Continued from a previous blog.
In his essay, Porphyry weaves his several arguments together into a single stream, but we will here make selections in relation to the primary arguments presented by his opponents. As we saw in his primary argument, Porphyry's underlying philosophy will continue to support his positions, thus it will be helpful to reflect upon this philosophy while considering each argument presented. When we have finished with these additional arguments, we'll proceed to his second chief argument which relates to animal sacrifice (and which we may relate to modern animal testing), and to a consideration of vegan history according to Porphyry.
Addressing the fallacy that consuming animal products is healthy, Porphyry argues:
“Again, neither does animal food contribute, but is rather an impediment to health. For health is preserved through those things by which it is recovered. But it is recovered through a most slender and fleshless diet; so that by this also it is preserved.”
“. . . that which is especially preservative of health, is an undisturbed state of the soul [psyche] . . . For much benefit is from hence derived to the body, as our associates have demonstrated from experience. Hence some who have been afflicted with the gout in the feet and hands, to such a degree as to be infested with it for eight entire years, have expelled it through abandoning wealth, and betaking themselves to the contemplation of divinity. At the same time, therefore, that they have abandoned riches, and a solicitude about human concerns, they have also been liberated from bodily disease. So that a certain state of the soul greatly contributes both to health and to the good of the whole body. And to this also, for the most part, a diminution of nutriment contributes. . . . And in this manner those are affected, who are vehemently desirous of such nutriment, and through it are involved either in great expense, or in disease, or repletion, or the privation of leisure.”
In short: remove stress and add proper nutrients (while eliminating unhealthy nutrients) if one desires health. Just as vegans today appeal the many examples of reversal of disease and of long-term health on a whole foods, vegan and simplified (non-stressful) lifestyle, so too did Porphyry appeal to the same in his day.
Expanding on health and the role of reason, he says:
“Hence also, in simple and slender food, repletion is to be avoided, and every where we should consider what will be the consequence of the possession or enjoyment of it, what the magnitude of it is, and what molestation of the flesh or of the soul it is capable of dissolving. For we ought never to act indefinitely, but in things of this kind we should employ a boundary and measure . . .”
Later he touches on another aspect of health, explaining something many modern vegans, particularly high carb raw vegans, have come to recognize.
“It is also necessary to accustom the body to become alienated, as much as possible, from the pleasure of the satiety arising from luxurious food, but not from the fullness produced by a slender diet, in order that moderation may proceed through all things, and that what is necessary, or what is most excellent, may fix a boundary to our diet.”
As many vegans come to recognize, there is an essential difference between the fulness of fruits and vegetables and the satiety and heaviness of consuming animal products. One essential challenge in adopting a vegan lifestyle is to let go of the unnatural desire for this heaviness, which we have unfortunately, through habit, come to crave and to mistake for fulness.
Furthermore, Porphyry relates the opinion of the priests of various traditions who abstained from animal foods (see also history in Part 5).
“For holy men were of opinion that purity consisted in a thing not being mingled with its contrary, and that mixture is defilement. Hence, they thought that nutriment should be assumed from fruits, and not from dead bodies, and that we should not, by introducing that which is animated [i.e. food from animals] to our nature, defile what is administered by nature. But they conceived, that the slaughter of animals, as they [animals] are sensitive, and the depriving them of their souls, is a defilement to the living; and that the pollution is much greater, to mingle a body which was once sensitive, but is now deprived of sense, with a sensitive and living being.”
“. . . the mixture of dead with living bodies, and the insertion of beings that were once living and sentient into animals, and of dead into living flesh, may be reasonably supposed to introduce defilement and stains to our nature. . .”
From this mingling, as we now know, arises all manner of physical disease. But the problems resulting are not solely physical, as our mental state is likewise effected.
“The soul [psyche], likewise, is polluted by anger and desire, and the multitude of passions of which in a certain respect diet is a co-operating cause.”
The consumption of animals, according to Porphyry, and supported by many others in modern times, contributes to mental imbalances or pollutions that manifest in all manner of human vice. The passions we associate with the consumption of animal products also lends themselves to other aspects of our lives, creating people in whom the irrational consistently overshadows the rational. Their lives become dictated not by reason, nor by compassion or morality, but by their own limited passions and desires, the habits of consumption, etc..
“But purification consists in a separation from all these [defilements], and the wisdom which is adapted to divine concerns, is a desertion of every thing of this kind. The proper nutriment likewise, of each thing, is that which essentially preserves it. . . . It is one thing, however, to nourish, and another to fatten; and one thing to impart what is necessary, and another to procure what is luxurious.”
“. . . the soul which administers its own affairs in a body that is dry, . . . [i.e.] is not moistened by the juices of foreign flesh, is in a more excellent condition, is more uncorrupted, and is more prompt for intellectual energy.”
In addition to feeding ourselves with the proper nutrients and avoiding defiling ourselves through animal foods, it is important, Porphyry explains, to also feed our minds through study and inner discipline.
“Hence, the nutriment of the rational soul is that which preserves it in a rational state. But this is intellect; so that it is to be nourished by intellect; and we should earnestly endeavour that it may be fattened through this, rather than that the flesh may become pinguid through esculent substances. . . . the body when fattened causes the soul to be famished, through its hunger after a blessed life not being satisfied, increases our mortal [irrational] part, since it is of itself insane, and impedes our attainment of an immortal condition of being. It likewise defiles by corporifying the soul, and drawing her down to that which is foreign to her nature.”
We return once again, then, to the philosophy underlying Porphyry's arguments. The dragging down of the psyche into “foreign lands” – false ideas, beliefs, as well as the resulting unhealthy and unsuitable bodies – is an inevitable result of “fattening” ourselves through improper diet and lifestyle (both mental and physical). The rising up into our true nature, our real self, the rational, reasoning mind, which gives rise to understanding, wisdom, compassion and morality is the inevitable result of living well, eating a proper diet physically and engaging our minds in a proper diet mentally. Health, Porphyry argues, alongside modern vegans, comes naturally and easily from the vegan lifestyle.
Addressing the Epicurian's fear-based positions, Porphyry argues:
“It is necessary however to preserve health; not by the fear of death, but for the sake of not being impeded in the attainment of the good which is derived from contemplation.”
“. . . he who fears to abstain from animal food, if he suffers himself to feed on flesh through pleasure, is afraid of death. For immediately, together with a privation [lack] of such food, he conceives that something indefinitely dreadful will be present, the consequence of which will be death. But from these and similar causes, an insatiable desire is produced of riches, possessions, and renown, together with an opinion that every good is increased with these in a greater extent of time, and the dread of death as of an infinite evil. The pleasure however which is produced through luxury, does not even approach to that which is experienced by him who lives with frugality. For such a one has great pleasure in thinking how little he requires. . . . He will likewise thus be truly rich, measuring wealth by a natural bound, and not by vain opinions. Thus too, he will not depend on the hope of the greatest pleasure, the existence of which is incredible, since this would be most troublesome. But he will remain satisfied with his present condition, and will not be anxious to live for a longer period of time.”
This goes straight to the point made earlier about the “inner garments” we wear. The ideas and assumptions we live by will color many aspects of our lives. In this case, Porphyry explains how the mistaken idea that we need animal products to survive may be associated with a fear of death that intermingles with other areas of our life, thus informing and amplifying our consumerist needs. In short, certain inner assumptions we hold may feed both our consumption of animal products and our overall consumerism – the two being essentially the same type of activity, i.e. an attempt to ward off death and cling (fearfully) to life, attempting to extract as much as possible from it, an activity which is an unhealth of the soul [psyche], which manifests as unhealth in the body.
We find here the essential problem of the insatiability of human desires – once certain passions are stirred up and amplified they tend to infect every aspect of our lives. Thus, the distorted assumption that death is to be feared and thus that life is to be frantically clung to lends itself to all manner of harmful consumptions, as the infected mind attempts to fill the imaginary void it has itself created.
The Epicurians demonstrate by their arguments a preoccupation with fears of various kinds, basing their entire argument on the several imagined calamities that will result if they change their ways. We may recall their summarizing statement that:
“. . . the destruction of every thing noxious [harmful], and the preservation of that which is subservient to its extermination, similarly contribute to a fearless life.”
But while the Epicurians keep themselves firmly imprisoned to their own fears,
“The contemplative philosopher, however will invariably adopt a slender diet. For he knows the particulars in which his bond consists, so that he is not capable of desiring luxuries. Hence, being delighted with simple food, he will not seek for animal nutriment, as if he was not satisfied with a vegetable diet.”
One of the principle attributes of the philosopher is that of contentment, directly antithetical to the ever-unsettled nature that arises from fear.
Two other Epicurian arguments are briefly addressed and dismissed and promptly dismissed by Porphyry.
Addressing the fallacy that animal populations would overrun the world, he argues:
“For if all men conceived rightly, there would be no need of fowlers, or hunters, or fishermen, or swineherds. But animals governing themselves, and having no guardian and ruler, would quickly perish, and be destroyed by others, who would attack them and diminish their multitude, as is found to be the case with myriads of animals on which men do not feed.”
Ecosystems have an in-built balance, which maintains itself through a multiplicity of mechanisms, and contrary to human arrogance, it does not need us to force it into balance.
Argument to the appeal to existing law:
We'll remember that the Epicurian argument appealing to law was based on the the idea that because the laws established for their society were deemed to be just, that it must then follow that because those laws don't demand abstinence from animal foods, that animal consumption must be right and just. To this absurdity, Porphyry argues that:
“. . . the law grants to the vulgar many other things (besides a fleshly diet) . . . [for example] the law does not forbid the vulgar from associating with harlots . . . but thinks that it is disgraceful and base for men that are moderately good to have any connexion with them. Moreover, the law does not prohibit a man from spending the whole of his life in a tavern, yet at the same time this is most disgraceful even to a man of moderate worth. It appears, therefore, that the same thing must also be said with respect to diet. For that which is permitted to the multitude, must not likewise be granted to the best of men.”
These examples make it clear that the existing law doesn't necessarily represent perfect morality, allowing for many things that are recognized as immoral, and likewise to things not yet recognized (by the multitudes) as immoral. One underlying point is, of course, that no system of law is infallible, and appealing to fallible law to uphold immorality is an incredibly weak argument, as has been demonstrated in the many rights movements of our recent generations. Even if the current multitudes imagine something to be just this in no way makes it just per se. Appealing to law as justification, while ignoring inner morality is to replace internal truths with static external structure.
Argument against the fallacy that eating plants is equal to eating animals:
“Some one, however, perhaps may say, that we also take away something from plants [when we eat, and sacrifice them to the Gods]. But the ablation is not similar; since we do not take this away from those who are unwilling that we should. For, if we omitted to gather them, they would spontaneously drop their fruits. The gathering of the fruits, also, is not attended with the destruction of the plants, as it is when animals lose their animating principle.”
A sound argument shared by modern fruitarians. Later, amid his discussion of reason and justice, Porphyry again addresses the fallacy:
“. . . we do not extend justice to plants, because there appears to be much in them which is unconnected with reason; though of these, we are accustomed to use the fruits, but not together with the fruits to cut off the trunks. We collect however, corn and leguminous substances, when, being efflorescent, they have fallen on the earth, and are dead. But no one uses for food the flesh of dead animals, that of fish being excepted, unless they have been destroyed by violence. So that in these things there is much injustice.”
He then makes a point that addresses itself both to the fallacy at hand and to several of his opponent's arguments, returning to the theme of both health and justice.
“As Plutarch also says, it does not follow that because our nature is indigent of certain things, and we use these, we should therefore act unjustly towards all things. For we are allowed to injure other things to a certain extent, in order to procure the necessary means of subsistence (if to take any thing from plants, even while they are living, is an injury to them); but to destroy other things through luxury, and for the enjoyment of pleasure, is perfectly savage and unjust. And the abstinence from these neither diminishes our life nor our living happily. For if, indeed, the destruction of animals and the eating of flesh were as requisite as air and water, plants and fruits, without which it is impossible to live, this injustice would be necessarily connected with our nature. But if many priests of the Gods, and many kings of the barbarians, being attentive to purity, and if, likewise, infinite species of animals never taste food of this kind, yet live, and obtain their proper end according to nature, is not he absurd who orders us, because we are compelled to wage war with certain animals, not to live peaceably with those with whom it is possible to do so, but thinks, either that we ought to live without exercising justice towards any thing, or that, by exercising it towards all things, we should not continue in existence?”
This touches on a central foundation of the modern vegan movement, namely the steady destruction of the myth that consuming animal products is necessary for either survival or health. As Porphyry says, and as many of us rightly echo today, the proof that we do not need animals to survive, or thrive, is demonstrated by those who abstain and yet maintain their health. In his day these were to be found chiefly among the priests and philosophers (which we will discuss in part 5), but also among certain kings (as we saw in our investigation of Apollonius of Tyana).
Porphyry also explains, as is the case with, for example, lettuce and other vegetables, that it is required to injure the plant “to a certain extent” in order to procure the food, but that this is a necessity of our nature, exactly as with any herbivore, and needed for our health (a built-in aspect of our relation to the ecosystem), but that the injury of animals by humans is solely out of “luxury” and not necessity – a central argument of modern animal rights activists as well. In short: we eat animals (and sacrifice them) onlybecause we desire to, not because it is in any way necessary for our health (it is, in fact, a detriment to it), and thus the practice is absolutely devoid of justice. As Porphyry rightly observes:
“. . . he who acts in this manner through the acquisition of wealth, or through satiety or luxurious pleasure, and for the purpose of satisfying desires which are not necessary, appears to be inhospitable, intemperate, and depraved.”
“. . . to deliver animals to be slaughtered and cooked, and thus be filled with murder, not for the sake of nutriment and satisfying the wants of nature, but making pleasure and gluttony the end of such conduct, is transcendently iniquitous and dire.”
Returning to the central issue of justice, we later read:
“By admitting, therefore, that pleasure is the end (of our actions) justice is evidently destroyed.”
Our treatment of animals, from Porphyry's perspective, shared by modern vegans and animal rights activists, is that because there is no necessity in harming animals, nor in consuming them, our choice to do so is seen to arise solely from our desire for the so-called benefits that arise (gluttonist pleasure, corruption, greed, etc.). This complete and utter obeisance to the worst in us is therefore easily seen by any thinking, feeling person to be the very epitome of injustice.
Porphyry further elucidates the distinction between animals and plants, thus:
“. . . we do not say that one tree is more ignorant than another, as we say that a sheep is more stupid than a dog. Nor do we say that one herb is more timid than another, as we do that a stag is more timid than a lion. For, as in things which are immoveable [i.e. non-sentient], one is not slower than another, and in things which are not vocal, one is not less vocal than another: thus, too, in all things in which the power of intellection is wanting, one thing cannot be said to be more timid, more dull, or more intemperate than another. For, as these qualities are present differently in their different participants, they produce in animals the diversities which we perceive.”
And concluding the argument, Porphyry cuts straight to the central point:
“To compare plants . . . with animals, is doing violence to the order of things. For the latter are naturally sensitive, and adapted to feel pain, to be terrified and hurt; on which account also they may be injured. But the former are entirely destitute of sensation, and in consequence of this, nothing foreign, or evil, or hurtful, or injurious, can befall them.”
In short: it comes down to the ability to self-consciously experience suffering. Animals are capable of this, as are humans. Plants are not. The difference is evident to any who give this a modicum of rational thought.
Argument against the opinion that animals were created with no other purpose than to be of use to humans:
“[It] is considered by our opponents to be very probable, that the Gods made us for the sake of themselves, and for the sake of each other, and that they made animals for the sake of us; horses, indeed, in order that they might assist us in battle, dogs, that they might hunt with us, and leopards, bears, and lions, for the sake of exercising our fortitude. But the hog . . . was not made for any other purpose than to be sacrificed; and God mingled soul, as if it were salt, with the flesh of this animal, that he might procure for us excellent food. In order, likewise, that we might have an abundance of broth, and luxurious suppers, divinity provided for us all-various kinds of shell-fish, the fishes called purples, sea-nettles, and the various kinds of winged animals; and this not from a certain other cause, but only that he might supply man with an exuberance of pleasure; in so doing, surpassing all nurses [in kindness], and thickly filling with pleasures and enjoyments the terrestrial place.”
This, sadly, is the position taken by many, if not the majority, of monotheistic religionists even in our modern world, imagining that theirGod created all of this for our use and nothing more. The idea is, of course, to any thinking person, not only absurd, but disgusting and depraved. Porphyry gives his reply:
“. . . if God fashioned animals for the use of men, in what do we use flies, lice, bats, beetles, scorpions, and vipers? of which some are odious to the sight, defile the touch, are intolerable to the smell, and in their voice dire and unpleasant; and others, on the contrary, are destructive to those that meet with them.
And if our opponents should admit that all things were not generated for us, and with a view to our advantage, in addition to the distinction which they make being very confused and obscure, we shall not avoid acting unjustly, in attacking and noxiously using those animals which were not produced for our sake, but according to nature [i.e. for the sake of the universe], as we were.”
A wonderful argument. If animals were created for our use, what of those that we find no use in? And if we find no use in some animals, then it is unjust to destroy them, as then we are robbing them of their actual purpose, whatever that be. Based on his opponent's position then (assuming, for the moment, that it were even remotely plausible), we can surmise that we ought not kill any animal that we do not have a use for, which forces his opponents to admit to the justice in not killing the vast majority of animals. Continuing to use his opponent's arguments against them, he makes the wonderful point:
“. . . that if we define, by utility [i.e. the purpose of a thing], things which pertain to us, we shall not be prevented from admitting, that we were generated for the sake of the most destructive animals, such as crocodiles, balaenae, and dragons. For we are not in the least benefited by them; but they seize and destroy men that fall in their way, and use them for food. . .”
His opponents, it would seem, inadvertently place Man somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of utility, and not, as they would love to have it, at the pinnacle. Let any modern monotheistic religionist who takes up the position that animals were created for Man address these arguments and escape without entangling themselves in their own twisted logic!
“. . . those, however, who speak stupidly about these things, assert that animals are neither delighted, nor enraged, nor terrified, nor make any provision for what is necessary, nor remember; but they say that the bee as it were remembers, that the swallow as it were, provides what is requisite, that the lion is as it were angry, and that the stag is as it were afraid. And I know not what answer to give to those who say that animals neither see nor hear, but see as it were, and as it were hear; that they do not utter vocal sounds, but as it were utter them; and that, in short, they do not live, but as it were live. For he who is truly intelligent, will readily admit that these assertions are no more sane than the former, and are similarly destitute of evidence.”
This addresses directly the religious sentiment that animals are devoid of soul and thus do not liveas humans live, but are merely automatons, seemingly exhibiting similarities to human emotions, reason, etc.., but in reality only do so automatically and without individuality or mind (psyche, soul). It is, as Porphyry says, unfounded and illogical and “destitute of evidence”.
We thus return to the concept of justice, as:
“. . . this [that animals are automatons] to our opponents does not appear to be at all absurd. For as they admit that the love of parents towards their offspring is the principle in us of association and justice; yet, though they perceive that this affection is abundant and strong in animals, they nevertheless deny that they participate of justice. . .”
This, as we can see, is entirely erroneous and irrational. There is no logic in assuming that animals exhibit the same behavior as humans and yet somehow do not contain the same principles or faculties that are associated with that behavior in humans. As argued earlier, animals display a wide variety of sentient (rational, intelligent, reasoning) capabilities, and thus must be concluded to be possessed of the same animating principles, namely soul or psyche (mind). Logic, however, seems to escape Porphyry's opponents as widely as it escapes ours.
Having summarized the secondary arguments weaved by Porphyry throughout his essay, it remains yet to explore two related issues covered at length in it, these being Animal Sacrifice and the dual history of both veganism and animal consumption. We will consider these, then, in our final section.