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A short passage from:
The Heretic’s Feast
A History of Vegetarianism by Colin Spencer
‘Read this fact-packed, scholarly study and kiss your local butcher goodbye.’
Val Hennessy Daily Mail

from EVU News, Issue 1 /1997 - Español

book cover Aristotle

The Platonic ambivalence is shared to an even greater degree by Aristotle. As he played a part in medieval Christian thinking, such ambivalence is rather to be regretted, for he was reverend and has helped shape many of our attitudes in society today. Aristotle denies the power of thought to animals, maintaining that they are capable only of sensation and appetite, and that they need the rule of humankind in order to survive. (Why or how animals flourish in the wild he appears not have considered.) In the Aristotelian view plants and animals exist for the use of humans. In one passage he equates animals with slaves, by saying the ways we use tame animals and slaves are not very different. (This, of course, merely illuminates how the Greek saw their slaves.) How very different from Pythagoras, who saw the immortal soul in everything, although even Aristotle admits: ‘we should approach the inquiry about each animal without aversion, knowing that in all of them there is something natural and beautiful.’

Aristotle also writes sympathetically of the Orphic view: ‘the poems known as Orphic say that the soul is born by the winds, enters from the air into animals when they breathe.’ This view of breath as akin to soul is close to the Hindu view and that of Homer, and Aristotle seems here to agree with Pythagoras that animals have souls. To be inconsistent was not a crime then, as it seems to be today - we must understand that the complexity of the world and the enthusiastic exploration of it were mirrored in such ambivalence.

We find a true vegetarian again in Theophrastus, Aristotle’s pupil. Born in Lesbos in 372 BC he studied in Athens under Aristotle and became his friend, travelling back to Lesbos with him, where Aristotle established a philosophical circle in Mytilene, the capital. It was here that Aristotle first studied biology and scrutinised the natural aims of plants and animals, for in knowing their final goals he believed that they could understand their structure and development. Perhaps his pupil began work on his own Inquiry into Plants and Growth of Plants, two books which have survived, but his own findings and thoughts differ from his teacher’s in quite radical way. He did not think that animals existed for the sake of humans, and thought killing animals unnecessary and unjust, and that the habit of eating them must have begun when war destroyed crops. If plants and vegetable food were abundant there was no need to eat animal flesh.

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