Continued from a previous blog.
Having thus touched on the philosophic foundations underlying his position, we can now proceed to Porphyry responses to his opponent's arguments. Two arguments constitute the core of Porphyry's essay, and it is during those arguments that he is able, also, to tackle the several minor arguments of his opponents. These two central arguments are (1) against the opinion that animals are not rational (sentient) and therefore need not be extended justice, and (2) against animal sacrifice and its relation to the consumption of animal products. We will structure our review of his arguments beginning with the first of these, then into the several minor arguments presented, and lastly into the arguments related to animal sacrifice and history.
Argument against the opinion that animals are irrational (non-sentient) and thus that justice need not be extended to them:
This is a most important argument, and one that is at the cornerstone of the modern animal rights movement, namely that animals are sentient, rational, capable of feelings akin to those of human beings, including pleasure and pain, desire for life, and so on and thus ought to be protected from forceful suffering, just as we endeavor to protect humans from forceful suffering.
To Porphyry, this argument is intimately connected with his definition of justice. He opens his argument thus:
“We shall pass on, therefore, to the discussion of justice; and since our opponents say that this ought only to be extended to those of similar species, and on this account deny that irrational animals can be injured by men, let us exhibit the true, and at the same time Pythagoric opinion, and demonstrate that every soul [psyche] which participates of sense and memory is rational. For this being demonstrated, we may extend, as our opponents will also admit, justice to every animal.”
From this, he proceeds to explain that his opponents imagine there to be two kinds of reason; (1) internal reason (i.e. internal thought) and (2) external reason (i.e. reason exhibited by voice or speech), and furthermore that reason itself can be distinguished as either reason or right reason. Porphyry approaches this latter distinction first, wherein he argues that his opponents:
“. . . appear, indeed, to ascribe to brutes an entire privation [lack] of reason, and not a privation of right reason alone. For if they merely denied that brutes possess right reason, animals would not be irrational, but rational beings, in the same manner as nearly all men are according to them. For, according to their opinion, one or two wise men may be found in whom alone right reason prevails, but all the rest of mankind are depraved; though some of these make a certain proficiency, but others are profoundly depraved, and yet, at the same time, all of them are similarly rational. Through the influence, therefore, of self-love, they say, that all other animals are irrational; wishing to indicate by irrationality, an entire privation of reason. If, however, it be requisite to speak the truth, not only reason may plainly be perceived in all animals, but in many of them it is so great as to approximate to perfection.”
In short: if reason is qualified in this manner (the way his opponents wish to qualify it), then we can only say that animals lack “right reason”, being the capacity to correctlyunderstand certain complexities (i.e. complex mathematics, sciences, philosophies, etc.), but that we cannot deny them reason itself, of ordinary degree, as even among humans there are many who lack entirely “right reason” but are still said to have reason itself (i.e. to be sentient, thinking beings, however flawed or limited their thinking might be).
“For reason, indeed, is ingenerated by nature; but right and perfect reason is acquired by study and discipline. Hence all animated beings participate of reason, but our opponents cannot mention any man who possesses rectitude of reason and wisdom (naturally), though the multitude of men is innumerable. But as the sight of one animal differs from that of another, and the flying of one bird from that of another, (for hawks and grasshoppers do not similarly see, nor eagles and partridges); thus, also, neither does every thing which participates of reason possess genius and acuteness in the highest perfection.”
We are all, animals included, born with the capacity of reason, never with “right reason” (genius) innately available, but only attained through “study and discipline”, something that applies equally to birds learning to fly as it is to humans learning to read, the variety of ability (both in sense and reason) covering a vast spectrum of degrees.
We will now see how beautifully woven is Porphyry's argument, as he strips apart the views of his opponents, and their two-fold concept of reason. These two types of reason, they claim, manifest as internal and external (i.e. “the silent discourse which takes place in the soul” and that “consisting in external speech”). Porphyry explains that speech, of any kind, “whether in a barbarous or a Grecian, a canine or a bovine mode” is always linked to internal reason, for “do they [animals] not discursively perceive the manner in which they are inwardly affected, before it is vocally enunciated by them?” (i.e. do they not inwardly perceive and cognize prior to expressing that cognition through speech?). If there were no internal process of reason (thought), animal speech would be utterly meaningless, but, as we know, it is far from it.
“But if we do not understand what they [animals] say, what is this to the purpose? For the Greeks do not understand what is said by the Indians, nor those who are educated in Attica the language of the Scythians, or Thracians, or Syrians; but the sound of the one falls on the ears of the other like the clangor of cranes, though by others their vocal sounds can be written and articulated, in the same manner as ours can by us. Nevertheless, the vocal sounds of the Syrians, for instance, or the Persians, are to us inarticulate, and cannot be expressed by writing, just as the speech of animals is unintelligible to all men.”
Thus, simply because the speech of animals is unintelligible to us does not indicate that it is unintelligible to them. Modern scientific studies verify, of course, that animals do indeed intelligently communicate, often in quite complex ways, with one another. There is no logic, therefore, in assuming that because we don't understand it, it is meaningless or an indication that there is no reason or cognitive process associated with it. Thus, his opponent's argument that animals have no reason, whether internal or external, will be seen to be deeply flawed.
“Indeed, the variety and difference in the vocal sounds of animals, indicate that they are significant. Hence, we hear one sound when they are terrified, but another, of a different kind, when they call their associates, another when they summon their young to food, another when they lovingly embrace each other, and another when they incite to battle. And so great is the difference in their vocal sounds, that, even by those who have spent their whole life in the observation of them, it is found to be extremely difficult to ascertain their meaning, on account of their multitude.”
“. . . when animals speak to each other, these sounds are manifest and significant to them, though they are not known to all of us. If, however, it appears that they imitate us, that they learn the Greek tongue, and understand their keepers, what man is so impudent as not to grant that they are rational, because he does not understand what they say?”
A profoundly important point. Not only are animals capable of understanding one another, but are also capable of understanding humans, something that by all accounts requires a good deal of reasoning ability.
But what about those animals who do not vocalize, do they have reason (cognition)?
“It is also narrated, that some dumb animals obey their masters with more readiness than any domestic servants. . . . Many likewise relate that the eels in Arethusa, and the shell-fish denominated saperdae, about Maeander, are obedient to those that call them. Is not the imagination, therefore, of an animal that speaks, the same, whether it proceeds as far as to the tongue, or does not? And if this be the case, is it not absurd to call the voice of man alone reason, but refuse thus to denominate the voice of other animals? For this is just as if crows should think that their voice alone is external reason, but that we are irrational animals, because the meaning of the sounds which we utter is not obvious to them . . .”
We can certainly admire the soundness of Porphyry's reasoning, which corresponds in our day to the reasoning of animal rights activists who maintain that all animals are sentient, whether we can understand them or not, on similar grounds of argument, except now backed by a myriad of scientific studies to support the clear logic of it.
Porphyry continues with further examples:
“The hunter . . . from the barking of his dog, perceives at one time, indeed, that the dog explores a hare, but at another, that the dog has found it; at one time, that he pursues the game, at another that he has caught it, and at another that he is in the wrong track, through having lost the scent of it. Thus, too, the cowherd knows, at one time, indeed, that a cow is hungry, or thirsty, or weary, and at another, that she is incited to venery, or seeks her calf, (from her different lowings). A lion also manifests by his roaring that he threatens, a wolf by his howling that he is in a bad condition, and shepherds, from the bleating of sheep, know what the sheep want.
Neither . . . are animals ignorant of the meaning of the voice of men, when they are angry, or speak kindly to, or call them, or pursue them, or ask them to do something, or give something to them; nor, in short, are they ignorant of any thing that is usually said to them, but are aptly obedient to it; which it would be impossible for them to do, unless that which is similar to intellection energized, in consequence of being excited by its similar.
. . .
For they do not hear our voice as if it was a mere sound only, but they also perceive the difference in the meaning of the words, which is the effect of rational intelligence.”
Regardless of their ability in terms of voice, the very fact that an animal is capable of understanding and following orders proceeding from human language demonstrates that they must indeed have cognitive abilities (intellection) at least somewhat similar to human beings. Without a quite high degree of cognitive ability, how would an animal process the information embodied in the sounds of our voice, and from that both understand and follow the instructions?
Porphyry then wonderfully demonstrates the reasoning capacity of dogs thus:
“. . .dogs have a knowledge of dialectic, and make use of the syllogism which consists of many disjunctive propositions, when, in searching for their game, they happen to come to a place where there are three roads. For they thus reason, the beast has either fled through this road, or through that, or through the remaining road; but it has not fled either through this, or through that, and therefore it must have fled through the remaining third of these roads.”
This process of reasoning is essentially the same mental process as the dialectic of the philosopher who moves from one proposition to another, eliminating options until the true one is discovered; the difference between the philosopher's and the dog's reasoning being not of kind but of degree.
These arguments are simple and logical enough, and yet even in our world of so-called 'enlightenment' the bulk of humanity seems to shrug them away and continue to insist upon Man as the only reasoning being on Earth. At the very least, we can see that vegans have been making these arguments for many centuries, sadly falling most often on the deaf ears of the ignorant.
Porphyry moves on from external to internal reason:
“But it is now requisite to show that brutes have internal reason. The difference, indeed, between our reason and theirs, appears to consist, as Aristotle somewhere says, not in essence, but in the more and the less . . .”
This statement is of profound importance. It becomes essential, in examining the sentience of animals, to realize that the consciousness operating within them and within us is not different in type but only in degree. And just as among humanity the degree varies immensely from an Einstein down to a so-called 'savage', but we refrain from calling one sentient and the other not, so when we extend this to animals we are forced to admit their sentience (and reason).
“. . .indeed, so far as pertains to sense and the remaining organization, according to the sensoria and the flesh, every one nearly will grant that these are similarly disposed in us, as they are in brutes. For they not only similarly participate with us of natural passions, and the motions produced through these, but we may also survey in them such affections as are preternatural and morbid. No one, however, of a sound mind, will say that brutes are unreceptive of the reasoning power, on account of the difference between their habit of body and ours, when he sees that there is a great variety of habit in men, according to their race, and the nations to which they belong and yet, at the same time, it is granted that all of them are rational.”
He proceeds to point out that not only is the underlying reasoning ability of the same kind in animals and humans in relation to the senses, but that many animals exhibit far greater sensory perception, and thus on the whole they may be said to be superior to us in this regard. Our ability to cognize our environment comes through our senses and is processed by our reasoning faculty, but our senses report hardly a fraction of what many animal's do, and thus our reasoning ability is limited by this lack of sensory ability – limits which do not similarly exist in many animals, who may see or smell or hear with far greater accuracy and thus who may perceive far more of reality than we.
As a verification of animal reason, Porphyry later states:
“. . . nature . . . did not make an animal sensitive merely that it might be passively affected, and possess sensible perception; but as there are many things which are allied and appropriate, and many which are foreign to it, it would not be able to exist for the shortest space of time, unless it learnt how to avoid some things, and to pursue others. The knowledge, therefore, of both these . . . the apprehension and pursuit of what is useful, and the depulsion and avoidance of what is destructive and painful, can by no possible contrivance be present with those animals that are incapable of reasoning, judging, and remembering, and that do not naturally possess an animadvertise power.”
Thus we see the utility and purpose of sensory perception and its relation to reason. The use of sensory perception to successfully navigate the world itself demonstrates that underlying the perceptions is an active reasoning capacity.
Citing a work available in his day, he concludes:
“There is . . . a treatise of Strato, the physiologist, in which it is demonstrated, that it is not possible to have a sensible perception of anything without the energy of intellection.
. . .
For the objects which fall on the eyes and the ears do not produce a sensible perception of themselves, unless that which is intellective is present.”
This is an obvious assertion to the philosopher, and one that is backed by modern scientific studies. Our senses, without the mind to interpret them are useless. It is the mind that gives meaning to the input given it by the senses, and it is through a complex inner process that understanding of the information is gained. Animals, thus, demonstrate by their use of their senses that they too have this inner process of mind.
Moving steadily from reason towards the subject of justice, Porphyry observes:
“. . .with respect to other animals, in the same manner as with respect to men, many things are taught them by nature, and some things are imparted by discipline. Brutes, however, learn some things from each other, but are taught others, as we have said, by men. They also have memory, which is a most principal thing in the resumption of reasoning and prudence. They likewise have vices, and are envious; though their bad qualities are not so widely extended as in men. . .”
In light of what we witness daily in the “world of men” today we can certainly agree with this last statement. Animals certainly seem much less “vice ridden” than humans. And yet we are superior, many insist!
This point, that animals exhibit vice, is exceedingly important when looked at in combination with its opposite, virtue – these two opposites being paramount to the concept and exercise of justice. Porphyry thus proceeds to the subject of justice in relation to animals, supported by his arguments for their rationality (sentience).
“Who likewise is ignorant how much gregarious animals preserve justice towards each other? for this is preserved by ants, by bees, and by other animals of the like kind. And who is ignorant of the chastity of female ringdoves towards the males with whom they associate? for they destroy those who are found by them to have committed adultery. Or who has not heard of the justice of storks towards their parents? For in the several species of animals, a peculiar virtue is eminent, to which each species is naturally adapted; nor because this virtue is natural and stable, is it fit to deny that they are rational? For it might be requisite to deprive them of rationality, if their works were not the proper effects of virtue and rational sagacity; but if we do not understand how these works are effected, because we are unable to penetrate into the reasoning which they use, we are not on this account to accuse them of irrationality . . .”
Demonstrating first that justice exists in the animal kingdom, by way of examples (and many more exist that could be used, particularly, as we know in modern times, among species that exhibit complex social orders), he argues that this very act of justice demonstrates the existence of virtue among animals, and from this we can surmise the ability to discern between virtue and vice, something we humans consider a product of high reasoning!
Upon an examination of their vices and virtues, Porphyry then demonstrates that their vices are less than men's and that many of their virtues are greater. His prime example of this is in regards to those animals who are held as slaves.
“But many brutes are slaves to men, and, as someone rightly says, though they are in a state of servitude themselves, through the improbity of men, yet, at the same time, by wisdom and justice, they cause their masters to be their servants and curators. Moreover, the vices of brutes are manifest, from which especially their rationality is demonstrated. For they are envious, and the males are rivals of each other with respect to the favour of the females, and the females with respect to the regard of the males. There is one vice, however, which is not inherent in them, viz., acting insidiously towards their benefactors, but they are perfectly benevolent to those who are kind to them, and place so much confidence in them, as to follow wherever they may lead them, though it should even be to slaughter and manifest danger. And though some one should nourish them, not for their sake, but for his own, yet they will be benevolently disposed towards their possessor. But men [on the contrary] do not act with such hostility towards any one, as towards him who has nourished them; nor do they so much pray for the death of any one, as for his death.”
We would argue, alongside Porphyry that this benevolent disposition that countless animals maintain, even towards their captors, is a demonstration of virtue rarely found among humans. How then, with such exhibitions of virtue, can we deny them either justice or reason?
Porphyry also examines, in light of the philosophy covered in Part 2, the importance of experiencing both the irrational and the rational as a means of growth and learning (and in its relation to virtue and vice), which leads to the proper exercise of reason (i.e. from reason to right reason).
“. . . he who lives according to intellect, will more accurately define what is eligible [rightful to do] and what is not, than he who lives under the dominion of irrationality. For the former has passed through the irrational life, as having from the first associated with it; but the latter, having had no experience of an intellectual life, persuades those that resemble himself, and acts with nugacity [worthlessness], like a child among children.”
As stated earlier, we are not born with “right reason”, but only with “reason”, which holds within itself the capacity for or potential of right reason. It takes discipline and study to ascend to right reason, which brings with it the benefit of knowing, from direct experience, both the irrational and the rational. And it is essentially this knowing (in whatever degree) that allows for one to distinguish between virtue and vice, and to act accordingly. Thus, the rational man understands both himself andthe irrational man, but the irrational man understands only his own irrationality.
This is important in the application to animals, since Porphyry demonstrates earlier that animals possess both virtue and vice, and are able to distinguish between the two and thus incorporate justice into their social systems. This, in itself is a powerful argument for the reasoning capacity of animals, which, it may be argued, may exceed that of many humans, who are as yet unable to distinguish between virtue and vice and thus maintain quite confused notions of justice. It becomes difficult, in the light of these arguments, to maintain the concept of human superiority – we may be superior in potential, but have we yet demonstrated ourselves to be superior in actuality?
Porphyry continues on to dismantle several of his opponents arguments which suppose to prove that animals are not rational, among them being:
“that brutes do not consult, nor form assemblies, nor act in a judicial capacity,”
to which he replies:
“But tell me whether all men do this? Do not actions in the multitude precede consultation? And whence can anyone demonstrate that brutes do not consult? For no one can adduce an argument sufficient to prove that they do not. For those show the contrary to this, who have written minutely about animals.”
In modern times we, of course, know animals to consult with one another, in one manner or another, particularly among primates and other social animals in regards to their social structure and communal decisions. Porphyry continues:
“As to other objections, which are adduced by our adversaries in a declamatory way, they are perfectly frivolous; such, for instance, as that brutes have no cities of their own. For neither have the Scythians, who live in carts, nor the Gods. Our opponents add, that neither have brutes any written laws. To this we reply, that neither had men while they were happy. For Apis is said to have been the first that promulgated laws for the Greeks, when they were in want of them.”
This is quite important, as it can be seen, upon reflection, that the need for legal laws arises only due to the want of them – i.e. only because we have proven ourselves incapable of living in harmony without exterior laws to enforce the self-control and right reasonthat we evidently lack. Animals, having no such laws, demonstrate not an incapacity, but a lack of need of such laws, and thus can be seen to surpass humans in their ability to live naturally in harmony.
In regards to equal justice to animals, Porphyry observes:
“. . . is it not absurd, since we see that many of our own species live from sense alone, but do not possess intellect and [right] reason, and since we also see, that many of them surpass the most terrible of wild beasts in cruelty, anger, and rapine, being murderous of their children and their parents, and also being tyrants, and the tools of kings (is it not, I say, absurd,) to fancy that we ought to act justly towards these, but that no justice is due from us to the ox that ploughs, the dog that is fed with us, and the animals that nourish us with their milk, and adorn our bodies with their wool? Is it not such an opinion most irrational and absurd?”
One after another, his opponents arguments are shown to be unfounded and illogical.
Following this, and directly towards the application of justice to all animals, he rightly observes:
“. . . all men [are allied] to each other; for one of these two reasons, either because they originate from the same ancestors, or because they participate of the same food, manners and genus. Thus also we must admit that all men have an affinity, and are allied to each other. And, moreover, the principles of the bodies of all animals are naturally the same. . . . But animals are much more allied to each other, through naturally possessing souls, which are not different from each other . . . in the reasoning faculty, and, above all, in the senses. But as with respect to bodies, so likewise with respect to souls, some animals have them more, but others less perfect, yet all of them have naturally the same principles. . . . And if this be admitted, the genus of other animals has an affinity, and is allied to us. . . . Hence, since animals are allied to us, if it should appear . . . that they are allotted the same soul [psyche] that we are, he may justly be considered as impious who does not abstain from acting unjustly towards his kindred.”
“Through these arguments, therefore . . . it is demonstrated that brutes are rational animals, reason in most of them being indeed imperfect, of which, nevertheless, they are not entirely deprived. Since, however, justice pertains to rational [sentient] beings, as our opponents say, how is it possible not to admit, that we should also act justly towards brutes?”
The question ought to hang in the air for a while, to be considered fully in light of the sound arguments that preceded it.
It is beneficial for us to close this section by considering, as Porphyry does, the effect engendered by one who doesextend justice to all animals.
“Pythagoras said, that to injure no one, and to be exhilarated with justice, is the sweetest sauce; as the avoidance of animal food, will also be the avoidance of unjust conduct with respect to food.”
And indeed we agree. This exhilaration with justice lends itself to joy, bliss, or what Porphyry calls “felicity”, which is again what eastern philosophers might call Anand. It exists together with compassion and empathy and all other noble virtues, which exist potentially in all sentient beings but are activated in but a few.
“For he who abstains from every thing animated [i.e. from exploitation of animals] . . . will be much more careful not to injure those of his own species. For he who loves the genus, will not hate any species of animals; and by how much the greater his love of the genus is, by so much the more will he preserve justice towards a part of the genus, and that to which he is allied. He, therefore, who admits that he is allied to all animals, will not injure any animal. But he who confines justice to man alone, is prepared, like one enclosed in a narrow space, to hurl from him the prohibition of injustice.”
Justice breeds justice, as love breeds love and compassion does compassion. Our recognition that animals are “allied to us” by shared principles and reason, by genus (kind), lends itself to an expansion of justice not just externally, but within ourselves, which carries with it profoundly beneficent results. We become, as Porphyry explained earlier, increasingly divine (Good) by the practice of goodness.
Porphyry closes book three of his discourse with the following profound statement, addressing directly the inherent problem of the irrational (passionate) nature – a problem existing in excess in our consumerist world.
“If, however, say our opponents, all men were persuaded by these arguments, what would become of us? . . . But now this question is just the same as if men should be dubious what the life of the Danaids would be, if they were liberated from the employment of drawing water in a sieve, and attempting to fill a perforated vessel. For they are dubious what would be the consequence if we should cease to replenish our passions and desires, the whole of which replenishing continually flows away through the want of real good; since this fills up the ruinous clefts of the soul more than the greatest of external necessaries. Do you therefore ask, O man, what we should do? We should imitate those that lived in the golden age, we should imitate those of that period who were (truly) free. For with them modesty, Nemesis [harmony], and Justice associated, because they were satisfied with the fruits of the earth.
The fertile earth for them spontaneous yields
Abundantly her fruits.
But those who are liberated from slavery, obtain for themselves what they before procured for their masters. In like manner, also, do you, when liberated from the servitude of the body, and a slavish attention to the passions produced through the body, as, prior to this, you nourished them in an all-various manner with externals, so now nourish yourself all-variously with internal good, justly assuming things which are (properly) your own, and no longer by violence taking away things which are foreign (to your true nature and real good).”
This visual of trying to “fill a perforated vessel” or of “drawing water in a sieve” is immensely profound. It is an illustration of how the passionate nature within us operates, wherein it seeks more and more of that which it is associated with, but remains always empty, ever unfulfilled. Our reasoning nature – our higher self, our Soul (psyche) in its highest degrees – is capable, however, of “nourishing us all-variously with internal good”, thus truly fulfilling us. It is entirely our choice which of these paths we will take – the one of blind and irresponsible passions, mistaken beliefs and ignorance, or the other of mindful responsibility, true perception and understanding, compassion and wisdom. The latter is that which is associated with animal rights, the former is that which is associated with the status-quo of exploitation, destruction and suffering.
Continue to Part IV