Animals: A Review

Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Review

Ancient philosophers and theorists argued that non-humans were fundamentally different from humans. Many cited that Reason (Logos) made the difference, noting that humans have reason and non-humans lack reason. However, there were the few ancient philosophers who held points of views contrary to this overwhelming belief. Some merely inferred that on a metaphorical level an amount of reason might have been present, whilst others believed that humans shared important attributes with non-humans. This review of Stephen Newmyer’s source book: Animals in Greek and Roman Thought (Newmyer, 2011), examines some of the philosophical, for and against viewpoints mentioned throughout.

 

Descartes (1596-1650) was a French philosopher and mathematician who developed a dualistic theory of mind and matter. Descartes noted that the Pineal Gland was the ‘principle seat of the soul (Lokhorst, 2015)’. The Greek philosopher Empedocles (495-435 B.C.E.), refers to the mind as being the blood that surrounds the heart (Empedocles, 2003). Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.E.), student to Aristotle argued that non-humans have perception but not reason (Theophrastus., 2011). Chrysippus (279-206 B.C.E.), head of the Stoic school of philosophy, simply stated a denial of reason to non-human species (Chrysippus, 2011). The Greek philosopher Plato (428-347 B.C.E.) debated the transmigration of souls based on a reward and punishment system (Plato, 2011). The Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) argued that non-humans have reason; however, their reason suits their life, as human reason suits theirs, citing different rationalities for different species (Aristotle, 2011). Plutarch (46?-120 C.E.), a Greek biographer, stands out as one of the very few ancients who endowed both human and non-human animals with logos (Plutarch, 2011).

For a long time it was theorised that the ‘seat of reason (logos),’ was either situated in the human ‘pineal gland (Lokhorst, 2015)’ or later in the ‘little heart brain (Institute, 2015)’. Many ancient symbolisms and cultures took the pine cone shaped Pineal gland (Pinecone) and adorned objects or themselves with its shape and form in efforts to declare their ability for logos and importance.


Many of these cultures still bear this symbology. Today the Pineal gland still features in the Catholic Church and was mentioned by the American founding fathers. It also bears a remarkable resemblance to the Egyptian depictions of the ‘Eye of Horus (Kavett, 1975)’. These hypotheses however, were created to try and simplify some very complex, and in some cases, unknowable conceptions (Davis, 1976).

Modern medical studies have shown that non-humans also possess the Pineal Gland, as the study into ‘Reno-pineal axis’ and its effect upon melatonin in rats and humans demonstrates (Sanjay Kalra, 2012). Ancient practices to examine such an aspect of the human brain were subject to the availability of non-human brains. It was taboo to investigate the human corpse in Greece (Longrigg, 2003). Aristotle kept his own Zoo, the Lyceum (Longrigg, 2003). His ability to not only observe non-human behaviour in life was only superseded by his ability to dissect and examine those same non-humans in death. However, armed with so much knowledge, Aristotle’s findings still led to his ‘denial of reason (Aristotle, 2011)’ to non-humans, especially after the Stoics added ethical dimensions to Aristotle’s arguments. The Stoics ‘governing principle (Chrysippus, 2011)’ espouses that ‘human beings are able to attain rationality, but that it remained forever irrational in non-humans, denying non-human’s the capacity for reason (Chrysippus, 2011)’. The Stoics based their ideologies on their religious beliefs. They viewed that ‘humans had no ethical obligations toward non-humans (Newmyer, 2011)’, a view still held by many fundamentalist religious groups in the 21st century.

Stoic doctrine recognised that ‘only humans had the capacity for meaningful speech’. A capacity that could give rise to their belief in the Hegemonikon, a part of the soul. This part of the soul became rational in humans and ‘remained’ irrational in non-humans (Philo, 2011). Plato also addressed the topic of a ‘soul’ and theorised about the ‘Transmigration of Souls (Plato, 2011).’Found in the ‘Platonic corpus (Irwin, 2008)’ is Plato’s doctrine of metempsychosis, a theory about a souls new cycle of existence into another human body after the death of the old. Plato’s ideas on the Transmigration of Souls was not original, as some philosophers before Plato had examined this aspect of a souls existence.

The Transmigration of Souls is most often associated with the pre-Socratic philosopher Pythagoras (6th century B.C.E.) (Plato, 2011), and as Newmyer notes, ‘this theory is discussed in the Phaedrus (Plato, 1999), the Republic, the Phaedo (Plato, 1999), and the Timaeus (Plato, 2011)’. The Philosophers do not all agree in detail, but they do in substance. However, tripped up by his own philosophies as to what happens to the soul once it transmigrates, Plato elucidated upon a reward punishment scenario, arguing that ‘individuals who did not allow their spiritual element to predominate entirely in their lifetimes would return as non-humans (Plato, 2011). The more irrationally an individual behaved in one life, the lowlier the non-human species he would pass into in his next incarnation (Plato, 2011)’. Plato finally declared: ‘only what had previously been a human soul could pass back into a human (Plato, 2011)’.

Epicureanism briefly touches upon the topic of justice and injustice between humans and non-humans in the Sovereign Maxims found at the end of Diogenes’ life of Epicurus (Epicurus, 2011). Citing, if a non-human is unable to form contracts to show a form of respect between humans and non-humans, then it is not possible to endow non-humans with logos (Epicurus, 2011). The Epicurean’s could not comprehend anything other than the human animal having the ability to posses rationality or reason. In the Ilium, Plutarch attacks the Epicurean idea that only human parents were able to care for their offspring with a self-interest, then go on to infer that non-human animals only cared for their offspring out of a disinterested affection (Plutarch, 2011).

Plutarch, like many other thinkers, contradicts himself in his own writings. This could merely reveal a ‘learn as you experience’ revelation or an actual event akin to Plato’s eventual compromise on the transmigration of souls. Apparently reciprocal altruism (Plutarch, 2011) is highly regarded by many non-humans, though debated upon by many humans. Reciprocal altruism is a reward system practiced by many non-humans; it is a payback system (Plutarch, 2011) where one non-human helps another in return for their kindness. However, this system is utilised by some non-humans to also assist humans in need as Pliny’s Arion tale relates (Pliny, 2011).

Pliny’s tale of Arion is not too far stretched for the human imagination to be able to comprehend. Arion the poet boarded a ship to further his horizons. The greed of the crew saw them plot to rob and murder him. Arion pleaded they take his money but to leave his life. They declined. As Arions last wish he bade the crew to allow him to dress and sing before throwing himself off of the ship. The crew agreed. Arions singing had alerted the Dolphins to the ships location, and as Arion sank beneath the waves, one Dolphin (Pliny, 2011), or the Dolphins (Plutarch, 2011), lifted him up out of the water and saved him (Pliny, 2011). According to Plutarch the Dolphins performed in a ‘kindred and human-loving manner (Plutarch, 2011)’ and carried Arion to shore in a tremendous, roaring, foaming water show one night.

Some humans will attribute some rationality to non-humans. However it appears that because a human cannot understand Bird tweets or Pig scratchings that many automatically believe that non-humans are incapable of rational thought or speech. Therefore they remain irrational because humans cannot understand non-human language. This of course only reveals the irrationality of human understanding because it is entirely irrational to believe that different species should speak the same language as humans. Many scholarly humans once believed that other humans who did not speak the same language as themselves, were barbarians (Dogmatists, 2011).

Descartes viewed that the Pineal Gland was the seat of reason. Modern medicine has proven that both humans and non-humans have a pineal gland; therefore, both are rational beings. Ancient Greeks were not permitted to interfere with a human corpse; so much of the theorising and philosophising about rationality is merely opinion. Although Aristotle maintained the Lyceum, he still bowed to the whims of the Stoics on ethical grounds, denying empirical evidence by acknowledging Stoic metaphysicalities, leading to Aristotle’s denial of reason for non-humans. The Stoics ideology surrounding the irrational being remains ambiguous at best, with the implication that all beings have their beginnings in irrationalities. Plato also bows to the Stoic doctrine when his theory concerning the transmigration of souls dilutes its meaning from one of constancy, to a more equivocal uncertainty. The Epicurean hypothesis concerning contracts and un-intelligible languages defining the rational and irrational, intended to arouse obstruction rather than distinction. Plutarch held high regard for reciprocal altruism, retelling the Dolphin and Arion tale most splendidly by adding dynamism to Pliny’s tale. Today, humans tend to expand upon the rational to create the irrational. For the most part however, modern humans tend to irrationally agree to disagree.

 

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