15 July 2008

John Rodman on Theriophobia

More common in Western thought than theriophilia has been theriophobia, the fear and hatred of beasts as wholly or predominantly irrational, physical, insatiable, violent, or vicious beings whom man strangely resembles when he is being wicked. Thus in a state of nature "man is a wolf to man" (Hobbes). A society founded on the principle of satisfying appetites is "a city of pigs" (Plato). The basic theriophobic stance is one of disgust at "brutish", "bestial", or "animalistic" traits that are suspiciously more frequently predicted of men than of beasts, just as the types of behavior in which these traits are exhibited (egoism, insatiable greed, insatiable sexuality, cruelty, the gratuitous slaughter of other species, and the mass extermination of one's own species) are more frequently observed on the part of men than of beasts.

Theriophobia appears to be compounded of two major elements: man's disgust with his own body and appetites ("certainly man is of kin to the beasts, by his body; and, if he be not kin to God, by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature"—Bacon); and man's anxiety stemming from the loss of inhibitions (e.g., against the killing of one's own species) normal to other animal species. The well-spring of theriophobia is thus fear of self, and its central mechanism is projection. In the most alienated form of theriophobia, the beasts themselves were seen as animated by devils, and man's extermination of the beasts and of "savages" (bestial men) was carried on as part of God's war against Satan.

(John Rodman, "The Dolphin Papers," The North American Review 259 [spring 1974]: 13-26, at 20 [footnotes omitted])

Note from KBJ: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) famously wrote that life in the state of nature is (or would be) "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." Brutish = of the brutes. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) defended utilitarianism from the charge that, because it exalts pleasure, it is "a doctrine worthy only of swine." He also said that "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied." Can you think of other such examples in the history of philosophy?

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