18 July 2004

Richard Sorabji on Western Attitudes Toward Animals

Unfortunately, the Stoic view of animals, with its stress on their irrationality, became embedded in Western, Latin-speaking Christianity above all through Augustine. Western Christianity concentrated on one half, the anti-animal half, of the much more evenly balanced ancient debate. Although there were other strands in Western Christianity, I think this accounts for the relative complacency of our Western Christian tradition about the killing of animals. The ancient philosophers were less complacent. In the eighteenth century the tide began to turn, and in the last fifteen years it has accelerated, with a widespread rethinking of our treatment of animals. But I do not believe that the right defence of animals has yet been found. The modern philosophical defences seem to me to be too one-dimensional. What is clear, however, is that we should treat animals very much better than we do. My own diet has changed as a result of reflecting on the ancient texts, at least when I am choosing for myself, although I still enjoy whatever food I am served by others. I do not mention that as a particularly compelling position, and I have no wish to tell anyone else what to do. I explain in the concluding chapter why I think decisions must be complex, and suggest an alternative approach.

(Richard Sorabji, Animal Minds and Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate, Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 54 [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993], 2-3)

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