The victimary compromise in zooanthropological tradition

In humankind’s most primitive tradition, we find that animals and plants are considered to be on a par with humans. Even the transmigration of souls (metempsychosis) occurs not only through the bodies of humans and animals but also through those of plants.1 In Iotham’s apologue (Parable of the Trees), the trees set out to find a king to rule them. The olive tree, the fig tree and the grape vine, however, refuse the crown: “Should we set aside pleasing men with our fruits — they object with subtle irony — in order to waive our heads above those of other trees?” One by one all of the other trees refuse to become king over the others, since they favour a true and fruitful superiority in place of a pretended and flaunted one. Only the raven accepts to become king, but at the same time threatens those offering him the crown: “If in truth you will anoint me king above you all, come and take shelter underneath my shadow; if not, may a fire come forth from the bramble and devour the Cedars of Lebanon.”2 In the Old Testament, the snake and Balaam’s donkey act, think and communicate one with the other and with men just like human beings do. The importance of the attribution of this faculty to speak is missed by most interpreters, who read in the universal tradition of speaking animals the expression of a literary genre with moralising intent. According to this reductive interpretation, animals are vested with human virtues and flaws — they are stand-ins, symbols, because the primary intention is not to speak of them but of men. Actually, many fables depict men and not only animals. For this reason too, the assignment of the gift of gab to animals must have a simpler and deeper reason, a reason that is explained by interpreting the literature of speaking animals in a literal sense.

Popular fables are survivors of a zoo-anthropological concept entirely opposed to that which justifies the sacrificial standpoint. In this very ancient concept — which still lives on in the subconscious mind of modern man and which post-modernism is attempting to bring back to the light — plants, men and animals are manifestations of the same life; man does not possess anything more than what other living beings have. Aesop’s apologue No. 57 instead shows the intervention of a sacrificial kind of outlook. After giving each animal different qualities (strength to one, speed to another, wings to yet another), Zeus was accused by man of having excluded him from the favours given to other living things, and the creator answered: “You are not conscious of the gift you have received; and yet it is the greatest of all, because you have received reason, that is powerful among the gods and among men, more powerful than the powerful, faster than the fastest.”3 Apologue No. 59 is especially instructive in that it demonstrates that the representation of truth expresses the interests and the propensities of he who elaborates it. Once upon a time a man and a lion were travelling together. They were both talking very proudly about themselves. Along the way they came up to a stone stele on which was depicted a man strangling a lion. “You see, said the man to the lion, men are much stronger than you!” But the lion just smiled and answered, “If lions knew how to make pictures on stones, you would see many lions on top of men!”4 The parable teaches that truth is hidden or distorted when it’s inconvenient. What could be more inconvenient than to admit the fundamental co-belonging and the essential kinship between living beings, between those who, being blood brothers, are bound to mutual respect?

The outlook we infer from the reading of these ancient writings attributes to each living being the faculties man knows he possesses, even those that he thinks are only his. In opposition to this anti-sacrificial concept, typical of men dedicated to the harvesting of fruits, in which plants and animals are seen as repositories not only of life as such but also of intellect and science, there is the sacrificial and instrumental one, typical of men dedicated to hunting and livestock breeding. The sacrificial concept of living beings represents the legitimisation of the practice of cannibalism adopted by humans to keep alive. If every living being comes to life at the expense of another living being, and if all of them die to give life to others, then there must be an objective and inviolable order in nature itself that is founded on sacrifice, a universal law that governs the destiny of all living things. This concept, supported most drastically by De Maistre in the mid 19th century (his heir today is Roberto Calasso, as opposed to René Girard and Giuseppe Fornari), considers it absolutely natural and essential that men should eat plants and meat. But if all living things deserve respect because they possess the same qualities which, when possessed by man, make him admirable and superior, then the suppression of any living things for the purpose of feeding on them should be defined as cannibalistic. During the course of history, men have found themselves in a difficult and contradictory situation: on the one side the need to defend the reduction of living things to mere instruments (in many cases this reduction regarded human beings too, as in slavery), on the other the extremely ancient and irrefutable evidence of a deep-rooted kinship and a substantial equality among all living things, be they plants, animals or human beings. From this stems the compromise reached by the dominating tradition of western civilisation. As we shall see, with Aristotle it translates into a theory of the soul, of the principle of life, which, although it acknowledges that all living things have an element in common (the vegetative soul), it assigns to man the exclusive privilege of possessing reason. Only man thinks. The use man will make of other beings inferior to him therefore shall be justified. The lack of scruples he shall have for other non-human beings shall be fully legitimate, since these beings, by not possessing reason, do not enjoy the same rights as those of man. At most, one can avoid making them suffer useless torment, but one must never treat them as if they were humans. When applying the sacrificial criterion to the relationship with the world of living things, one must also have a method for distinguishing what is less valuable: being a vegetable rather than an animal, being an animal rather than a human being, being sick rather than healthy, being young rather than old, being the parent rather than the child, that which we identify in rather than the foreigner, and so on. The Aristotelian theoretical compromise substantially persists in Schopenhauer, who reproposes the three-tiered vegetative/sensitive/rational scheme, namely the three decisive levels in the scale of animated things. Unlike Hume, who eliminates any difference between man and animal as regards the capability of reasoning (men and animals possess intellect because they are capable of connecting ideas based on likeness, contiguity, etc.; reason, which man claims for himself alone, is a vain distinction), Schopenhauer introduces the difference already indicated by Aristotle, in order to legitimise both the recognition of a certain dignity in animals and the usual practice of submission and use of animals on the part of man. According to Schopenhauer, in fact, animals indeed do possess intellect, but lack reason; they have an intuitive, non-abstract knowledge. Animals also understand the immediate causal link, but cannot think because they lack concepts. Consequently, animals lack any real memory: this is the substantial difference between animal and man. The perfect recollection humans are capable of is based in fact on the clear conscience of past and future. Mental activity in animals is quite similar to that in humans. They can even fantasise and dream: “The conscience of animals is therefore a simple succession of presences, each of which however does not exist as future prior to its coming into being, nor as past after its disappearance. This distinguishes human conscience.”5 The close affinity between man and animal has a theoretical basis: all living things are the manifestation of the same will to live6 and therefore deserve the same compassionate treatment. Schopenhauer forcefully attacks Judaism because he sees in its roots the attitude that denies animal rights and justifies vivisection, which Schopenhauer condemns outright.7

The behaviour and life of animals spontaneously suggest a deep-rooted relationship with man: not only birth, the search for food, reproduction, life in a group, death, but also emotions, anatomy and physiology are all elements proving the profound and undeniable affinity between man and animal. There are functions common to both man and animal, as well as functions common to animal and plant — those which Aristotle defines as vegetative life. The eminently elementary and mysterious process to be investigated is life itself, that which reveals itself in an infinite variety of manifestations.

The first philosophers we know about explained the nature in common to both man and animal by reducing it to a common origin. Man and animal are closely related simply because they have the same origins. Anaximander conceives the entire universe as a kind of organism in which animals and plants gradually emerge from the obscurity of original matter, via the intervention of earth and water. The idea that living beings were born from the earth and from water is also present in Anaxagoras, Democritus and Heraclitus. Diodorus Siculus, in his Bibliotheca historica, gives the description of the birth of life from mud: “And as humid things due to the heat, like a germinal seed, in this way proliferate, the foetuses derived their growth by night from the foggy air that surrounded them, and by day they grew evermore solid due to the heat of the sun. And finally, when those closed foetuses reached maturity, when the light membranes dried and broke, the forms of all sorts of animals appeared.”8 Anaximander is convinced that the relationship between all living things is so strong that men originated from fish. He observes, to this end, that man’s such defenceless infancy is proof of the fact that he cannot have appeared in his current shape. According to Gomperz, in Anaximander we find an echo of the Greek popular conviction that “sharks swallow their young as soon as they break out of their eggs and then go on releasing them and swallowing them again until the newborn have developed and matured enough to live on their own.”9 Scholars have found in Anaximander the fundamental intuition of the evolution and continuing mutation of all the reality and of the organisms it contains. Anaximander’s work, as well as that of many ancient philosophers, contains a cyclic conception of natural phenomena, by which individuals, no matter of what species, grow at the expense of individuals of other species; their very birth involves by compensation the death of another living being and with their death they in turn pay the price required to bring another new life into the world.

The cyclic conception of all things and of all living beings is an integral part of the Greeks’ vision of the world in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. We also find it in Plato (Statesman, Timaeus, Laws). The cyclic conception of time and of becoming immediately expresses the idea of the fundamental unit of all things: a paradoxical unit that stems from mutual destruction, because that which ensures the life of one decrees the death of another. Origin and nature of the living are identical. The cyclic conception falls within the sphere of what Girard calls “sacrificial logic.” Cosmology and natural history therefore can be interpreted as projections of victimary anthropology. Just as the life, unity and peace of the entire community are ensured by the killing of an innocent victim, on which is heaped the responsibility of the crisis under way, the life of each living being on Earth is considered an asset made possible by the sacrifice of another being that gives up life. Thus living beings are interlinked by a relationship based on exclusion and intrinsic and unending rivalry, where each one needs the other to expel him: kinsmen and rivals in a competition that extends throughout the entire history of nature, living beings succumbing to a sacrificial order imposed by necessity.

In this chaotic becoming, in this cyclic impermanency, the only permanency possible is that of the immortality of the soul stated by Pythagoras10 and by Plato. Orpheans, Pythagoreans and Platonists have attempted to construct an order that could be reconciled with pity for all living things. The resistance to this cyclic becoming arises when one reflects on the useless and unjustified suffering to which all living beings are subjected. If they’re innocent, why must they suffer? If they never asked to be born, why by being born are they forced to pay a debt that can be settled only with the most terrible privations, with torments of all kinds and with an end that, before extinguishing them, causes terror and sometimes leads to madness? Thus a solution to the enigma is possible only if one transcends the mere reality of the individual’s body and includes his existence into a cycle of birth and death. If every living being hosts an immortal soul that is forced to expiate the sins committed in previous lives, then the sufferances of the individual animal can be justified11 despite their apparent irrationality.

According to Herodotus, the Egyptians were the first to believe in the immortality of the soul in man — a soul forced to emigrate into the bodies of beings that are born as the previous ones die. “And when it has passed through all of them, be they of land, sea or air, he will once again be reborn in the body of a man; and this cycle of the soul is completed in three thousand years. Several Greeks followed this doctrine, claiming it as their own, some a long time ago, others more recently.”12 If metempsychosis is real, then there is a good reason for the existence of each and every animal. There is no good reason, however, for the sinfulness that is supposed to be in the soul which must expiate it by passing from one body to another. And this sinfulness — necessary so that transmigration of souls can be coherent — is derived by pronouncing guilty a victim that is to be expelled as such, so as to restore peace and order in the community. Thus, if the cyclic conception has a sacrificial type of matrix, transmigration of the soul too — the theory of reincarnation in all of its religious and philosophic versions found in Western13 as well as Eastern history — is perfectly explained when based on victimary anthropology. The sacrificial matrix is therefore the basis for both the outlook of becoming without purpose and of senseless destruction to which all living beings are subjected, and the rational interpretation of said becoming, that suggests reincarnation as the necessary and sufficient reason for the cycle of birth and death of organisms. Evil and its remedy rest on the same assumption of sin and of its expiation through the sufferance and death of a victim. If in the cyclic conception of cosmic becoming, the sacrificial victim is the same individual in its psychophysical identity, in the theory of reincarnation the victim instead is the soul that follows the path of expiation by transmigrating from one body to another. The transmigration cycle is one of expulsion and of reintegration: the soul is sent into exile in inferior existences, but only so as to allow it to return to its own original state, the faultless one prior to the fall.

In western civilization, the theory of reincarnation is encountered for the first time among the Orpheans, who desisted from killing animals and from eating meat because they thought that life was unitary. Pythagoras, as told by Diogenes Laertius,14 had a habit of making bloodless sacrifices, placing on the altar only wheat, barley, bread and never animal victims. Pythagoras did not eat meat because he thought such a practice evil. The Pythagoreans’ case against blood-letting sacrifices, however, does not clash with the fact that they sustained a general theory, namely that of the transmigration of souls which, as we have seen, serves the sacrificial logic. The explicit position of Pythagoreans as regards blood-letting sacrifices and the choice of not eating meat are expressions of the pious reaction to the terrifying spectacle of destruction that already occurs in nature. Giamblicus states that Pythagoras did not prohibit the eating of meat, but preferred not to eat it himself, and exhorted everyone to do the same. “Within political circles, he enjoined legislators to avoid animal meat because, as they were called to ensure justice to the utmost degree, they should not have offended animals which are organisms akin to us. Indeed, how could they persuade others to act justly when they themselves were dominated by the spirit of oppression? Kinship among living things is common and therefore [animals] are almost fraternally linked to us through the sharing of life, of the same elements and of the resulting mixture.”15

Heraclitus sees the life of the universe as a fight. The pain of this battle, however, has to be restrained and contained. Although his thought belongs to the sphere of tragedy and sacrifice, Heraclitus appeals to natural piety and supports anti-sacrificial reactions. In fact, against blood-letting sacrifices Heraclitus states that the divine logos does not require killing, does not demand the blood of sacrificial victims. Men are wrong in thinking that they are purified by the blood of a victim, “as one who, dirty with mud, wishes to wash off with mud.” Ditadi stresses both the affinity between Heraclitus’ thought and that of Zarathustra, and the even stronger affinity between Zarathustra, Pythagoras and Empedocles. A witness to this kinship is Plutarch, an expert in Zarathustra’s thought. “Empedocles and Heraclitus, writes Plutarch in his De sollertia animalium, believe that man is not absolutely free from injustice in the trade of animals, complaining more than once and accusing Nature which, as if it were necessity and war, has nothing that is sincere and pure, but instead operates through many unjust accidents; they say that generation itself was created unjustly through the conjunction of mortal with immortal, the generated being happy to have taken against nature the limbs from its parent.”16

Faced with the universal pain that is common to all living beings, binding them within a necessity-dominated process of creation and destruction, the philosopher feels indignant against this senseless suffering. He therefore must find a rational remedy against pain. The theory of the transmigration of souls justifies the animals’ pain and gives sense to their otherwise obscure and unbearably tiring existence. The renunciation of sacrifices frees man from his complicity with Nature and redeems him from a type of cruelty that, should it be practiced, would not be blind and unwitting but rather intentional and guilty. Deliverance from pain restores meaning and value to apparently insignificant beings. It is possible to liberate one’s self from pain precisely because pain frees from guilt. But pain frees from guilt only if one gains consciousness of a universal plan that transcends Nature itself and contradicts the purely phenomenal plan of the cycles of creation and destruction. In this manner, ethics and metaphysics are mutually implicated: one cannot be without the other, because one is the other.

In Pythagoras, the prohibition to make animals suffer and eat them is based on the conception of the immortality of the soul and of its transmigration from one body to another. In Empedocles, the duty not to spill blood, because no kind of carnage is justifiable, is based on two facts that the majority ignores: i) metensomatosis, i. e. metamorphosis, by which reality is a continuous mixing, unbinding and rebinding of elements; ii) the tension towards harmony. The soul, present in Pythagoras and in Plato, does not appear in Empedocles who does not make any distinction between soul and body (matter is already the soul of all things). Empedocles believes that all things are provided with intelligence, so that no animal may ever be considered irrational in an absolute sense. Empedocles is aware of the link existing between the massacre of animals in slaughterhouses and the massacre of men in war. Anaxagoras too considered the Nous as an element shared by all beings in the universe, as they derive from a sole entity, eternal and identical to itself. “Everything is in everything” means that plants too, to a certain degree, possess intellect and intelligence. Democritus supports one of Anaxagoras’ theories when he says that man is the disciple of animals in the more important arts: he imitates the spider when he weaves and sews, the swallow when he builds a house, the swan and the nightingale when they sing. Therefore, man imitates animals, and does not enjoy a privileged position within the universe because, warns Anaxagoras, he is inferior to animals in certain arts.

In Plato, all living things have a soul and their material existence is the expression of a punishment or a prize for the soul that inhabits their body. The soul is joined to the medulla, the origin of the sperm which in turn, through the male genital organ, generates animals which are of an invisible and shapeless matrix which in turn is similar to an animal.17 Men and animals come into the world with their bundle of guilt to be expiated through the pain that awaits them in every moment of their existence. To free themselves of pain, however, they must purify themselves from their sins which are the cause of their suffering. When every sin will have been expiated, all pain of birth, life and death will also cease. In this manner, whatever concrete aspect of material life — being male or female, belonging to one animal species rather than to another — is precisely explained in relation to the sinfulness of previous existences. Living beings are all intimately linked one to the other, and their differences therefore are only of a moral kind: inferior animals are men who, being incapable of putting their resources to good use, have degraded to the condition they are in at the time. In Timaeus, Plato describes a genealogy from man to animals. If men had not departed from their nature and had not acquired guilt, women and all animal species would not have existed at all. The genealogy described in Timaeus is the opposite of Darwin’s evolutionistic theory: man does not derive from animals through evolution, but rather women and animals were formed through the degeneration of man, according to several particular defects. In a remote era of human history, men were asexual and reproduced without coitus. At a certain point, however, “all those who, born men, were cowards and lived unjustly, most seemingly changed into women in the second generation.”18 This is when the gods created the desire for coitus, forming in men and women their respective sexual organs intended for coitus and reproduction. While women were born of evil men, bird species appeared due to the transformation of superficial men who “speak of celestial things, but in their simplicity believe that these, through sight, can be demonstrated most certainly.”19 Terrestrial animals, with four or more feet, are born of men totally extraneous to philosophy, as they do not use the brain and allow themselves to be guided solely by the part of the soul that resides in the chest. Here Plato depicts the movement that is opposite to that of the origin of man and to the conquest of the upright position by the first hominids: men become beasts by abandoning the erect position, suitable for contemplating the nature of the sky and for thinking, finally bending unto earth the front limbs and the head until the most stupid among them become those limbless animals, slithering reptiles. The fourth species of animals, the water-living beasts, result from the transformation that the gods inflicted on the most stupid and ignorant of all men, those whose soul was contaminated by all kinds of sinfulness.

Aristotle’s works bear no trace of the ethical order to which Nature is subjected to in Plato. In Aristotle, philosophy becomes a system which strives to imitate reality in its concrete objectivity. In his De anima, Aristotle treats the theme of the animated being. Animated is all that which has a soul (anima), although “anima” is rendered in three acceptations: vegetative, sensitive and intellective. The third presupposes the second and the second is impossible without the first. In the first book of the De anima, Aristotle refers of the theories of the thinkers who came before him concerning the soul. The soul is the principle of living beings: all thinkers have defined the soul using three features: motion, sensation, incorporeity. Aristotle defines the soul as being “entelechy prior to a natural body that has potential life.” The soul is substance in the sense of form, namely of actuality. The relationship between body and soul is the same as that between potentiality and actuality. “If the eye were an animal, the soul would be eyesight, because this is the substance of the eye, substance in the sense of form.” As the eye is pupil and sight, thus the animal is body and soul. By animal he also intends any plant, that is a body equipped with organs. Plants have simpler organs but closely similar to those of animals: “roots are the analogous of the mouth, as both take in food.”20 Therefore, the being is defined by the soul. But soul is declined based on three distinct meanings, according to the three categories — vegetative, sensitive, intellective. The research of Aristotle, all the way down to the terms he uses, moves within a fundamental ambiguity: on the one hand he proposes the division into three parts of the same common soul, as if they were the three floors of the same building, while on the other he seems to suggest three separate souls. If one considers living organisms, one sees that the vegetative soul is the presumption of the other two, while the vegetative and the sensitive ones are the essential condition for the third, the intellective one. The soul per se is therefore the vegetative one, because it exercises the basic functions that allow us to make the distinction between animate and inanimate. But the sensitive and the intellective are not functions accessory to the vegetative one, as they involve entirely new capacities and characteristics compared to those of the vegetative soul. The vegetative soul, that belongs to all living things, is responsible for the operations dedicated to generating and taking in food. The most natural action of living things is twofold: staying alive and reproducing. The aim is to participate in eternity and in the divine within the limits allowed by the nature of each one. With respect to the ultimate aim, that represents the reason for which they do what they do naturally, all living things are equal: “Since the being is incapable of participating in the divine and the eternal spheres continuously, because no corruptible being can remain the same and single in number, therefore each one participates in it as it can, one more, the other less, and what remains is not it but something like it, one with it not in number but in species.”21 The sensitive soul possesses two elements extraneous to the vegetative one, sensation and motion, that are closely interconnected. In fact, the animal moves precisely to flee from pain (threat, danger, cause of suffering, etc.) and to seek pleasure (source of satisfaction, food, shelter, etc.). The organ of touch is to the other sense organs what genus is to the different species. Without the sense of touch there is no animal either. Each sense prevailingly judges its own objects, but may also judge several different qualities. Aristotle distinguishes between particular sensibles (colour, sound, etc.) and universal sensibles (motion, quiet, number, figure, size). In fact, the latter are common to all.22 Which is the sense organ of the organ of touch? The body itself is the intermediary adherent to the sense of touch, that then specialised in the various parts then forming special organs of sense. Each sense organ preserves the tactile function and in addition acquires a specific property. According to Aristotle, in man, the sense of touch is the most prominent: “with respect to the other senses, man is inferior to many animals, but possesses the sense of touch most prominently. This is why man is more intelligent than animals. Proof of this is that among men, thanks to the organ of this sense, and to no other, there are those better endowed and those less endowed: those with firm meat are inferiorly endowed of intelligence, those of soft meat are well endowed.”23 As regards the intellective soul, Aristotle suggests that “thinking and understanding are a way of feeling (in fact in both cases the soul judges and knows a given reality).”24 If the sensation, that cannot be mistaken, is found in all animated beings, only man possesses reason, that however can be mistaken. Imagination depends on sensation; it is found in some animals, but no beast possesses reason. Thinking is different from feeling although it is conceptually similar. As with sensation we have the sense organ, the sensible and the sensation, thus in the case of thought we have the intellect, the intelligible and the intellection. If thinking is a sort of suffering, how can we define intellect itself as simple and impassive? The intellect is potential intelligibles. As Aristotle explains, “Therefore there is an intellect analogous to matter because it becomes all things and another analogous to the acting cause because it produces all of them, just like a defined quality, such as light, in that in a certain sense light too makes potential colours actual colours. And this intellect is separate, pure and impassive, in essence action.”25 This intellect in action, that can never be potential, is separate in that it does not undergo the transformation processes of sensitive matter, is immune from any alteration or change, which Aristotle intends as being passage from potency to act. This explains why this intellect is “immortal and eternal.” Man is the only depository of active intellect, the immutable efficient cause of every intellection, the condition of every thought activity of the passive intellect.

Every animal finds its place in the hierarchical order thus created. Aristotle does not question the hierarchy. Master and slave, man and animal, male and female live in mutual relationship according to an order that is everything that it should be. In his De generatione animalium, Aristotle justifies the superiority of the male over the female by comparing the former to the form and the second to the matter. There is nothing in Nature that deserves reproach because Nature never does anything that’s imperfect or useless. Hunting and war are not condemned: actually, hunting is considered as being an exercise preliminary to war, in which success is ensured only if the science of killing has been perfected. The two massacres — of men and of animals — are well connected. In Rome, heir to the sacrificial spirit of the Greeks, the temples were veritable slaughterhouses: “the temple-slaughterhouse practice is converted into an outlook of the world that transforms history into slaughterhouse.”26

Theophrastus provides his important contribution to the knowledge of animals and plants (De causis plantarum, Historia plantarum) — he too questions the practice of blood-letting sacrifices, that seem to have been instituted later, in replacement of former plant offerings. Because they are beneficent, the gods do not love blood, and therefore it is not good to sacrifice animals. Theophrastus is an example of the contradiction within which philosophical thought moves: against a setting of sacrificial logic, the philosopher condemns blood-letting sacrifices. Indeed, like Democritus before him, Theophrastus states that it is right to kill bad and therefore harmful animals, as it is likewise right to act severely also against human individuals.

Stoics conceived the difference between man and animal as substantial. Despite analogies between plants, animals and men, man is the only repository of a kind of reason that governs him. No animal is capable of the most elementary reasoning, while in man the capacity for logic allows him to gather the causal connections and to process unitary conceptions of the entire reality. In contrast with the concept that derives as necessary consequence from the substantial unity of all living things the duty of universal justice (Pythagoras, Empedocles), Stoics, in agreement with Aristotle, reject whatever chance of extending law and justice to animals. Justice is an eminently political virtue and assumes the existence of a community of rational individuals, but no animal belongs to a community in this sense. This is why between man and beast there can be no juridical relationship. Porphyrius relates the position of Crisippus, who states that animals exist exclusively in function of man: “Horses to make war, dogs to keep guard over us, panthers, bears and lions to put our courage to practice. As for the pig, it was generated only to be killed, and the god mixed its soul to its body as if it were salt, aiming to offer us an excellent dish. So that we could have enough broths and side dishes it created oysters of various kinds and purple shells and various kinds of winged beings.”27

Aenexidemus of Cnossus, of whom we know very little,28 takes a position diametrically opposite to that of the Aristotelians and of the Stoics. In his defence of animals, Aenexidemus anticipates Hume’s outlook, whereby the relationship between animal and man is perfectly continuous. The Stoics made a distinction between lógos prophorikós and lógos endiáthetos. Aenexidemus states that animals certainly possess the latter. The sensitivity, representation and intelligence of animals naturally depend on the body structure of each species. Dogs, according to Aenexidemus, possess the virtues of justice, courage and intelligence, and are even capable of using the fifth indemonstrable syllogism. In fact, upon arriving to a triple fork in the road, after smelling the two paths which the animal it was following did not take, it does not smell the third but immediately plunges in that direction without hesitation. This behaviour can be explained only based on the hypothesis that the dog makes the following syllogistic reasoning: “the animal has taken path A or path B or path C; but as it did not take A or B, it has taken C.” According to Aenexidemus, there are also enough motivations for thinking that animals are endowed with lógos prophorikós too. How can we deny that animals communicate one with the other using an actual language, just because we don’t understand that language?“In fact, states Aenexidemus, even when we listen to the voice of Barbarians we don’t understand it, but it seems uniform to us. Thus we hear dogs emit expressions, one when they want to drive someone off, another when they bark, another when they are beaten and yet another different one when they are frolicking. In other words, if we paid attention, we would discover a wide range of vocal expressions of this animal and in others based on different circumstances.”29

We find in Epicure the explicit recommendation for frugality that contrasts with his fame of being a hedonist. According to Porphyrius, Epicure was a vegetarian. Epicure and Lucretius reject whatever anthropocentric outlook: the world does not exist for men alone. In common with animals man has sensation, from which reason derives entirely. As regards the criticism of anthropocentrism, Celsus deserves special attention. In his Alethés Lógos, a book written between 178 and 180 A. D., Celsus states that, even if animals lack the gift of speech, this does not mean that God created all beings for the exclusive advantage of man. The weakness of the anthropocentric outlook becomes immediately evident as soon as one considers that any animal species could make it its own with respect to the other species of the planet. Celsus writes that: “Although men are apparently superior to speechless animals, due to the fact that they have built cities, possess a political regime and have magistrates and powers, it does not prove a thing […]. When looking from the sky down onto earth, what aspect would render our activities different from those of the ants or the bees? […] The universe therefore has not been created for man, and similarly not for the lion either, or for the eagle, or for the dolphin, but so that this universe becomes a totally divine work and absolutely perfect.”30 Celsus is a neo-Platonist, who defends a universal religion of the living being derived from Greek tradition.

Neo-Platonism, especially through the works of Plutarch and of Porphyrius, once again confirms the need to apply justice to all living beings. Against the Stoics and the Peripatetics, Plutarch states that animals not only possess sensation but also intellect, and that they are also capable of love for their young and of cooperative solidarity with members of their same species. The weakness of animals makes the injustice perpetrated on them by men even more despicable. As shown in the argumentations by the Stoics, the statement of the superiority of man over animals is recommended solely in view of the necessity to exploit animals so as to allow civilisation to survive. Plutarch contests the legitimacy of this preoccupation and stresses the need for a more elevated civilisation that has more respect for the dignity of all beings. The massacre of animals is due only to the exploitation that man thinks he must exercise for his own survival. Plutarch contests the use of meat as food, deeming such use unjust and unnatural. In fact, for him man finds meat distasteful and in order to be able to eat it must mask and attenuate the smell of blood with vegetable aromas. The eating of meat means exposure to diseases and the predisposition of the temperament to aggressiveness. The killing of animals has paved the way for the extermination of human beings. Plutarch too sees the link between hunting and war. No practice of virtue is possible for the man who eats meat, because it is always possible that the doctrine of the transmigration of souls is true.

Porphyrius of Tyre is the author of one of the most important works in defence of animals: De abstinentia carnibus (Perí apokhés émpsychon), written between the years 268 and 271 A. D. Based on neo-Pythagorean and neo-Platonic premises, Porphyrius supports the need for vegetarianism, for justice and for peace among all living things. Quoting Plotinus, Porphyrius warns that all beings are intellectual essences imprisoned in the sensitive matter due to the difficulty they have of remaining bound to the intelligible. The exhortation to avoid eating meat as an abomination and the condemnation of whatever killing of living things as a veritable murder are in contrast with the political and social order founded on the sacrifice and killing of victims practiced as a solution to the problem of violence. Hunting and war are deeply similar and the first is preparatory to the second. Porphyrius writes that first of all animals participate in the logos, are capable of discourse and their faculties are enough to justify the need to act justly with them. Moreover, the physical shape of animals is quite similar to that of man. Animals possess a rational soul and are “reasonable by nature.” Men and animals belong to the same order, the subjects of which deserve justice. Animals are even superior to man as regards given abilities and virtues. In Egypt animals are subjected to special veneration. To indicate the connection of the divine with every living being, the Egyptians “depict divinities as humans up to the neck and then with heads of a lion or a bird or other animal or, conversely, with a human face and the rest with animal body parts.”31 God is present in everything and animals are joined according to the will of the gods. Egyptian priests associated the falcon to Helios, Porphyrius explains, because they “noticed that it has a long life and that, after death, it has divinatory faculties and that, freed from the body it is very rational and capable of predicting the future, and that it completes statues and moves temples.”32 Egyptian priests investigated all animals, discovering their divine character: “Having overcome the ignorance common to all men, which at first everyone encounters, they deemed worthy of veneration that which the people considered unimportant.”33

In his dialogue Alexander vel De ratione quam habere etiam bruta animalia (De animalibus), Philo of Alexandria tackles the double issue of the place occupied by animals in the scale of beings and their relationship with men. The relationship between man and animal is both one of opposition and of likeness. Even if one admits an unreduceable difference between rational and irrational animal, there always remains the need to confirm the relationship between man and animal based on a common element: what is this shared element? Philo defends against Alexander the anthropocentric outlook according to which every thing, animals included, have been made for man. The classification of all beings is dichotomous: ónta (sómata-asómata); sómata (psychén échonta-ápsycha); psychén échonta (logiká-áloga); logiká (thnetá-théia); thneté (árrhen-thély).34 Man has in common with all living things the possession of a soul, but possesses something more than animals: reason, something that decrees his superiority. Philo recalls the division into three categories of the human soul given by Plato: logistikón, thymoeidés and epithymetikón, but often mentions the stoic distinction between the rational part and the irrational part of man too. Like the Stoics, he also attributes to the soul eight components: the dominating rational part, the five senses, the organs of language and of reproduction. Philo poses the question of where the rational part resides. In some cases he follows the Stoics that place it in the heart, but more often opts for the head, as in Plato.35 In his interpretation of the creation of man in the image of God (Gen. I, 27; II, 7) Philo depicts human intelligence as a faculty instituted following the divine intelligence model (Nous). In addition to the virtues of the body, in which man is often inferior to animals, Philo indicates the virtues of the soul (hai perí psychén aretái), the cardinal virtues, that depend on science or knowledge in an epistemic sense, that animals have not. Although animals are known to show signs of courage or justice, these cannot be considered actual qualities of the soul, because being cardinal virtues they are found only in man. In his treatise Philo rejects the thesis that animals possess reason by arguing that their capability for comprehension is natural or instinctive, but not intelligent. Man is the only being on earth aware of his end; man is the only mortal capable of reasoning autonomously, on his own initiative. In the dialogue De animalibus, Alexander states that intelligence and virtue must be recognised in animals too; man therefore does not hold any monopoly over reason. Alexander attempts to demonstrate that animals show many cases of lógos prophorikós, the type of reason that expresses itself and becomes manifest through sounds (e. g.: talking birds). Not only, animals possess the lógos endiáthetos type too, namely the interior reason or thought (e. g.: spiders, bees, etc.). According to Alexander, animals are defined by their virtues: their chastity is remarkable when compared to the men’s reckless morals. Therefore, men and animals have both inherited the faculty of reason and one must believe that both possess virtue and vice.

The superiority of animals appears beyond dispute when one stops to think that animals beat men in wisdom in decisive matters. In fact, animals have transmitted to man all of the technical knowledge that he has applied to architecture, medicine, music, weaving. Alexander’s viewpoint is totally challenged by Philo, who denies that animals are capable of having intelligence and science because the faculty of reasoning implies the capability to extend it to numerous abstract concepts which arise when intelligence tends towards God, the universe, laws, customs, the state and a lot more things that animals have absolutely no idea of.36 Philo underlines that it is absurd to think that trained animals learn certain behaviours through reasoning since they are induced to do what they do for hunger. As regards the work of ants and bees, Philo insists that it is not to be seen as completed through promethéia (foreknowledge, prescience) but rather as attributable to Nature that runs everything. They therefore possess an intellect, but said intellect coincides with the intellect that governs Nature as a whole. Animals fail to possess the capacity for either autonomous reason or self-conscious reflection. Even though much of their behaviour is similar to that of man, the essential difference is in the fact that they do things without thinking, thanks to the strength that derives from their natural constitution (sine intellectu peragi primae naturae impulsu).37 Moreover, regarding the spoken word, one must consider that birds that emit a wide range of sounds are not capable of producing an articulated voice. The similitude with musical instruments helps to understand that, even if the sounds animals make are similar to the human voice, they lack clarity and distinct meaning. In the De animalibus, Philo includes the two contrasting theories that have dominated the literature regarding this aspect before and after: that which attributes the possession of reason and virtue to both man and beast actually professes the superiority of animals over man in terms of intellectuality and morality, while the opposite theory attributing reason and free will to man alone attempts to justify the superiority of man over animals that he can demonstrate in actions through the dominion of all living things. Now, the weak point of this theory lies precisely in this confusion between superiority and dominion. Indeed, whatever event or monster could operate a total dominion over the entire humanity, but this would not demonstrate such an entity’s superiority.

The position of the Fathers of the Church mirrors the biblical and Paulinian concept whereby man holds power over all animals and judges all other living beings, but cannot be judged by anyone. Augustine of Hippo denies reason in animals, in respect of an irrefutable hierarchy that places man at the top. Animals live in a state of subordination. They are edible, and the questioning of the legitimacy of eating meat can be an expression of diabolical influence.38 J. Scotus Erigena is the first philosopher to challenge the authority of the Fathers of the Church. A 9th century neo-Platonist thinker, Erigena professes unity among men and animals. The rational and the irrational, he says, are specific differences within the same genus. There is no valid reason for believing that only the soul of man is immortal: “If unique is therefore the genus of all realities consisting of soul and body, the genus defined as animal, because it contains in their substance all of the manifestations of animality (indeed man, the ox, the horse, within the genus are a unity, a substantial unity), for what reason then will all species within the genus die, while only one is destined to persist, that of man?”39 The soul is in all animals and is immortal for everyone. According to Erigena, the Fathers have not extended the soul to other animals for fear that men indulge in animal-like desires. The Fathers, however, teach the immortality of all souls to the initiated. The purpose of all creation is the return of all living things to Nature that neither creates nor is created, namely God. Just as man is the notion of divine intellect, thus animals are a notion of human intellect, since man has been provided with a notio of all beings created as his equals or as his subjects. Rationality and irrationality are the opposing categories by which man nominates the other beings according to the relationship he sets up with them. The other, irrespective of appearance or voice, can be each time an animal or a human being, according to the power of nominating that God conferred to Adam.

In his Summa theologiae, Thomas Aquinas states that animals are creatures destined to be instruments for intellectual creatures. If the Scriptures forbid cruelty towards animals, this is not because of the duty of respect for the life of animals. Indeed, the killing of an animal does not offend God, because the animal is intended for man. Similarly the killing of a human being is an offence to God, while the killing of a slave is an offence to the slave’s master. Defence of the social hierarchy implies the justification of man’s superiority vis-à-vis animals. The Cathars contested the killing of animals as contrary to the evangelical teachings. They taught piety for every form of life and unlike Thomas Aquinas rejected the feudal order founded on the classification into three social categories: oratores, bellatores, laboratores. Ditadi writes that “the reason for the persistent hatred against the Cathars — against which numerous crusades were launched — essentially lies in the fact that, together with other Christian religious movements, they constituted a serious menace for the feudal system.”40

The Cartesian “mechanical man” theory is quite famous. In an even more radical manner than the Thomists, Descartes denies whatever chance of recognising the presence of a soul in animals. Against all evidence, Descartes rejects the possibility that animals may have a conscience or be capable of thought. Animals are automata: they are not aware of any activity they carry out, not even of sensation. Unlike Giordano Bruno, Descartes does not distinguish between machines and organisms. Animals therefore do not speak, because their sounds are natural movements — they are nothing more than interesting machines at times capable of performing better than humans. The soul is a property unique to mankind. Only man, in addition to the res extensa, possesses the res cogitans. Thomas Hobbes believes that man indeed differs from animals through speech and the construction of meanings, but animals are not mere mechanical bodies lacking intelligence. In fact, they are capable of adding and of associating experiences and can foresee their behaviour, within certain limits. But do animals suffer? Nicolas Malebranche refutes the notion that animals are capable of any sensation, only because their suffering would be incomprehensible from the theological viewpoint: “Under an infinitely just and omnipotent God, an innocent creature would suffer pain, that is the penalty and punishment for a sin.” But God is infinitely just and omnipotent and therefore beasts, that have no intelligence or will, cannot suffer, otherwise their suffering would be without reason. If animals felt pleasure and pain, they would be subjected to an infinite variety of disasters without deserving them, because animals are incapable of sin.

Pierre Bayle, in his Dictionnaire historique et critique, forcefully reacts against the Cartesian theory, observing that the souls of beasts have the same destiny — mortality or immortality — as the soul of humans. He does not hide the tremendous difficulties involved in both cases. If all souls are mortal, then the fundamentals of religion are destroyed. If instead, in order to preserve the privilege of immortality for man’s soul, one extends immortality to animals too, then where are we to put the infinite number of immortal souls as indicated by the vast quantity of living things circulating on Earth? Shall the souls transmigrate from one body to another or shall they too have a paradise and a hell?41

The main exponents of the Enlightenment grant animals the possession of a conscience, of intelligence and of speech suitable for their physical and environmental conditions. In totally rejecting Cartesian dualism, Voltaire attributes to matter the capability of thought, negates the existence of innate ideas, and places on the same level the souls of man and of animals: the soul is material and mortal in all living things. Voltaire also professes the existence of a God that governs the world with uniform, universal and eternal laws. D’Holbach firmly refutes the existence of a clear-cut line separating men from beasts. Can the soul, as simple substance, represent the basis of the alleged difference of man compared to all other living beings? D’Holbach denies this, based on the reasoning that if such a simple substance existed, then individuals of the human species would all have to have the same intellectual capabilities, while it is evident that “men differ in terms of quality of mind as much as they have different facial features.”42 Everything man is capable of doing and his being different from animals derive from peculiar organization and practice, from education and from culture.43 The man that has not received any training is inferior to beasts precisely in terms of that reason that he flaunts as being a sign of his superiority over all living beings. Men often show unreasonableness, something that is totally lacking in animals, and yet man’s vanity persuades him that he stands at the centre of the universe. After creating for himself a world and a God to his own advantage, man is not ashamed to fall into atheism by negating animals the faculty of feeling sensations. In order to demonstrate that Nature was created only for him, man has even gone so far as to consider animals as simple automata. As regards man’s pretension that animals were created for his sole purpose, D’Holbach uses Celsus’ objection and points out the contradiction between man’s alleged privileged position and his position as animal often prey to attacks by individuals of other species.44

La Mettrie interprets Descartes’ dualism as a stratagem for redeeming the physical world from traditional theology. Wanted throughout Europe for having written L’histoire naturelle de l’âme, condemned to be burned by the Parliament of Paris, La Mettrie takes up the Cartesian theory of animals as machines and extends it to man: man too is a machine, and this creates no difficulty whatsoever in that matter has within it the principles of motion without any help from the outside. In his most famous work, L’homme machine (1747), La Mettrie writes that thought can be reduced to a natural function of language and language to a function of the vocal organs. La Mettrie extends Cartesian mechanism to all living beings. Any trace of res cogitans disappears, while thought becomes a property of matter just like electricity, and the body is interpreted from a vitalistic viewpoint, based on a mechanistic outlook. According to La Mettrie, there is continuity between man and beast. Man has become so by virtue of his sign-capabilities and animals too have sentiments, conscience, intelligence and we see that they too feel torment, doubt, regret.45 La Mettrie inserts man into the flow of life, outside any providential or finalist-theological scheme. “Although his positions sometimes seem contradictory, La Mettrie has contributed in dispelling whatever static-mechanical and fixist idea of living species, paving the way to transformism and evolutionism and also to a vision of the natural world that seems to anticipate quite a few romantic motifs.”46 There are authors, like Buffon and Helvétius, who reject the animal soul issue as futile and, focusing their attention back on the animals’ bodies, state that it is precisely the body of animals that prove their inferiority compared to man. One can understand how the memory and sensitivity of animals are entirely sterile, unlike man, simply by comparing the body of man with that of the animal, without having to turn to any metaphysical explanation (the soul of man) or extravagance contrary to evidence (the idea that animals are machines). By examining the extremities of animals (that impede them from handling any kind of utensil), by considering how short their life span is and what their natural equipment is (they are most suitably covered and armed for their needs), as well as their subordinate position with regard to man, to whom they must always submit or run from, we see why animals lack man’s ingenuity and inventiveness — simply because they don’t need them. Man instead has exploited an extremely developed memory and sensitivity for his survival.47

The Encyclopaedists tackled the issue of the soul of animals. The Abbot Claude Yvon wrote the article L’Âme des bêtes. Encyclopaedists had been accused of negating that there was an essential difference or of nature between man and beast. They had been reproached for refuting the existence of a spiritual substance in men and in animals. In his article, however, Yvon reverses Malebranche’s theory and openly states that an immaterial principle operates in animals. According to Yvon, if animals were machines, God would be deceiving us because the experience we have of animals refutes this mechanistic concept of living beings. Yvon writes: “What do we notice in them? Coherent and reasoned actions that express sense and represent ideas, desires, interests, plans of some particular being. It’s quite true that beasts do not speak, and this difference between them and men will at most help to prove that they do not have universal ideas, like man, nor do they construct abstract reasoning. But they do operate coherently: this proves that they possess the sentiment of themselves and individual interest, principle and purpose of their actions. All of their movements are intended for their profit, preservation and well-being. It is sufficient to observe their behaviour to notice the existence of an evident social instinct among individuals of the same species, and sometimes even among those of different species. They seem to get along, to act in unison, to contribute in the same projects. They interact with men, as seen in horses and dogs, etc., they learn what they are taught, they obey orders, they seem to fear threats, respond to flattery and caresses.”48 Because God cannot deceive us, beasts have a spiritual soul, a thinking substance, an immaterial principle. Even if the sphere of thought in animals is small, the difference between them and man mainly regards duration: in beasts the soul lasts as long as the body does, while in man it is immortal. Yvon states that the soul of beasts, although made of an immaterial and intelligent substance, is limited to indistinct perceptions and confused desires because their destination is the same material world into which they are born.

Hume openly challenges the philosophical constructions of the 17th century, and his quarrel with Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza is without compromise; Hume’s models are Bacon, Locke and Newton. Hume starts from the assumption that all animals are equipped with thought and reason; the actions and behaviours of animals and men are so similar in the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain that one is forced to reject whatever philosophy that instead postulates a difference in nature between man and beast. According to Hume, in man and in animals reasoning is based on identical principles. In his Treatise of Human Nature he writes: “First of all it is necessary that there be some impression immediately present in the memory or in the senses, to provide a basis for judgement. From the tone of voice the dog deduces the anger of the master and foretells his punishment; from a given olfactory situation he judges that the prey is not far off. Secondly, the deduction he derives from the first impression is based on experience and on the observation of the link between certain facts in the past. If you vary this experience, he varies his reasoning. Give a punishment following a sign or a gesture for some time and then following some other, and the dog will reach different conclusions according to his most recent experience.”49 In man as in beast, knowledge is built starting from sensitive impressions. The causal link is based on experience: it is only through the repeated experience of the connection of A with B that a cause and effect relationship is constituted, featuring by the anteriority of the cause, necessity of the connection and contiguity of cause and effect. The idea of necessary connection, which represents the central element of the relation of cause and effect, does not directly correspond to any impression (as the idea of yellow could be, for example), and therefore one must derive it from the repetition of similar cases in the past. The anticipation of the future, in man and beast alike, is made possible by the experience in the past: certain regularities of concomitance and succession discovered empirically immediately acquire a predictive function, since there is no other reason for believing that what occurred in the past cannot reoccur in the future. The principle of uniformity of Nature, the idea that Nature obeys the same laws always and everywhere, is also a piece of knowledge obtained — as expounded later on by John Stuart Mill — through a second degree induction. The principle of uniformity of Nature is nothing but a generalization of generalizations. Hume’s theory is that man cannot boast any superiority compared to animals. As for mathematical thought, one should observe that sense and imagination are the sources of mathematics. Reason is not independent from passion. Reason is a slave to passion: it is incapable of single-handedly contrasting any impulse. Hume says that an impulse can be opposed only by an impulse contrary to it. Reason is therefore a name to which no function or faculty corresponds. In man as in beast, behaviour and mental activity are based on experience, on the formation of habits, on passions and on sentiments. The same causes produce in man and in animals the passions of pride and of humility, of love and of hate.

Kant once again proposes the outlook of animals as instruments at the disposal of man. He condemns the abuse of animals in that it is contrary to humanity. Man is an end, the animal is not. Man has only indirect duties with animals, similarly to his direct duties with men. In his Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses (1766), Turgot proposes the theory that the domestication of animals occurred prior to the slavery of men. According to Turgot, in the beginning man lived from the picking of fruits, then he became a farmer, then he killed animals to eat of them and finally made other men slaves to submit them to his will. Turgot points out the link between the domestication of animals, their slaughter and the institution of slavery, but fails to deplore the cruelty that is the price for civilisation. Joseph de Maistre, Catholic philosopher and ambassador for the Savoy family in St. Petersburg, sees in universal sacrifice the divine rule of the world. De Maistre is the antithesis of Rousseau: the former is enthusiastic about everything that causes horror in the latter. The massacre of men and of animals is considered a consequence of the order in which God created the world. It is diabolical to oppose this divine order: from the defence of animals one then goes on to defend the revolution. Man must acknowledge and accept that, based on the divine decree, all beings are subjected to the same destiny of sacrifice. “Thus is accomplished incessantly, from the smallest, almost invisible animal all the way up to man, the great law of the violent destruction of living things. The whole earth, continuously soaked with blood, is nothing other than an immense altar on which what lives must be sacrificed endlessly […] War is therefore divine per se because it is the law of the world. War is divine for its general and particular consequences of supernatural order: these consequences are not well known because they are not frequent objects of study, but this does not mean they are less true.”50 In De Maistre’s explicitly sacrificial conception, the history of the world is governed by the universal law of permanent massacre: to oppose this divine order is not only useless but also insane and impious.

Jeremy Bentham is famous for his theory on man’s direct duties with animals. An egalitarianist and a utilitarian, Bentham states that a fundamental rule is that of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” of people possible. If good is pleasure, then all sentient beings are capable of feeling pain or pleasure. Each one shall therefore have to closely consider the consequences in pleasure and pain that his action causes in living beings, be they agents or moral patients. All living beings, writes Bentham, must be subjected to direct moral duties on the part of man, without any discrimination, as it is impossible to trace a clear-cut division between different species. In order to justify the direct moral duties towards animals, we must ask ourselves not whether they are capable of reason or of speech, but rather of suffering. If animals are not things, if they can suffer and have preferences, then it is incomprehensible why they cannot acquire those rights that are denied them only because of the unpleasant consequences that their total respect would determine on current society founded on the exploitation of animals for the well-being of men. Bentham’s theories were enthusiastically supported by John Stuart Mill, who confirmed the need for truly universal ethics. In his A System of Logic (1843), Mill picks up Hume’s principles and goes on to state that animals reason in a manner essentially identical to that of man, because they derive their knowledge from empirical matter that is exactly the same as that upon which man’s knowledge is based.

The history of zooanthropological concepts shows several fundamental trends that can be summarised as follows: on the one side we have the conceptions that ontologically characterise the difference between man and beast, recognising in man the presence of a quality — reason, immortal soul, self-conscience — that animals lack; on the other, the conceptions that instead institute an ontological kinship between man and beast based on the fact that they are assigned a common nature and a common origin. These egalitarian conceptions, however, are distinguished based on the unification criterion: upwards or downwards. Thus, neo-Platonists in general and Claude Yvon are an example of how one can extend to animals that property that others believe is a unique possession of man, while Epicure, La Mettrie, Hume, Bentham and Stuart Mill show how egalitarianism can be achieved by negating man the privilege that distinguishes him from other beings — the immortality of the soul and a special rational faculty that is totally independent from the senses, from passions and from the imagination. In the recently passed 20th century, once again we are witnessing the clash between those who recognise the existence of continuity between animal and beast and therefore claim the need to assign moral rights to all living beings, and those who instead assign to man an exclusive property, such as self-conscience, returning, in some cases (Felice Cimatti, for example)51 to substantially Cartesian positions.52

  1. See footnote No. 10. ↩︎

  2. Judges, Ch. 9, 7-15. A variation of this apologue is found in the corpus of Aesop’s fables (252) where the plants that refuse the crown are two, the olive tree and the fig tree. ↩︎

  3. Aesop, Favole, introduction by G. Manganelli, translated into Italian by E. Ceva Valla, Rizzoli, Milan 2000, p. 66. ↩︎

  4. Ivi, pp. 66-67. ↩︎

  5. A. Schopenhauer, Ergänzungen (Considerations), cit. in G. Ditali, I filosofi e gli animali, Isonomia, Este 1994, II vol., p. 806. Nietzsche derives this concept from Schopenhauer. In his out-of-date On the usefulness and the damage of history for life, Nietzsche starts precisely from this difference between man, with memory, and animal, without memory. ↩︎

  6. See C. Tugnoli, “L’unità di tutto ciò che vive. Verso una concezione antisacrificale del rapporto uomo/animale”, in C. Tugnoli (edited by), Zooantropologia. Storia, etica e pedagogia dell’interazione uomo/animale, Angeli, Milan 2003. ↩︎

  7. A. Schopenhauer, L’arte di insultare (The art of insulting), edited and with an essay by F. Volpi, Adelphi edizioni, Milan 1999, p. 74 and pp. 145-146. ↩︎

  8. In B. Farrington, Greek science, Italian translation: Storia della scienza greca, by G. Gnoli, Mondadori, Milan 1964, p. 97. ↩︎

  9. T. Gomperz, Griechische Denker: eine Geschichte der antiken Pholosophie, It. translation: Pensatori Greci: storia della filosofia antica, by L. Bandini, La Nuova Italia, Florence, 1933, 1950 ed., p. 87. ↩︎

  10. “Heraclides Ponticus narrates that Pythagoras said of himself that he was once Aethalides and that he thought he was the son of Hermes and that Hermes invited him to choose whatever he wanted, except immortality, so he asked that, alive and dead, he should remember what happened to him. And thus in life he held memory of everything and, after that, retained the same memory. He subsequently came into the body of Euphorbus and was injured by Menelaus. And Euphorbus said that once he had been Aethalides and that from Hermes he had received that gift and told of the roving of his soul, in how many plants and beasts it had lived and of the sufferings it had undergone in Hades and which ones the other souls had undergone” (Diogenes Laertius, Vite dei filosofi, edited by M. Gigante, TEA, Milan 1991, VIII, 1, p. 322). ↩︎

  11. In Schopenhauer as Teacher, Nietzsche observes that the deepest indignation derives from witnessing the senseless suffering animals are subjected to. “This explains the birth, and not just in one place on earth, of the notion that the souls of guilty men were hidden in the bodies of these animal bodies and that senseless pain, which at first triggers indignation, acquires full significance in the light of external justice, namely as penalty and expiation” (F. Nietzsche, Schopenhauer come educatore, It. translation, Rome 1982, p. 65, cit. in G. Ditadi, I filosofi e gli animali, cit., p. 876). The condition of beast, destined to never reach full consciousness in its life, appears to be unbearably hard to humans only if one assumes a deep kinship between animals and men: as indicated in Plato’s genealogy in Timaeus, animals once were men, forced to become beastly — literally — as a consequence of their wrongdoings. Reincarnation as a doctrine seems to perfectly reconcile the humanity and inhumanity of animals. Nietzsche too, like Schopenhauer before him, states that the fundamental difference between beast and man is memory: the beast is uniquely focused on the present and therefore lacks history (F. Nietzsche, Sull’utilità e il danno della storia per la vita (On the usefulness and damage of history for life), edited and with foreword by G. Colli, 2nd edition, Adelphi, Milan 1977). ↩︎

  12. Herodotus, History, I, 123. ↩︎

  13. Hebraism for thousands of years has hosted the idea of reincarnation (called gilgul, which etymologically recalls cyclic becoming) up until the 19th century. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his The Way of God, states that “A soul may reincarnate for a given number of times into different bodies, and thus correct the damage it has caused in previous incarnations” (Brian L. Weiss, Through Time into Healing, 1992, It. translation, Oltre le porte del tempo, by P. Lorenzin, Mondadori, Milan 1999, p. 37). Dr. Weiss, physician and psychiatrist, expert in reincarnation and regressive hypnosis, attempts to demonstrate not only the reality of transmigration but also the benefits deriving from regression therapy. In fact, regression into past lives can cure the pathologies of our present life. Weiss has described various cases of patients treated using regressive hypnosis (Brian L. Weiss, Many lives, Many Masters, 1988, It. translation, Molte vite, molti maestri, by M. Monti, Mondadori, Milan 1998). As a more convincing proof of reincarnation, Weiss mentions precise memories relating to circumstances that can be explained only if based on reincarnation. In detail, any doubts are dispelled by xenoglossic children, capable of speaking foreign languages, often ancient ones, to which they had never been exposed in this life (Brian L. Weiss, Oltre le porte del tempo, cit., p. 49). ↩︎

  14. Ibidem↩︎

  15. Giamblicus, Vita pitagorica (The life of Pythagoras), Laterza, Bari 1973, XXIV, 108-109. ↩︎

  16. G. Ditadi, “Introduzione, l’animale buono da pensare”, in G. Ditadi (edited by), I filosofi e gli animali, Isonomia, Este (Padua) 1994, p. 21. ↩︎

  17. Plato, Timaeus, XLIV, 91-92, in Plato, Opere complete, vol. 6, It. translation by C. Giarratano, Laterza, Bari 1974. ↩︎

  18. Plato, Timaeus, 90e, cit., p. 452. ↩︎

  19. Plato, Timaeus, 91e, op. cit., p. 453. ↩︎

  20. Aristotle, De anima, in Aristotle, Opere, vol. IV, Laterza, Bari 1973, 412a-413a, pp. 126-129. ↩︎

  21. Aristotle, De anima, cit., 415b, pp. 136-137. ↩︎

  22. Ibidem, 418a, p. 144. Actually, common sensibles are common to many, but not to all. Aristotle specifies that movement is perceived by touch and by sight. ↩︎

  23. Ibidem, 421a, p. 152. ↩︎

  24. Ibidem, 427a, p. 168. ↩︎

  25. Ibidem, 430a, p. 176. ↩︎

  26. G. Ditadi, Introduzione: l’animale buono da pensare, cit., p. 40. ↩︎

  27. Porphyrius, Perí apochés émpsychon, III, 20, cit. in G. Ditadi, Introduzione: l’animale buono da pensare, cit., p. 50. ↩︎

  28. Allegedly living in the first century B.C., he taught in Alexandria and wrote Pyrrhonian discourses in eight books, now lost. ↩︎

  29. Sextus Empiricus, Schizzi pirroniani (Pyrrhonian discourses), I, 74-76, Laterza, Bari 1926. ↩︎

  30. Celsus, Alethés lógos, IV, 81, quoted in G. Ditadi, I filosofi e gli animali, cit., pp. 59-60. ↩︎

  31. Porphyrius, De abstinentia, in G. Ditadi, I filosofi e gli animali, cit., p. 387. ↩︎

  32. Ibidem, p. 387. ↩︎

  33. Ibidem, p. 388. ↩︎

  34. Entities are divided into corporeal and incorporeal: corporeal into animate and inanimate; animate into rational and irrational; rational into mortal and divine; mortal into male and female. ↩︎

  35. A. Terian, “Introduction”, Filone alessandrino, Alexander vel de ratione quam habere etiam bruta animalia (De animalibus), and Armenian version, Introduction, traduction et notes par Abraham Terian, Editions du cerf, Paris 1988, pp. 50-54. ↩︎

  36. Philo of Alexandria, Alexander, cit., p. 187. ↩︎

  37. Ibidem, p. 196. ↩︎

  38. “The spirit openly declares that in later times several will wander from the faith, harkening to untruthful spirits and to diabolical doctrines, seduced by the hypocrisy of impostors, already fire-branded in their conscience. Those will prohibit marriage, will impose abstinence from several foods that the Lord has created to be eaten with thanks given by the faithful and by those who know the truth. Indeed, all that has been created by the Lord is good and nothing is to be wasted, when taken with the giving of thanks, because it is sanctified by the word of the Lord and by prayer” (Paul of Tarsus, First epistle to Timothy, 4, 1-5, It. translation, La Bibbia di Gerusalemme, Edizioni Dehoniane, Bologna 1984). ↩︎

  39. Scotus Erigena, Periphyseon, III, 39, col. 737-738, Ditadi, I filosofi e gli animali, op. cit., p. 81. ↩︎

  40. G. Ditadi, I filosofi e gli animali, op. cit., p. 85. ↩︎

  41. Ibidem, p. 139. ↩︎

  42. Paul-Henry Thiry D’Holbach, Le bons sens, cit. in G. Ditadi, I filosofi e gli animali, op. cit., vol. II, p. 745. ↩︎

  43. Isn’t a man without culture, without experience, without reason, perhaps more despicable and odious than the most futile of insects or the most ferocious of beasts? Is there in nature a being more detestable than Tiberius, than Nero, than Caligula?" (Paul-Henry Thiry D’Holbach, Le bons sens, op. cit., p. 746). ↩︎

  44. “Which ascertainable advantage is there for the favoured of the gods in being bit by a viper or by a mosquito, harassed by irritating little animals, torn to pieces by a lion, etc.? Wouldn’t all these animals reason in the same correct manner as our theologians if they stated that man was created for them?” (Paul-Henry Thiry D’Holbach, Le bons sens, op. cit., p. 747). ↩︎

  45. Ibidem, p. 148. ↩︎

  46. Ibidem, p. 149. ↩︎

  47. C.A. Helvétius, De l’Esprit, It. translation, Dello spirito, edited by A. Postigliela, Editori Riuniti, second edition Rome 1994, pp. 16-18. ↩︎

  48. G. Ditadi, I filosofi e gli animali, op. cit., p. 169. ↩︎

  49. D. Hume, Trattato sulla natura umana (Treatise on Human Nature), I, 3, 15, Laterza, Bari 1978, p. 192. ↩︎

  50. J. De Maistre, Les soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg, II, colloque VII, 1845, in G. Ditadi, I filosofi e gli animali, op. cit., p. 180. ↩︎

  51. F. Cimatti, Mente e linguaggio negli animali, Carocci, Rome 1998; id., La mente silenziosa. Come pensano gli animali non umani, Editori Riuniti, Rome 2002. ↩︎

  52. C. Tugnoli, L’unità di tutto ciò che vive, op. cit., pp. 60-64. ↩︎