. Akash
notes from one of Tagores collection of poems book Choitali where there is a poem titled Dharatal:
Good-bad, happiness-sadness, light-darkness all constitutes and seems good for this world.
Professor Akash expressed Tagores philosophy that understands the world not as partial alienated
realities but as an interconnected whole.
Basu (2009) describes Tagores world outlook as to how human being should live their life
eco-ethically. Professor Basu contends that Tagores philosophical foundation came from Upanishads.
Basu notes that Tagore believed that human life and nature are part of a single entity which are
inseparable from each other. As a result of this philosophy, Tagore, in his whole life, emphasized (for
example in his poem Aranya Devata) the symbiosis or metabolic relationship with all orgasms of the
world. But Tagore was aware of the fact that peoples performance for luxurious living is selfdefeating activities of human being. This phenomenon outbreaks when city-life was introduced and
subsequently people lost their love for forest which is a major source of their sustenance. The
destruction of forest in order to supply timber for city-life endangered all living orgasms including
human being. As a result of this rapid spread of desert, precipitations of cyclones and droughts
affected the whole world. Tagore anticipated the upcoming deadly consequences and showed us the
path of our love and respect for forest to restore symbiosis and to avoid peril. Tagore in his another
poem/essay Tapavan (1909, Bangla 1392, p.471) shows that ecological imbalance is caused by greed,
lust, jealousy, pride etc. These ripus (basic instincts) had their manifestation in consumerism and
competition. In addition, people have lost interest of philanthropic attitudes and becoming selfcentered. According to Tagore, consumerism putting pressure on the purse of rich and also placing
poor in a measurable condition. In Samabay Niti (cooperative policy) Tagore described European
society which is based on the system of exploitation of majority by minority. Tagore suggests that
unless the trend is stopped and objective situations for eco-ethical human living is restored the
consequence will be unimaginable. In the same essay Tagore also notes that the prime cause of rural
destitution is lack of self-confidence of village people which made them dependent on outside
2.2 Tagores Environmental Ethics and its implication for environmental economics

Textual Analysis

Textual Analysis of

Textual Analysis of Environmental



Banaful (1875)
Tapavan (1909)
Sadhana (1914)
Banabani (1926)
Choitali (Dharatal)
Aranya Devata
Samabay Niti

University of Stanford, USA

University of Oregon, USA
North Carolina State University, USA
London School of Economics (LSE), UK
University of York, UK
Visva-Bharati University, India
University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh
Dhaka School of Economics (DScE),

Relationship Status
(whether Complementary,
Contradictory or


This research will be an explorative-interpretive study and the type of analysis is textual
analysis. An explorative study (Bernard R. H., 2005, pp.110-12) is when knower had clear
understanding of the relationship of variables (dependent and independent) but the researcher
is not confirmed of the relationship. Exploratory study may reveal this relationship by
intervention. An interpretive study considers data as specific cases and does not make any
generalization from data. These studies seek to interpret, analyze and describe meanings of
social or textual reality (Cohen et al., 2007, p. 33). This study would adopt explorativeinterpretive study for the following reasons. First, this study intends to examine textual data
(i.e. Tagores own writings, Experts writings on Tagores thought etc) to detect whether it is
relevant for Environmental Economics. This purpose would be served by interpretive
paradigm which seeks to interpret meanings, perspectives, and constructs. Second, this
research would investigate the implications of textual data. Adoption of explorativeinterpretive study would enable this study to address ideological and political implications or
consequences. It is to note that this study would not use any statistical formula, since
explorative-interpretive paradigm is non-statistical (Cohen et al., 2007, p. 33). Moreover, the
study will engage grounded-theory approach (Bernard R. H., 2005, p.492) which suggests
connecting these two: first, identifying categories and concepts that emerge from text and
second linking the concepts into substantive and formal theories found in the standard text
books of environmental economics. It is using the ground-theory because the study will go
through the above mentioned process of interweaving of its findings . Since the study has to
scrutinize secondary literature, the content-analysis (Bernard R. H., 2005, pp.505-7) will be

used for the discovery of hypotheses from texts and building of explanatory model from the
findings of grounded-theory.
The following research questions would be investigated:
(1) What is Rabindranath Tagores Philosophy of Environment?
(2) How Rabindranath Tagore viewed the relationship between human and nature?
(3) What was Rabindranath Tagores thought on the humans behavior with nature?
(4) What is the environmental philosophy of Environmental Economics discipline? Are there
different schools in this field?
(5) How Rabindranath Tagores Environmental Philosophy differs or does not differ from the
Environmental Economics discipline in general?
(6) Is there any definite school in the discipline of environmental economics that has some or much
affinity with the environmental philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore?
H-1: Rabindranath Tagores thought of environment is not useful for the Discipline of Environmental
H-2: Rabindranath Tagores thought of environment is useful for the Discipline of Environmental


The study will be divided into the following chapters:
Chapter One: Introduction
Chapter Two: Literature Review
Chapter Three: Theoretical Background
Chapter Four: Methodology
Chapter Five: Analysis and Findings
Chapter Six: Relationship between Tagores environmental

thoughts and environmental economics

Chapter Seven: Conclusions


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