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History of Vegetarianism - Europe: The Middle Ages to the 18th Century
Voltaire (1694-1778)

Voltaire at 24, by Nicolas de Largillière.

Voltaire - pseudonym of François Marie Arouet. French writer, whose outspoken belief in religious poilitical and social liberty made him the embodiment of the 18th -century Enlightenment. His major works include Lettres philosophiques (1734) and the satire Candide (1759). He also wrote plays, such as Zaire (1732), poems and scientific studies. He suffered several periods of banishment for his radical views.

(Note: we have no evidence that Voltaire actually practised vegetarianism, though his writings were clearly sympathetic to the idea)

Extract from The Extended Circle by Jon Wynne-Tyson:

How pitiful, and what poverty of mind, to have said that the animals are machines deprived of understanding and feeling . . .
Judge (in the same way as you would judge your own) the behaviour of a dog who has lost his master, who has searched for him in the road barking miserably, who has come back to the house restless and anxious, who has run upstairs and down, from room to room, and who has found the beloved master at last in his study, and then shown his joy by barks, bounds and caresses. There are some barbarians who will take this dog, that so greatly excels man in capacity for friendship, who will nail him to a table, and dissect him alive, in order to show you his veins and nerves. And what you then discover in him are all the same organs of sensation that you have in yourself. Answer me, mechanist, has Nature arranged all the springs of feeling in this animal to the end that he might not feel? Has he nerves that he may he incapable of suffering?
- Philosophical Dictionary

Men fed upon carnage, and drinking strong drinks, have all an impoisoned and acrid blood which drives them mad in a hundred different ways.

The treatise of Porphyry is addressed to one of his old disciples named Firmus, who became a Christian, it is said, to recover his liberty to eat flesh and drink wine. He remonstrates with Firmus, that in abstaining from from strong liquors the health of the soul and the body preserved - lives longer, and with more innocence. All his reflections are those of a scrupulous theologian, of a true philosopher, and of a gentle and sensitive spirit. One might believe in reading him that this great enemy of the Church is a Father of the Church. He dues not speak of the metempsychosis, but he regards other animals as our brothers - because they are endowed with life as we are, because they have the same principles of life, the same feelings, the same ideas, memory, industry - as we. [Human] speech alone is wanting to them. If they had it, should we dare to kill and eat them? Should we dare to commit these fratricides? What barbarian is there, who would cause a lamb to be butchered and roasted, if that lamb conjured him, in an affecting appeal, not to be at once assassin and cannibal?

There is in man a disposition to compassion as generally diffused as his other instincts. Newton had cultivated this sentiment of humanity, and he extended it to the lower animals. With Locke he was strongly convinced that God has given to them a proportion of ideas, and the same feelings, which he has to us . . . In truth, without humanity, a virtue which comprehends all virtues, the name of philosopher is little deserved.
- Elémens de la Philosophie de Newton

It may be inferred from these and several other passages [in the Mosaic account of the alliance made between deity and men and the rest of the animal world], what all antiquity has always thought, that animals have intelligence and knowledge. The deity does not make a pact with trees and with stones, which have no feeling, but he makes it with animals whom he has endowed with feeling often more exquisite than ours, and with some ideas necessarily attached to it. This is why he will not allow [to menj the barbarity of feeding upon their blood, because, in reality, blood is ihe source of life, conequently of feeling. . .
- Traité sur la Tolérance

People must have renounced, it seems to me, all natural intelligence to dare to advance that animals are but animated machines . . . It appears to me, besides, that [such people] can never have observed with attention the character of animals, not to have distinguished among them the different Voices of need, of suffering, of joy, of pain, of love, of anger, and of all their affections. It would be very strange that they should express so well what they could not feel . . We know neither how these organs were formed, nor how they are developed, nor how they receive life, nor by what laws, feelings, ideas, memory, will, they are attached to this life and, in this profound and eternal ignorance inherent to our nature, we dispute without ceasing, we persecute one another, like bulls who butt against each other with their horns, without knowing why and how they have horns.