Continued from a previous blog.
Having summarized the arguments against veganism and animal rights, Porphyry addresses his friend (and his readers).
“As, however, I intend to oppose these opinions, and those of the multitude, I may reasonably premise what follows. In the first place, therefore, it must be known that my discourse does not bring with it an exhortation to every description of men. For it is not directed to those who are occupied in sordid mechanical arts, nor to those who are engaged in athletic exercises; neither to soldiers, nor sailors, nor rhetoricians, nor to those who lead an active life. But I write to the man who considers what he is, whence he came, and whither he ought to tend, and who, in what pertains to nutriment, and other necessary concerns, is different from those who propose to themselves other kinds of life; for to none but such as these do I direct my discourse.”
In short, he is directing his arguments towards philosophers, to thinkersspecifically, to those who wish to reason and to understand themselves and their reality through such faculties. He, as with other philosophers in our history, addresses himself primarily to those who share his love of wisdom (philo-sophia). He's not so concerned with whether or not one can build muscle or run a marathon as a vegan, but far more so with the simple truth of its rightness based on philosophy and reason.
And in addressing the goal (felicity) of this philosophy, Porphyry explains:
“The contemplation which procures for us felicity [joy, bliss], does not consist, as some one may think it does, in a multitude of discussions and disciplines; nor does it receive any increase by a quantity of words. . . . If . . . felicity consisted in literary attainments, this end might be obtained by those who pay no attention to their food and their actions. But since for this purpose it is requisite to exchange the life which the multitude lead for another, and to become purified both in words and deeds, let us consider what reasonings and what works will enable us to obtain this end.”
The felicity of the philosopher requires, as Porphyry and many others before and after him have insisted, an exchange of one life (that of the multitudes) for another (that of the philosophers). We not only see this among Pythagoreans, Platonists, Orphics, Brahmins, Buddhists and others, but even from the mouth of Jesus in the gospels, when he says: “For whosoever will save his [current] life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his [current] life for my sake [i.e. for the sake of true wisdom, or Christos] shall find it [i.e. the life of wisdom].” (Matthew 16:25)
There are many ways in which we can approach the philosophic and religious/spiritual ideas of our ancestors. Some favor dead-letter literalism in their interpretations, others prefer to see but (equally dead) myth, but it is to those of us who see both allegory and metaphor, and seek to understand the inner meaning, that the philosophers of old addressed their writings. Porphyry is no different in this respect. He says,
“we [humans] resemble those who enter into, or depart from a foreign region, not only because we are banished from our intimate associates, but in consequence of dwelling in a foreign land, we are filled with barbaric passions, and manners, and legal institutes, and to all these have a great propensity. Hence, he who wishes to return to his proper kindred and associates, should not only with alacrity begin the journey, but, in order that he may be properly-received, should meditate how he may divest himself of everything of a foreign nature which he has assumed.”
“. . . it is necessary, if we intend to return to things which are truly our own, that we should divest ourselves of every thing of a mortal nature which we have assumed, together with an adhering affection towards it, and which is the cause of our descent and that we should excite our recollection of that blessed and eternal essence, and should hasten our return to the nature which is without colour and without quality, earnestly endeavouring to accomplish two things; one, that we may cast aside every thing material and mortal; but the other, that we may properly return, and be again conversant with our true kindred, ascending to them in a way contrary to that in which we descended hither.”
We may interpret this on the religious level, as looking towards the eternal nature of Spirit, or spiritual life, as contrasted with the ephemeral nature of matter, or material life, but we may also interpret this on a regular human level, in which many of us will be able to relate.
What is meant by “dwelling in a foreign land”? We were all born into this world and as we developed we took on or inherited certain ideas – from our parents, siblings, teachers, society – we leave our “native land” (or state, noticeable in the infant) and come into a foregin land of concepts and ideas that have little to do with reality. These ideas color who we are, or rather, who we are capable of being. In our vegan journey many of us can relate to the process of “divesting ourselves of everything of a foreign nature which we have assumed” – these things being our assumptions about life, about diet, health, about humanity and ourselves. Our brains have become so full of assumptions that our journey becomes as much about unlearningas about learning.
Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.(Matthew 18:3)
This is what the journey of the philosopher is about – returning to our native state, but not in the sense of going backwards, or reverting to the blank slate of the infant, but of clearing ourselves of the crud unnecessarily gathered as we develop as a unit of society, so as to approach life with clarity of mind. Porphyry therefore precedes his arguments for veganism with an injunction to us to begin the process of returning to this, our true nature.
“For we were intellectual natures, and we still are essences purified from all sense and irrationality; but we are complicated with sensibles, through our incapability of eternally associating with the intelligible. . .”
We were once pure and untarnished intellects, our minds were once like the waters of a clear, calm lake, until we began to crowd our minds with assumptions, beliefs and ideas inherited from our collective society (the 'mortal' or 'material') which muddied our waters. That it's 'normal', and 'acceptable' to imprison, exploit and consume animals is an example of one of these collective assumptions, which become an inseparable part of our self-identity, both individually and culturally.
“For all the powers which energize in conjunction with sense and body, are injured, in consequence of the soul not abiding in the intelligible; (just as the earth, when in a bad condition, though it frequently receives the seed of wheat, yet produces nothing but tares), and this is through a certain depravity of the soul, which does not indeed destroy its essence from the generation of irrationality, but through this is conjoined with a mortal nature, and is drawn down from its own proper to a foreign condition of being.”
Remember that the Greek word we translate into English as “Soul” is psyche, which we sometimes equally translate as Mind, and which essentially indicates the reasoning faculty, that which is capable of truly understanding, of recognizing the Good(i.e. the divine) within. We are, in our essence, a pure psyche, uncoloured by erroneous ideas and conceptions, untarnished by false beliefs, and it is this ideal and 'flawless' condition that is potential in each of us. The journey Porphyry would have us take is that journey by which we begin to strip ourselves of everything erroneous that we might return once again to our native state, which he equates with pure intelligence. The Soul not abiding in the intelligible is the Mind not abiding in itself (i.e. unconnected to true understanding or wisdom), but instead filling itself with falsities and living in them, or imagining them to be reality.
In veganism we take a similar (if not the very same) journey. We are not simply refraining from exploiting animals, we are endeavoring to clean ourselves outwardly and inwardly, to get rid of all the crud we have accumulated over the years – the physical and metaphorical fat we wear, the baggage we carry with us. Porphyry addresses his essay to all those who wish to undertake this process and thus discover who they truly are, which is the true path of the philosopher, the lover of wisdom. As he says, the soul (psyche) “does not indeed destroy its essence from the generation of irrationality” – i.e. the psyche (Mind, Intelligence) remains pure and available, just waiting for us to drop all the stuff we've covered it over with. We have not, in this view, lost our true self, but have merely covered it up, clouded it or “conjoined it with a mortal nature,” which is to say corrupted our true intelligence with false notions, unfounded concepts and twisted logic.
“. . . if we are desirous of returning to those natures with which we formerly associated, we must endeavour to the utmost of our power to withdraw ourselves from sense and imagination [false conceptions], and the irrationality with which they are attended . . . but such things as pertain to intellect should be distinctly arranged, procuring for it peace and quiet from the war with the irrational part; that we may not only be auditors of intellect and intelligibles, but may as much as possible enjoy the contemplation of them, and, being established in an incorporeal nature, may truly live through intellect; and not falsely in conjunction with things allied to bodies. We must therefore divest ourselves of our manifold garments, both of this visible and fleshly vestment, and of those with which we are internally clothed, and which are proximate to our cutaneous habiliments; and we must enter the stadium naked and unclothed, striving for (the most glorious of all prizes) the Olympia of the soul.”
It's important to ask ourselves what Porphyry means when he says “garments”. We must remember that he is a philosopher and a metaphysician and is therefore speaking often in subtle terms, by way of allegory and symbol. When we wake up in the morning do we not “put on” our garment of flesh? Do we not also put on our “garments” of Mind – our ideas about ourselves and the world, our identities, our personalities, our habits? These are that “with which we are internally clothed”, and as he says, to return to our true natures we must “enter the stadium [of life] naked and unclothed [i.e. without the baggage of our false ideas, our inner garments]”. This also applies to meditation, wherein we “procure for it [the mind, soul, Self] peace and quiet from the war with the irrational part”, i.e. that part of us that we've accumulated over the years, that doesn't actually (or natively) belong to us, but is simply (mental) baggage that we've decided to carry around from day to day.
The importance of this is stated plainly by Porphyry:
“The first thing, however, and without which we cannot contend, is to divest ourselves of our garments.”
We must divest ourselves, we must rid ourselves of the mental fat we wear around our minds every day. We must begin to let go of our mistaken ideas and to slowly return to our true selves, i.e. to “associate with the intelligible”.
“But since of these [garments] some are external and others internal . . . one kind is through things which are apparent, but another through such as are more unapparent. Thus, for instance, not to eat, or not to receive what is offered to us, belongs to things which are immediately obvious; but not to desire is a thing more obscure; so that, together with deeds, we must also withdraw ourselves from an adhering affection and passion towards them. For what benefit shall we derive by abstaining from deeds, when at the same time we tenaciously adhere to the causes from which the deeds proceed?”
Porphyry touches on something of profound importance here. It is not enough to simply divest ourselves of our outer garments and continue to wear our inner ones. It is not enough, for instance, to forcefully stop consuming animals but to continue inwardly to desire or crave animal products. If we are to be truly free, to truly return to our native state, we must divest ourselves of all the inward ideas, passions, etc., that bind us to our past habits. It is easy to see that the most successful vegans, as the most successful philosophers, are those who have truly cleansed themselves inwardly, who are vegans and philosophers straight through to the very core of their being. This is what Porphyry is telling us: we must reach within and really begin that cleaning process in earnest.
“. . . this separation [the departure from sense, imagination, and irrationality] is introduced by a continual negligence of the passions. And this negligence is produced by an abstinence from those sensible perceptions which excite the passions, and by a persevering attention to intelligibles.”
The way to begin this process, this withdrawal from irrationality, etc., which is the cleaning up of ourselves, is through “negligence of the passions”, through “abstinence” from that which excites those passions, and by keeping ourselves focused on that which is intelligible. If we wish to rise above some unwanted part of ourselves, if we want to strip off one of our inner garments, we must maintain abstinence from those specific passions that are associated with that particular garment – i.e. that “adhere” us to it. We cannot, for instance, divest ourselves of the inner garment associated with alcoholism without first addressing and thenceforth abstaining from the passions associated with the drink. The former requires the latter.
This comes into full effect in our vegan journey, as well as with the journey of the philosopher. Continuing to 'feed' the passions associated with our inner garments (false beliefs, ideas, etc.), and thus to actively maintain them, will do nothing but keep us imprisoned by them. In veganism this is plainly seen, as our indulgence in non-vegan lifestyles does nothing but keep our feet firmly locked where we are, holding us back from truly living a vegan lifestyle. We cannot put one foot in the door and keep one outside; we must step fully away from our past bad habits and move fully into our truer nature, thus dropping off those garments that have served only to weigh us down.
And Porpyry makes it clear that:
“. . . among these passions or perturbations, those which arise from food are to be enumerated.”
These passions are like the glue which binds the “garments” to our Self. We wake in the morning, or come out of meditation, and immediately that glue takes hold and our very sense of self becomes interlocked with all our self-identified garments. To take them off we must loosen the glue, which is to eliminate the passions surrounding each one.
If one is addicted to a harmful substance, one must abstain from it while also replacing it with beneficent substances (to trade the bad for the good), and the longer one does this the weaker the passion for the harmful substance becomes. Similarly, if one is addicted to a harmful idea or belief, one must abstain from it, while focusing on beneficent ideas (by looking only towards truth), and slowly the glue binding one to that harmful belief will weaken until the garment can be taken off completely. Applying this to veganism, we can see that one must adopt it fully, absolutely, leaving entirely behind all non-vegan activities, and slowly, over time, the passions and habits that bound one to the old lifestyle will fade and one will find a new life awaiting them.
“We should therefore abstain, no less than from other things, from certain food, viz., such as is naturally adapted to excite the passive part of our soul [psyche] . . . these, the passions being excited, and the whole of the irrational nature becoming fattened, the soul [psyche] is drawn downward, and abandons its proper love of true being.”
Anyone familiar with addiction can recognize in these words a true understanding of the process by which one forms an addition. That process of being “drawn downward” can be seen both spiritually and practically. We (the person we truly are) are drawn down into the habits we've gathered to ourselves over the years, we are drawn into believing that we are those habits, when in reality they are but a temporary passenger, so to speak, in our life-journey. We are no more our habits than the fire is the smoke it produces.
Thus we lose our “proper love of true being” in favor our our habitual life of day-in and day-out self-identification. We think we are all these ideas we hold about ourselves and the world, but Porphyry is telling us that this is but the irrational nature becoming “fattened” by feeding it too much nonsense, just as our bodies become fattened by feeding them too much unhealthy food. And food, he makes clear, is one of those elements that excites this part of our nature and keeps us stuck in it. We are what we eat, as the old saying goes, so that what we eat lends itself to either the path of the philosopher or to the state of the multitudes, in which we remain confused about who we truly are. The choice between the two is ours to make.
Porphyry proceeds to examine how the passions are excited by each sense, and when he comes to the sense of taste, we find him saying:
“But what occasion is there to speak of the passions produced through the taste? For here, especially, there is a complication of a twofold bond; one which is fattened by the passions excited by the taste; and the other, which we render heavy and powerful, by the introduction of foreign bodies (i.e. of bodies different from our own). For, as a certain physician said, those are not the only poisons which are prepared by the medical art; but those likewise which we daily assume for food, both in what we eat, and what we drink, and a thing of a much more deadly nature is imparted to the soul through these, than from the poisons which are compounded for the purpose of destroying the body.”
Not only are the passions (those associated with whichever foods we choose to consume) excited, but we may also slowly poison ourselves through that consumption. As we know in our time, this is absolutely true. A whole host of diseases are associated with the consumption of animal products, and we see every day around us the negative health effects of poor dietary choices. However, an oft neglected effect is that which these foods have on the Mind, or Soul (psyche). Porphyry goes as far as to say that these poisons are far worse for the soul than those designed to kill the body. Killing the body does no further damage to the Soul, as is evident by the ceasing of life (or association between soul (psyche) and body) – regardless of what we believe may or may not happen after death – but slowly poisoning the psyche through the consumption of such foods does continual and long-term damage to the mind.
Clear thinking is essential if we are to drop our old garments, and clear thinking becomes hampered by the consumption of unhealthy foods, as they restrict the body and brain of essentials, but also because we continue to train and enhance and maintain our old mental habits – we continue to apply more and more glue to the garments we wrap ourselves in, thus making the journey to discover who we truly are that much more difficult.
“Hence, to be purified from all these [the passions that bind us] is most difficult, and requires a great contest, and we must bestow much labour both by night and by day to be liberated from an attention to them, and this, because we are necessarily complicated with sense. Whence, also, as much as possible, we should withdraw ourselves from those places in which we may, though unwillingly, meet with this hostile crowd [of passions].”
Our senses provide the means by which the passions are excited and thus the means by which we continue to strengthen the glue binding us to the garments we wish to let go of (those that are keeping us unhealthy and restraining us from knowing our true selves), therefore we must be careful what we do with our senses, and careful as to what environments we put ourselves in. If one wants to quit drinking, hanging out in a bar is a bad idea. If one wants to be vegan, going to a steakhouse is a bad idea. If we indulge one sense, it is likely to lead to the indulgence of another. Thus, if we indulge an enjoyment of the smell of cooked meat, it only strengthens the passion that will inevitably lead to the indulgence of the taste of cooked meat. However, if we abstain all senses from this, and indulge them only in healthy vegan foods, in time the passion associated between smell or taste and cooked meat will vanish – we will simply not enjoy it anymore, because the enjoyment was only a trained or learnedthing, not a natural thing essential to who we are.
“. . .intellect, indeed, is present with itself, though we are not present with it. But he who departs from intellect, is in that place to which he departs; and when, by discursive energies, he applies himself upwards and downwards by his apprehension of things, he is there where his apprehension is.”
This is an age-old philosophical assertion, that where the mind directs itself so follows the perceived “reality” of that mind. Thus, what we focus on becomes (to us) our reality. If we focus on the negative, we become absorbed by it, it fills our view of all things. If we focus on the positive, likewise we become absorbed by it. If we place our focus entirely upon aspects of ourselves that we dislike, our reality will become that of one who dislikes themselves. When we depart from intellect (i.e. when we indulge ourselves in false ideas and beliefs) that “place” to where we go becomes our reality – we will see the world only through those goggles, but never with our naked eyes (i.e. never clearly, truthfully, accurately).
“He, therefore, who submits to the assumption of (every kind of) food, and voluntarily betakes himself to (alluring) spectacles, to conversation with the multitude, and laughter; such a one, by thus acting, is there where the passion is which he sustains.”
Our passions are much more than simple indulgences; they color our entire sense of reality when we follow them. We not only begin to see the world through the coloring of those passions, but we also draw ourselves into environments associated with those passions. We thus create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy (for ourselves), when we believe something to be true we will continue to reinforce that belief by drawing ourselves to things that verify (feed) it. We must be very careful then, in considering “where” we wish to focus our attention, and this applies to both outer environments and inner ones (i.e. where we wish to spend our time and on which ideas we wish to dwell).
“. . . through ignorance of, and abstaining from sensible concerns, he (the delirious man) is unacquainted with them.”
Just as abstaining from the passions will slowly lead to our detachment from them, so too abstaining from “sensible concerns” (i.e. from true reason, rationality, logic, intelligence) will cause a detachment in us from our true nature (clarity of Soul, psyche or Mind). By living only in the passions associated with our false sense of self, our beliefs, habits and all the garments we wear, we also deprive ourselves of the opportunity to be who we truly are, in our truest self. Thus, in taking up the journey of the philosopher, it is as important to leave behind who we were as it is to begin finding who we are. In veganism this is equally applicable: we must both leave behind our old habits and begin finding healthy ones. We cannot maintain both our old self and our new self: one of the two must perish.
“So that to the attainment of a life according to intellect, it is requisite to abstain from all these [base passions] . . . for it is not possible for us to be borne along to this place and to that, while we are here, and yet be there, (i.e. be present with an intelligible essence.) For our attentions to things are not effected with a part, but with the whole of ourselves.”
Or in other words, we must give ourselves fully to where we lend our attention, we must commit all of ourselves to where we choose to focus, and not be scattered, having only part of our attention on one thing and another part on another. In veganism this is evident: we cannot be partly vegan. In the life of the philosopher it is even more so: we cannot live two lives: one rational and one irrational. Because our focus determines what we perceive as our reality, we cannot expect to live in the reality of the person we truly are if we continue to focus on the person we know to be a fiction made up of societal assumptions, habits and expectations. We must let that person go and give our full attentionto the person we know we are (and can be).
“The man . . . who is cautious, and is suspicious of the enchantments of nature [of the passions], who has surveyed the essential properties of body, and knows that it was adapted as an instrument to the powers of the soul [psyche], will also know how readily passion is prepared to accord with the body, whether we are willing or not, when anything external strikes it. . . . the irrational part [our confused self] verges downward, thither it is borne along, without any power of governing itself in things external. Nor does it know the fit time or the measure of the food which should be taken, unless the eye of the charioteer [the Soul, our real Self, the “intelligence”] is attentive to it, which regulates and governs the motions of irrationality . . . But he who takes away from reason its dominion over the irrational part, and permits it to be borne along . . . such a one, yielding to desire and anger, will suffer them to proceed to whatever extent they please. On the contrary, the worthy man will so act that his deeds may be conformable to presiding reason . . ..”
“This, therefore, is the cause why the multitude err in words and deeds, in desire and anger, and why, on the contrary, good men act with rectitude, viz. that the former suffer the boy within them to do whatever it pleases; but the latter give themselves up to the guidance of the tutor of the boy, (i.e. to reason) and govern what pertains to themselves in conjunction with it. Hence in food, and in other corporeal energies and enjoyments, the charioteer being present, defines what is commensurate and opportune. . . .”
“Hence, to worthy men, abstinence in food [i.e. abstaining from animal products, wine, etc.], and in corporeal enjoyments and actions, is more appropriate than abstinence in what pertains to the touch . . . Since . . . a prolongation of time in cooking and digesting food, and together with this the co-operation of sleep and rest, are requisite, and, after these, a certain temperament from digestion, and a separation of excrements, it is necessary that the tutor of the boy within us should be present, who, selecting things of a light nature, and which will be no impediment to him, may concede these to nature, in consequence of foreseeing the future [i.e. understanding the effects of his actions], and the impediment which will be produced by his permitting the desires to introduce to us a burden not easily to be borne, through the trifling pleasure arising from the deglutition of food.”
In short, we must allow ourselves to be governed by the highest in us, i.e. by reason, that faculty of the soul (psyche) which allows us to know what is rightful and beneficial and what is not. In regards to food (as to all of life), we mustn't allow ourselves to be “borne away” by the “boy” in us (i.e. the irresponsible and irrational), but must allow the “tutor” to govern, such that we will select the most appropriate foods in the proper amounts and live a healthy life. This philosophy is found clearly also in the Bhagavad Gita wherein we are shown the importance of allowing “Krishna” (our true Self) to guide Arjuna (the boy) – indeed Porphyry uses the exact same analogy of the charioteer as used in the Gita. This need for the assertion of the higher over the lower is found among nearly all philosophical systems.
The importance of reason and intelligence cannot be understated, and as Porphyry explains, this is of immense import when it comes to food.
“Reason, therefore, very properly rejecting the much and the superfluous, will circumscribe what is necessary in narrow boundaries, in order that it may not be molested in procuring what the wants of the body demand. . . . nor (will it) endeavour to receive much pleasure in eating, nor, through satiety, to be filled with much indolence; nor by rendering . . . the body more gross, to become somnolent; nor through the body being replete with things of a fattening nature, to render the bond more strong, but himself more sluggish and imbecile in the performance of his proper works.”
It is reason, therefore that should guide us in our selection of food, not the runaway passions. Reason will do the job right; the irrational in us will do nothing but harm.
This forms the central recurring theme underlying Porphyry's philosophy, which is the dominion of the rational over the irrational within us, the need of the higher, noble, reasoning ability to take precedence and thus rule over the lower, base, passionate and unreasonable within us. This central pillar of his system of thought becomes interwoven with his definition of justice, from which he will then argue that justice ought to be extended equally to animals as to humans. The exposition of his philosophy, then, builds up the foundation upon which his chief arguments for animal rights will rest.
“. . . the essence of justice consists in the rational ruling over the irrational, and in the irrational being obedient to the rational part [in each being]. For when reason governs, and the irrational part is obedient to its mandates, it follows, by the greatest necessity, that man will be innoxious [harmless] towards every thing.”
Justice thus, springs naturally when the rational is asserted over the irrational. In short: when we begin to exercise clarity of mind, with true reason and rationality, we begin naturally to embody and exemplify justice, which arises from a true perception of morality.
“Hence, the just man appears to be one who deprives himself of things pertaining to the body; yet he does not (in reality) injure himself. For, by this management of his body, and continence, he increases his inward good, i.e., his similitude to God.
. . .
By making pleasure . . . the end of life, that which is truly justice cannot be preserved . . . For, in many instances, the motions of the irrational nature, and utility and indigence, have been, and still are the sources of injustice. For men became indigent (as they pretended) [partook] of animal food, in order that they might preserve, as they said, the corporeal frame free from molestation, and without being in want of those things after which the animal nature aspires. But if an assimilation to divinity [i.e the inward good] is the end of life, an innoxious [harmless] conduct towards all things will be in the most eminent degree preserved.”
Within each of us, then, we have this power-struggle between the 'irrational' and the 'rational', between what might be called our 'desire-nature' and our 'divine-nature'. If we follow purely the dictates of our passions and desires, without a care for what is truly good, then injustice follows, as is evident from countless examples in our society. If, however, the rational within us is asserted as primary and of most importance, and we are led not by blind passions, habits, appetites or false conceptions, but by our highest reason, then justice naturally follows.
“As, therefore, he who is led by his passions is innoxious [harmless] only towards his children and his wife, but despises and acts fraudulently towards other persons, since in consequence of the irrational part predominating in him, he is excited to, and astonished about mortal concerns; but he who is led by reason, preserves an innoxious conduct towards his fellow-citizens, and still more so towards strangers, and towards all men, through having the irrational part in subjection, and is therefore more rational and divine [good] than the former character; – thus also, he who does not confine harmless conduct to men alone, but extends it to other animals, is more similar to divinity; and if it was possible to extend it even to plants, he would preserve this image in a still greater degree.”
This then, is the primary situation in which we find ourselves, raising always the question: which part of ourselves will we allow to dominate, the rational or the irrational? The logic and reason, not to mention the ethics and morality underlying Porphyry's philosophy and his arguments, is apparent to those who exercise their reason. The arguments of his opponents, however, are discovered to be founded upon irrational prejudices, distorted logic and the desire to maintain one's existing habitual or societal life, i.e. the status-quo both within ourselves and within our culture.
“For custom is most powerful in increasing those passions in man which were gradually introduced into his nature.”
And as Porphyry will argue (see Part 5), both the killing (for sacrifice or otherwise) and the consumption of animals is not something natural to us, but something that was introduced, and thus seeped its way into the culture, becoming over time an indistinguishable part of it, and sadly, something we have come to identify as part of our nature. We can, however, remove this “garment” of our culture, and this false identity by recognizing it as the foreign element it is, in the exact same way as we can remove our individual garments. And this must be accomplished through the exercise of the highest reason.
“He . . . who is indigent [in need] of a greater number of externals, is in a greater degree agglutinated [adhered] to penury [need]; and by how much his wants increase, by so much is he destitute of divinity [good], and an associate of penury. For that which is similar to deity, through this assimilation immediately possesses true wealth. But no one who is (truly) rich and perfectly unindigent injures any thing. For as long as any one injures another, though he should possess the greatest wealth, and all the acres of land which the earth contains, he is still poor, and has want for his intimate associate. On this account, also, he is unjust, without God, and impious, and enslaved to every kind of depravity, which is produced by the lapse of the soul into matter, through the privation [lack] of good. Every thing, therefore, is nugatory [worthless] to any one, as long as he wanders from the principle of the universe; and he is indigent of all things, while he does not direct his attention to Porus (or the source of true abundance). He likewise yields to the mortal part of his nature [the irrational], while he remains ignorant of his real self [the rational]. But Injustice is powerful in persuading and corrupting those that belong to her empire, because she associates with her votaries in conjunction with Pleasure.”
Thus we see that, to Porphyry, there was a much deeper philosophical and psychological aspect to the condition of animal exploitation and consumption. To him, the disease went much deeper into Man's psyche. For the ancient philosophers, divinity is exemplified by goodness – the two being essentially one. To be divine was to be good and vice versa. To ascend to our “true self” is to embrace and activate that which is already latent within us, being the goodness that exists in us, even if only in potential. To stray from divinity, or to degrade ourselves into our “mortal” or “material” self is to stifle the good in us in favor of the purely (blind) passionate nature that thrives when reason is absent.
Porphyry, along with the Neoplatonists and Pythagoreans, explains that one who would rise to the good within them, and thus come to know their own divinity (their “true self”), will naturally embody justice and harmlessness to all sentient beings, as this quality is native to the divine in us (i.e. it is inherently of the good).
We will see, as we now proceed to Porphyry's arguments, the role this philosophy will play in his stance for animal rights. Particularly, we will notice the universality of justice in Porphyry's conception. We will also see the concepts of virtue and vice addressed, as intimately connected with rationality and irrationality and these will play a central role also in his chief argument. Thus the conceptual framework, briefly explored here, becomes the weapon of true reason with which Porphyry will dismantle his opponent's arguments.
Continue to Part III