I Firmly Believe in Animals and Nature's Rights
I was vegetarian for the first time in 1989. It was due to being a member of the spiritual group called Rosicrucians - wearing no leather, being a vegetarian, non-smoker, non drug user were among the conditions to be a part of that spiritual group. However, at that time I was not truly prepared to be a vegetarian and I was vegetarian only for a couple of years until I dismissed being a member of the group. It was dreadful to observe how some members became so immersed into the Rosicrucians doctrine to believe things that were contrary to either common sense or logical reasoning. Then in 2015 I became vegetarian and vegan again and have been vegetarian/vegan since.
One of the best decisions of my life and to this day I agree with what I first read written by Greek philosopher Emedocles (494 - 434 BCE) who wrote about cosmological love-strife principle when studying philosophical concepts of love: „All things were tame, and gentle toward men, All beasts and birds, and friendship s flame blew fair“, he writes (Fragment 130). „Will ye not cease from this great din of slaughter ? Will ye not see, unthinking as ye are, How ye rend one another unbeknown?“ (Fragment 137) and continues: „Hut still is deaf to piteous moan and wail. Each slits the throat and in his halls prepares A horrible repast“. (Fragment 139) ... Ah woe is me! that never a pitiless day destroyed me long ago, ere yet my lips Did meditate this feeding s monstrous crime! Ye wretched, O ye altogether wretched, Your hands from beans withhold!“ (Fragment 141)1.
This clearly resonates with Orphic believes and Pythagorean rules which Empedocles followed. Namely, Empedocles asserts that animal's life has the same value as human's life and as long people are going to kill, torture and exploit animals they are going to be caught in a strife-violence cycle themselves. Even more, until people become vegetarian/vegan they would repeat the past and kept being born into this world/being reincarnated as a punishment. In order to become good people and attone for our violent deeds we should become vegetarians, even better vegans.
As I mentioned Empedocles followed the first philosopher in the West who created a lasting vegetarian legacy and that was Greek Pythagoras (ca. 570 - 490 BCE). While Pythagoras is famous for his contributions to mathematics, music, science, and philosophy, it is his philosophy that is of particular interest. He taught that all animals, not just humans, had souls, which were immortal and reincarnated after death. Since a human might become an animal at death, and an animal might become a human, Pythagoras believed that killing and eating non-human animals sullied the soul and prevented union with a higher form of reality.
Additionally, he felt that eating meat was unhealthy and made humans wage war against one another. For these reasons, he abstained from meat and encouraged others to do likewise, perhaps making him one of the earliest campaigners for ethical vegetarianism. The Greek philosopher Plato (428 - 348 BCE) was influenced by Pythagorean concept too but did not go as far as Pythagoras or Empedocles did. It is unclear exactly whether Plato2 was vegetarian or not but his teachings asserted only humans had immortal souls and that the universe was for human use. Yet, in The Republic, Plato’s character Socrates asserted that the ideal city was a vegetarian city on the grounds that meat was a luxury leading to decadence and war. Thus, to Plato, abstention from flesh is warranted out of a desire for peace and an avoidance of indulgent, excessive living.
Influenced by Pythagoras the Roman philosopher Seneca (c. 4 - 65) was a vegetarian too. Seneca also denounced the cruelty of the gladiator games used by Rome to distract the citizenry and challenged the decadence of his time. Another Greek philosopher who argued on behalf of animals was the biographer and philosopher Plutarch (c. 46 - 120). Influenced by Pythagorean philosophy, Plutarch became vegetarian and wrote several essays in favor of vegetarianism as well as arguing that animals were rational and deserving of consideration. After Plutarch, the Greek philosopher Plotinus (205 - 270) combined Pythagoreanism, Platonism, and Stoicism into a school of philosophy called Neoplatonism. He taught that all animals feel pain and pleasure, not just humans. Plotinus believed in order for humans to unite with the Supreme Reality, humans had to treat all animals with compassion.
Seeking to practice what he preached, Plotinus avoided medicine made from animals. He allowed for the wearing of wool and the use of animals for farm labor, but he mandated humane treatment. Continuing the work of Plotinus was the great Phoenician author and philosopher Porphyry (c. 232 - c. 305). He argued with observational and historical evidence in defense of vegetarianism and the rationality of animals. Porphyry argued meat eating encouraged violence, demonstrated the ability of animals to reason, and argued that justice should be extended to them. For these reasons I am mostly vegan, occasionally vegetarian and because of my animals (3 cats, Anja, Venčeslav and dog, Ron) who all taught me about unconditional love - I am ardent supporter of the animal's rights.
It is interesting to notice the clear distinction among pre-Socratic, Socratic and Stoic philosophers regarding animal rights and vegetarianism. The most notable distinction is that pre-socratic and stoic philosophers believed animals had souls, they can reason and feel, they are immortal as humans and therefore they are not for use, whereas Plato and Aristotle both thought that humans are above everyone else, only humans have soul and everything and everyone is at human's disposal (which will be later used as arguments of christian, enlightenment and modern philosophers).
I believe such different concepts and treatment of animals derive from different concepts of truth and goodness. Pre-Socratic philosophers wrote in poetic verses and argued about the truth very different from today's notion of truth which originated with Plato and Aristotle. Namely, pre-Socratic philosophers argued for the truth as a-letheia ("unconcealedness", "disclosure" or "truth"). The meaning of the word ἀ–λήθεια is "the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident." It also means factuality or reality. It is the opposite of lethe, which means "oblivion", "forgetfulness", or "concealment". Thus, aletheia is distinct from conceptions of truth understood as statements which accurately describe a state of affairs (correspondence), or statements which fit properly into a system taken as a whole (coherence). This definition came into existence with Plato and Aristotle who both argued that in order we can make a good use of someone or something we should be precise and have clear definitions/schematics which can be achieved only with measurements and logic and not through poetry, theatre or singing.
I also believe that animals rights coincades with nature's rights. I have been ecologically aware since 2000. At that time I edited a set of articles on philosophy and the nature. Since then I am mostly deep ecologist according to Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess and occasionally shallow ecologist by French philosopher Luc Ferry. The core theme of deep ecology is the claim that all living beings and things have the same right to live and flourish. This means that the interests of other living beings have to be treated as seriously as the interests of humans. A rainforest, for example, can no longer be regarded as a valueless wood resource. Instead, it is a collection of living beings, all of which have a right to live and flourish.
Nature is said to have intrinsic value. It is valuable even if humans can find no use for it. From a deep ecological perspective, climate change is wrong because it will affect the wellbeing of billions of living beings. Even if we could provide a way of protecting humans from climate change, it would still be a bad thing because many other living beings would suffer. Another aspect of deep ecology is the idea that we should expand our idea of who we are so that it includes the natural world. This is known sometimes as the expanded self. If we harm nature then we are really harming ourselves. Deep ecology rejects anthropocentrism in favour of ecocentrism or biocentrism.
Shallow ecology rejects ecocentrism and biocentrism. Shallow ecologists claim that there is nothing necessarily wrong with the anthropocentric worldview. Nature is only valuable insofar as it serves human interests. This is sometimes known as instrumental value. From this perspective, climate change is bad because it will affect human interests. It is humans that will ultimately suffer if climate change is allowed to occur. Even if there was a way of protecting humans from the effects of climate change, shallow ecologists would still think it was a bad thing. This is because the damage caused to other life forms would adversely affect humans. Damage caused by climate change might, for example, mean that it is difficult to obtain natural resources. The extinction of species may mean that food supplies become harder to find. It might also be that humans would simply not like to live on a damaged planet.
I grow fruits, plants and vegetables in my small garden and cultivate them according to a French enlightenment philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau's notion of the garden/farm in Clarens as he wrote about it in his epistolary novel Heloise, or New Julie. There he writes that part of Clarens were cultivated and formed according to human's needs and wishes and part of the Clarens had wild life plants who grew according to their own forms. What does mean in practical terms of my garden? It means that I have a small garden, it means that my garden is surrounded by plants who are not mowed (grass, daises, crowfoot and other plants grow as they like), even my vegetables grow as they like and weeds are allowed to grow for quite some time after I decide to pull them out. My grapes and greengage are wild too.
How I differ from other gardeners is defined not only by the small size of my garden but also because I have no fence around the garden, no hut with tables and chairs on it. I come to the garden, cultivate it a bit, take the fruits and cropp and go. Occasionally I gather wild fruits, such as apples, nuts, hazelnuts. Why I have this attitude? Because nature is not mine and because the earth does all the work, I only saw the seeds and then cultivate the soil a bit. I always leave some grapes on my grape garden because of the birds who like grapes too.
With article I wish to present that the attitude towards the animals and the nature is as important as towards people. It depends on your world-view, your core values, attitudes, beliefs and judgements you hold dear – these motivate your feelings, deeds and actions.
1. The Fragments of Empedocles (link to Questia.com) trans. W.E. Leonard Ph.D., Chicago, 1908. Part 2 says much about transmigration of souls and the Orphic/Pythagorean traditions.
2. Plato’s student Aristotle (384-322 BCE) also felt the universe was for human use and that only human souls were immortal. Additionally, he argued in favor of a hierarchy of beings in which plants occupied the lowest rung of the ladder and humans the highest. In this hierarchy, Aristotle argued that women were lesser compared to men and some humans were natural slaves. As for animals, as Norm Phelps in The Longest Struggle points out, Aristotle reasoned that there was no ethical obligation to animals because they were irrational. Arguing against Aristotle’s views on animals was Aristotle’s pupil and friend Theophrastus (c. 372 - c. 287 BCE), a Greek biologist and philosopher. Theophrastus argued that killing animals for food was wasteful and morally wrong. Hypothesizing as to the origin of flesh eating, he argued that war must have forced humans to eat meat by ruining the crops that they otherwise would have eaten. Unlike his teacher, Theophrastus proclaimed that animal sacrifices angered the gods and turned humanity towards atheism. Clearly, religious arguments have long been used as motivation to pursue a vegetarianism.