As a continuation of our series on ancient vegans, we'll attempt here to take into consideration Porphyry's essay On Abstinence from Animal Food, written in the third century CE, and translated into English by Thomas Taylor in 1823. A full pdf of the essay is provided here.
Porphyry (234-305 CE), the student of Plotinus, and elder contemporary of Iamblichus, plays a central role in the Neoplatonism of the early centuries CE. He is perhaps best known for his compilation of his teacher's works, which are today known as the Enneads , but he was also a voluminous writer in his own right. Among his writings is the famous Life of Pythagoras , from which we gain many insights into the way of life prescribed by that great philosopher, which we touched on in our article on Apollonius of Tyana. It was this way of life that influenced Porphyry and other Neoplatonists in their adoption of a diet including no animal foods. Porphyry's strong position on animal rights and veganism is demonstrated aptly in the following quote:
… 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.
In his essay on abstinence from animal foods Porphyry takes on several key arguments brought against veganism and animal rights with in-depth and beautifully reasoned responses. The work is composed as a letter to a friend, and former vegan, who had returned to the consumption of animal products, from which Porphyry attempts to "disclose his friend's errors". However, the essay is clearly written with other readers in mind, being addressed to all philosophers and to "those who have arranged their life conformably to truth".
The essay runs to almost 60,000 words, dedicated primarily to the defense of animal rights from the standpoint of Neoplatonic and Pythagorean philosophy. It is, therefore, one of, if not the most complete and exhaustive treatise on this subject predating the 20th century, and yet, sadly, it remains largely overlooked.
We will divide our treatment of this essay into five parts:
Part 1: The Opponents of Veganism
Porphyry's essay opens with an address to his friend:
Hearing from some of our acquaintance, O Firmus, that you, having rejected a fleshless diet, have again returned to animal food, at first I did not credit the report, when I considered your temperance, and the reverence which you have been taught to pay to those ancient and pious men from whom we have received the precepts of philosophy. But when others who came after these confirmed this report, it appeared to me that it would be too rustic and remote from the rational method of persuasion to reprehend you . . . I have therefore thought it worthy of the friendship which subsists between us, and also adapted to those who have arranged their life conformably to truth, to disclose your errors through a confutation derived from an argumentative discussion.
Like so many vegans and vegetarians, our philosopher is confronted with a friend who has decided to forgo a "fleshless diet" and to fall back into the consumption of animal products. Holding himself up to the high standards of both the philosopher and the vegan, Porphyry takes it upon himself to show his friend the error in his ways through logic and rational argument.
What we also find in this opening statement is the hint that the vegan lifestyle Porphyry enjoyed came to him (and to his friend, Firmus) through the precepts of the philosophy of "ancient and pious men". This is a recognition that is not unique to Porphyry, as in previous blogs we have established the existence of veganism among the philosophers of more than one Greek school of philosophy, existing many centuries before the time of this essay. In fact, Porphyry devotes considerable space in his essay to the history of both veganism and animal consumption, which we'll explore in part 5.
Porphyry continues to address his friend:
For when I considered with myself what could be the cause of this alteration in your diet, I could by no means suppose that it was for the sake of health and strength, as the vulgar and idiots would say; since, on the contrary, you yourself, when you were with us, confessed that a fleshless diet contributed both to health and to the proper endurance of philosophic labours; and experience testifies, that in saying this you spoke the truth.
This might as well be from the mouth of a modern vegan, and not an ancient philosopher, as today we are constantly confronted by the same "vulgar and idiots" who in their ignorance insist that the consumption of animal products is the only way to gain strength and health. Porphyry echoes the truth that all long-term vegans come to recognize - that a vegan lifestyle leads "both to health and to the proper endurance of philosophic labours", (i.e. contributes both to physical and mental health). Thus we see that this debate - of whether or not veganism is healthy - which may seem amplified in our age, has been with us for many long centuries.
With apparent difficulty in understanding his friend's choice, Porphyry reasons:
It appears, therefore, that you have returned to your former illegitimate conduct, either through deception, because you think it makes no difference with respect to the acquisition of wisdom whether you use this or that diet; or perhaps through some other cause of which I am ignorant.
This, it would seem, is a very important statement. As we've seen in previous blogs, the ancient philosophers of these schools considered a vegan diet not only necessary on moral and health grounds, but a requirement for the attainment of wisdom or the true practice of philosophy. Porphyry, who is among the wisest thinkers of his age, and a respected Platonist, is clear that if indeed his friend believes that wisdom can be attained on a non-vegan diet, he is mistaken. We see this idea reflected in many ancient and modern schools of philosophy, from Pythagoras and the Orphics in Greece, to the Bramins in India, the Northern Buddhists in Tibet, and so on. The equation of veganism and wisdom is, it seems, one that has existed from time immemorial among the wise men of many nations.
But when I was also informed by certain persons that you even employed arguments against those who abstained from animal food, I not only pitied, but was indignant with you, that, being persuaded by certain frigid and very corrupt sophisms, you have deceived yourself, and have endeavoured to subvert a dogma which is both ancient and dear to the Gods.
This "dogma which is both ancient and dear to the Gods" is, of course, veganism (recall Apollonius's description (from a previous blog) of a "god", being the appellation due to anyone truly Good). This lifestyle, Porphyry says, is not new; on the contrary, it has formed part of the precepts of the philosophy of the ancients and is renowned among all good men.
Hence it appeared to me to be requisite not only to show what our own opinion is on this subject, but also to collect and dissolve the arguments of our opponents … and thus to demonstrate, that truth is not vanquished even by those arguments which seem to be weighty, and much less by superficial sophisms. For you are perhaps ignorant, that not a few philosophers are adverse to abstinence from animal food, but that this is the case with those of the Peripatetic and Stoic sects, and with most of the Epicureans; the last of whom have written in opposition to the philosophy of Pythagoras and Empedocles, of which you once were studiously emulous. To this abstinence, likewise, many philologists are adverse, among whom Clodius the Neapolitan wrote a treatise against those who abstain from flesh. Of these men I shall adduce the disquisitions and common arguments against this dogma, at the same time omitting those reasons which are peculiarly employed by them against the demonstrations of Empedocles.
When Porphyry speaks of "our own opinion", who is he speaking on behalf of? From what he says after we can easily see that there were schools of thought both for and against veganism, just as there are in today's world. The schools of Pythagoras and Empedocles (among others) firmly promoting veganism and animal rights, while those of the sophists - the Peripatetic and Stoic sects, and the Epicureans, etc. - along with certain philologists, actively arguing against veganism. This clearly demonstrates that the debate between vegans and their counterparts has been with humanity for ages. There is, as they say, nothing new under the sun.
Porphyry was a Platonist, and also a follower of Empedocles and Pythagoras (and his, then famous, code of conduct). When he speaks of "our own opinions", he speaks on behalf of those schools, and in the fine style of vegans everywhere (and everywhen) thus sets out to "collect and dissolve the arguments of our opponents". And from this we have his dissertation of over 60,000 words on the subject!
He begins (and so will we) with the arguments of his opponents, who would seek to justify the exploitation and murder of animals for all manner of human uses through a variety of excuses and twists of logic. Among these arguments are many quite familiar to us in modern times.
We summarize the arguments given in his essay thus:
- That there is no reason to extend justice to "the irrational" (i.e. animals) but only to the "rational" (humans), which clearly demonstrates that the speciesism of today was alive and well in his day, and that animals were then considered non-sentient (irrational), as many today continue to try to convince themselves, despite growing scientific knowledge to the contrary.
- That "if we spare, and do not employ them, that it will be impossible for us to live. We shall also, after a manner, live the life of brutes, if we reject the use of which they are capable of affording." A classic argument, founded in a rural society accustomed to the habits of exploiting animals for personal use, and unable to imagine a world in which this 'norm' is absent.
- That "what work would be left for us on the earth or in the sea, what illustrious art, what ornament of our food would remain, if we conducted ourselves innoxiously and reverentially towards brutes, as if they were of a kindred nature with us?" An argument that remains with us today, among those whose livelihood depends on the exploitation and slaughter of animals, who complain that veganism will strip them of their means of survival.
- That "our nature, not being sufficient to itself, but indigent of many things, would be entirely destroyed, and enclosed in a life involved in difficulties . . . if excluded from the assistance derived from animals." Essentially, we are too weak and feable to live without the help of animals - an obviously flawed argument, and of course, one no longer even remotely valid in our modern times.
- And "what greater injury does he do, who cuts the throat of an ox or a sheep, than he who cuts down a fir tree or an oak?" A classic argument, demonstrating the extreme of sophistry, or twisted logic based wholly outside of reality.
"These," Porphyry says, "are the principal arguments of the Stoics and Peripatetics." He continued then, to the Epicureans and their chief arguments against veganism:
- Firstly, that "those . . . who first defined what we ought to do, and what we ought not, very properly did not forbid us to kill other animals." This argument (of which Porphyry goes on in length) springs from a recognition of the justness of the other laws in which the society (of Porphyry's time and place) lived (i.e. that men should not kill one another, etc.), and concludes that because those laws are just and well reasoned therefore if it were just and well reasoned to not kill animals surely the lawmakers would've included laws to that end. A beautifully woven fallacy, if ever we've heard one!
- Secondly, and as a continuation of the appeal to existing law, they state that "it is not possible that men could be preserved, unless they endeavoured to defend those who are nurtured with themselves from the attacks of other animals," and "it was not only found to be useful for men not to separate from each other, and not to do any thing injurious to those who were collected together in the same place, for the purpose of repelling the attacks of animals of another species; but also for defence against men whose design was to act nefariously." Etc.
- The core of the Epicurean argument is an appeal to community and the notion that the community should do that which aids the community and refrain from doing what does it harm. From this they deduce that it is beneficial to the community to allow for the slaughter of animals (and other tribes), but not to allow for the slaughter of those who belong to their community, mostly for reasons of safety and defense. It is a well arranged argument that can be easily reduced to the corrupt idea of "us" and "others", and that our laws apply to each other but not to others (animals being squarely relegated to the latter). Porphyry sums this up nicely with the Epicurean sentiment that "the destruction of every thing noxious, and the preservation of that which is subservient to its extermination, similarly contribute to a fearless life." The Epicureans seem to be arranging their argument from a purely fear-based position, selfishly seeking to keep the scary world relegated to lands outside their walls and/or to maintain utter control over it. Thus, maintaining forceful dominion over animals is seen (by them) to lend itself to the good of the community.
- That "if we suffered them [animals] to increase excessively, they would become injurious to us. But through the number of them which is now preserved, certain advantages are imparted to human life. For sheep and oxen, and every such like animal, when the number of them is moderate, are beneficial to our necessary wants; but if they become redundant in the extreme, and far exceed the number which is sufficient, they then become detrimental to our life. . .". This is a common argument in our time as well, which is founded upon a grave misunderstanding of how holistic ecosystems (like the Earth) work. Imagining that it is our job to maintain the order of the ecosystem and to keep the animals in appropriate numbers, through imprisonment and slaughter, is a serious corruption of human supremacy syndrome and an example of extreme arrogance.
- Also that "the slaughter of animals of this kind [i.e. those of use to mankind] is not prohibited, in order that as many of them as are sufficient for our use, and which we may be able easily to subdue, may be left. For it is not with horses, oxen, and sheep, and with all tame animals, as it is with lions and wolves, and, in short, with all such as are called savage animals, that, whether the number of them is small or great, no multitude of them can be assumed, which, if left, would alleviate the necessity of our life. And on this account, indeed, we utterly destroy some of them; but of others, we take away as many as are found to be more than commensurate to our use." This argument - a continuation of the last - would see no use for so-called "savage" animals and would therefore rather "utterly destroy" them. It is, as is obvious to any thinking person, a shallow and baseless and incredibly ignorant argument. It rests wholly on a foundation that assumes the inherent right of man's dominion over animals.
- Lastly, the Epicureans, in their appeal to the institutions of the law, argue: "If, therefore, it was possible to make a certain compact with other animals in the same manner as with men, that we should not kill them, nor they us, and that they should not be indiscriminately destroyed by us, it would be well to extend justice as far as to this; for this extent of it would be attended with security. But since it is among things impossible, that animals which are not recipients of reason should participate with us of law, on this account, utility cannot be in a greater degree procured by security from other animals, than from inanimate natures. But we can alone obtain security from the liberty which we now possess of putting them to death." The essential argument is that since we cannot strike up a human peace treaty with the animals, we are left only with the option to kill them to secure ourselves. One can only find pity for the state of mind that would live so fearful a life.
Porphyry sums up the Epicurean position with the following statement:
On this account … it is similarly requisite to think, that what pertains to the eating of animals, was ordained by those who from the first established the laws; and that the advantageous and the disadvantageous were the causes why some animals were permitted to be eaten and others not. So that those who assert, that every thing beautiful and just subsists conformably to the peculiar opinions of men respecting those who establish the laws, are full of a certain most profound stupidity.
Using the very argument of the Epicureans, Porphyry subtly points out that:
It is not necessary, however, that these institutes [of laws] should be preserved by us, because we do not dwell in the same place as those did by whom they were made.
The Epicureans, it seems, were all about the existing laws, respecting them and their authority as just and wise, and yet, as their argument insists (point #6 above), if it were possible to modify these laws and still maintain the safety of the community, it ought to be done. Therefore, as Porphyry has them say, we need not, after all, maintain laws simply for the sake of tradition - that if found to be unjust laws may be necessarily changed. This is a position very familiar to modern animal rights activists and composes a central point of the movement, namely that new laws are demanded by the progress of humanity, that our existing laws are simply not good enough when the morality in our hearts outgrows them.
Porphyry, leaving behind the arguments of the Epicureans, moves on to the increasingly absurd arguments of Claudius the Neapolitan, who had published "a Treatise against Abstinence from Animal Food". We may summarize Claudius's arguments as follows, using his words as much as possible:
- That "… the ancients abstained from animals, not through piety, but because they did not yet know the use of fire; but that as soon as they became acquainted with its utility, they then conceived it to be most honourable and sacred … and afterward they began to use animals. For it is natural to man to eat flesh, but contrary to his nature to eat it raw. Fire, therefore, being discovered, they embraced what is natural, and admitted the eating of boiled and masted flesh." And furthermore, that "at first, therefore, men did not eat animals, for man is not [naturally] a devourer of raw flesh. But when the use of fire was discovered, fire was employed not only for the cooking of flesh, but also for most other eatables. For that man is not [naturally] adapted to eat raw flesh, is evident … that man, however, is adapted to feed on flesh, is evident from this, that no nation abstains from animal food." This beautifully absurd fallacy, appealing to the argument that since everyone does it, it must be natural and right, is one that is maintained even in our time. It is, of course, baseless and believed in only by the most ignorant, as there is simply no logic to be found in it. Similarly, the notion that man is meant to eat flesh, just not raw, stands in stark contrast to absolutely everything observable in Nature. Porphyry addresses both of these at length.
- That "… an innate and just war is implanted in us against brutes. For some of them voluntarily attack men, as, for instance, wolves and lions; others not voluntarily, as serpents, since they bite not, except they are trampled on. And some, indeed, attack men; but others destroy the fruits of the earth. From all these causes, therefore, we do not spare the life of brutes; but we destroy those who commence hostilities against us, as also those who do not, lest we should suffer any evil from them. For there is no one who, if he sees a serpent, will not, if he is able, destroy it, in order that neither it, nor any other serpent, may bite a man. Etc.". One is reminded of a child pitifully crying out "but he started it!" One is also reminded of the fallacy of pre-emptive war given support by the idea that if we do not kill "them" first they
- Next, an argument that strikes at the very core of diseased human thinking, that "the Greeks do not feed either on dogs, or horses, or asses … nevertheless, they eat swine and birds. For a hog is not useful for anything but food." Not useful for anything but food. It brings a tear to our eyes to think that any human being is capable of such a thought.
- Claudius then appeals to the familiar: "But why should any one abstain from animals? Is it because feeding on them makes the soul or the body worse? It is, however, evident, that neither of these is deteriorated by it. For those animals that feed on flesh are more sagacious than others, as they are venatic, and possess an art by which they supply themselves with food, and acquire power and strength; as is evident in lions and wolves. So that the eating of flesh neither injures the soul nor the body. This likewise is manifest, both from the athletae, whose bodies become stronger by feeding on flesh, and from physicians, who restore bodies to health by the use of animal food." Convinced, as many are, that a human eating flesh will be strong just as a lion eating flesh is, Claudius puts forth this tired and outworn argument. A human is, of course, not a lion.
- Another familiar argument follows: "Let it, however, be admitted that all men are persuaded of the truth of this dogma, respecting abstinence from animals. But what will be the boundary of the propagation of animals? For no one is ignorant how numerous the progeny is of the swine and the hare. And to these add all other animals. Whence, therefore, will they be supplied with pasture? … And the earth will not be able to bear the multitude of animals."
- And "…what will husbandmen do? For they will not destroy those who destroy the fruits of the earth." Both are arguments shared by the Stoics and Peripatetics and both are addressed by Porphyry.
- Claudius continues: "How many … will be prevented from having their diseases cured, if animals are abstained from? For we see that those who are blind recover their sight by eating a viper. A servant of Craterus, the physician, happening to be seized with a new kind of disease, in which the flesh fell away from the bones, derived no benefit from medicines; but by eating a viper prepared after the manner of a fish, the flesh became conglutinated to the bones, and he was restored to health. Many other animals also, and their several parts, cure diseases when they are properly used for that purpose; of all which remedies he will be frustrated who rejects animal food." His examples of cures from animal products are as unbelievable as those of today's pseudo-doctors and nutritionists.
- Claudius continues to reach, taking up next the all too familiar: "if as they say, plants also have a soul, what will become of our life if we neither destroy animals nor plants? If, however, he is not impious who cuts off plants, neither will he be who kills animals."
- He then embarks on a most incredible argument, based on the theory of the transmigration of souls, in which, in the corrupted understanding of non-philosophers, it was believed that the soul, in the process of reincarnation passes through the animal kingdom before returning as a human. Claudius claims: "But if they [souls] enter voluntarily … and pass through every species of animals, they will be much gratified by being destroyed. For thus their return to the human form will be more rapid." And "… if the souls of men are immortal, but those of irrational animals mortal, men will not act unjustly by destroying irrational animals. And if the souls of brutes are immortal, we shall benefit them by liberating them from their bodies. For, by killing them, we shall cause them to return to the human nature." Aside from the obvious absurdity of this argument, it is also easily seen by one familiar with the theory of the transmigration of souls to be based upon a complete and utter misunderstanding and corruption of the idea. Claudius's attempt here to not only defend killing animals, but to twist it into something noble and exalted is nothing short of disgusting. He also claims, amazingly, that "the bodies also which are eaten will not produce any pain in the souls of those bodies, in consequence of the souls being liberated from them…". Such "logic" can only issue forth from a profoundly disturbed and disfigured mind.
- That "If … we [only] defend ourselves [in putting animals to death], we do not act unjustly, but we take vengeance on those that injure us… . And if we defend ourselves against them, how is it possible that in so doing we should not act justly. For we destroy, indeed, a serpent and a scorpion, though they do not attack us, in order that some other person may not be injured by them; and in so doing we defend the human race in general." The appeal to defense seems a common theme in those days.
- That "Co-operating also with the Gods themselves in what contributes to piety, we sacrifice animals: for … the Gods … Demi-gods likewise, and all the heroes who excel us both in origin and virtue, have so much approved of the slaughter of animals…". Even in our day we continue to see the appeal to religion as either approving of, or at the very least not denying, the slaughter of animals. The argument is, for obvious reasons, quite ineffectual to thinking human beings.
- And finally, that "… if we abstained from animals, we should not only be deprived of pleasure and riches of this kind, but we should also lose our fields, which would be destroyed by wild beasts … the scattered seeds would immediately be gathered by the birds; and all such fruits as had arrived at perfection, would be consumed by quadrupeds. But men being oppressed by such a want of food, would be compelled, by bitter necessity, to attack [and eat] each other." Can we help but laugh at a mind that could convince itself that if we stop eating animals we will somehow, out of our own ineptness and inability to find anything else to eat, end up resorting to cannibalism?
Thus is the extent of Claudius's position against veganism, and thus closes Porphyry's summary of his opponent's arguments.
In fairness to Claudius, Porphyry does have him make one extraordinary statement which we can fully agree with as vegans, wherein he (perhaps inadvertently) demonstrates the essential problem with vegetarianism. Claudius admits, that:
If, however, some one should, nevertheless, think it is unjust to destroy brutes, such a one should neither use milk, nor wool, nor sheep, nor honey. For, as you injure a man by taking from him his garments, thus, also, you injure a sheep by shearing it. For the wool which you take from it is its vestment. Milk, likewise, was not produced for you, but for the young of the animal that has it. The bee also collects honey as food for itself; which you, by taking away, administer to your own pleasure.
Thus Claudius echoes what many of us have come to accept, that there is no middle ground when it comes to the exploitation of animals. He, like many others, is fully willing to admit to himself that if we do indeed deem it wrong to kill animals we should also consider it wrong to injure them in any way and to exploit them in any way. As vegans, this is at the very core of our way of life.
Claudius makes it clear, however, that he believes these things (wool, milk, honey, etc.) to be within our right to take for ourselves, being unable or unwilling to see the error in his logic or the gaping whole in his heart. And sadly, there are two instances within his essay where Porphyry himself seems to forgive two specific acts, one being the shearing of sheep for wool and the other being the milking of cows. Several other statements, however, seem to counter this forgiveness or allowance of such uses, such that we get the feeling Porphyry may have been working through these aspects of his stance at the time of the composition of his essay.
Having completed our summary of his opponent's arguments, it seems important now to explore the philosophy underlying Porphyry's perspective, as this philosophy is woven throughout his essay and supports his many arguments. He did, after all, credit his veganism to the system of philosophy he learned from those who came before him and, as we'll see, this philosophy builds a solid foundation for animal rights, both in ancient times and in modern. After elucidating several basic tenets of his philosophy, we'll proceed to the arguments Porphyry presents against his opponent's positions.
Part 2: The Philosophy Underlying Porphyry's Arguments
Having summarized the arguments against veganism and animal rights, Porphyry addresses his friend (and his readers).
As, however, I intend to oppose these opinions, and those of the multitude, I may reasonably premise what follows. In the first place, therefore, it must be known that my discourse does not bring with it an exhortation to every description of men. For it is not directed to those who are occupied in sordid mechanical arts, nor to those who are engaged in athletic exercises; neither to soldiers, nor sailors, nor rhetoricians, nor to those who lead an active life. But I write to the man who considers what he is, whence he came, and whither he ought to tend, and who, in what pertains to nutriment, and other necessary concerns, is different from those who propose to themselves other kinds of life; for to none but such as these do I direct my discourse.
In short, he is directing his arguments towards philosophers, to thinkers specifically, to those who wish to reason and to understand themselves and their reality through such faculties. He, as with other philosophers in our history, addresses himself primarily to those who share his love of wisdom (philo-sophia). He's not so concerned with whether or not one can build muscle or run a marathon as a vegan, but far more so with the simple truth of its rightness based on philosophy and reason.
And in addressing the goal (felicity) of this philosophy, Porphyry explains:
The contemplation which procures for us felicity [joy, bliss], does not consist, as some one may think it does, in a multitude of discussions and disciplines; nor does it receive any increase by a quantity of words… . If … felicity consisted in literary attainments, this end might be obtained by those who pay no attention to their food and their actions. But since for this purpose it is requisite to exchange the life which the multitude lead for another, and to become purified both in words and deeds, let us consider what reasonings and what works will enable us to obtain this end.
The felicity of the philosopher requires, as Porphyry and many others before and after him have insisted, an exchange of one life (that of the multitudes) for another (that of the philosophers). We not only see this among Pythagoreans, Platonists, Orphics, Brahmins, Buddhists and others, but even from the mouth of Jesus in the gospels, when he says: "For whosoever will save his [current] life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his [current] life for my sake [i.e. for the sake of true wisdom, or Christos] shall find it [i.e. the life of wisdom]." (Matthew 16:25)
There are many ways in which we can approach the philosophic and religious/spiritual ideas of our ancestors. Some favor dead-letter literalism in their interpretations, others prefer to see but (equally dead) myth, but it is to those of us who see both allegory and metaphor, and seek to understand the inner meaning, that the philosophers of old addressed their writings. Porphyry is no different in this respect. He says,
we [humans] resemble those who enter into, or depart from a foreign region, not only because we are banished from our intimate associates, but in consequence of dwelling in a foreign land, we are filled with barbaric passions, and manners, and legal institutes, and to all these have a great propensity. Hence, he who wishes to return to his proper kindred and associates, should not only with alacrity begin the journey, but, in order that he may be properly-received, should meditate how he may divest himself of everything of a foreign nature which he has assumed.
… it is necessary, if we intend to return to things which are truly our own, that we should divest ourselves of every thing of a mortal nature which we have assumed, together with an adhering affection towards it, and which is the cause of our descent and that we should excite our recollection of that blessed and eternal essence, and should hasten our return to the nature which is without colour and without quality, earnestly endeavouring to accomplish two things; one, that we may cast aside every thing material and mortal; but the other, that we may properly return, and be again conversant with our true kindred, ascending to them in a way contrary to that in which we descended hither.
We may interpret this on the religious level, as looking towards the eternal nature of Spirit, or spiritual life, as contrasted with the ephemeral nature of matter, or material life, but we may also interpret this on a regular human level, in which many of us will be able to relate.
What is meant by "dwelling in a foreign land"? We were all born into this world and as we developed we took on or inherited certain ideas - from our parents, siblings, teachers, society - we leave our "native land" (or state, noticeable in the infant) and come into a foregin land of concepts and ideas that have little to do with reality. These ideas color who we are, or rather, who we are capable of being. In our vegan journey many of us can relate to the process of "divesting ourselves of everything of a foreign nature which we have assumed" - these things being our assumptions about life, about diet, health, about humanity and ourselves. Our brains have become so full of assumptions that our journey becomes as much about unlearningas about learning.
Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
This is what the journey of the philosopher is all about: returning to our native state, but not in the sense of going backwards, or reverting to the blank slate of the infant, but of clearing ourselves of the crud unnecessarily gathered as we develop as a unit of society, so as to approach life with clarity of mind. Porphyry therefore precedes his arguments for veganism with an injunction to us to begin the process of returning to this, our true nature.
For we were intellectual natures, and we still are essences purified from all sense and irrationality; but we are complicated with sensibles, through our incapability of eternally associating with the intelligible…
We were once pure and untarnished intellects, our minds were once like the waters of a clear, calm lake, until we began to crowd our minds with assumptions, beliefs and ideas inherited from our collective society (the 'mortal' or 'material') which muddied our waters. That it's 'normal', and 'acceptable' to imprison, exploit and consume animals is an example of one of these collective assumptions, which become an inseparable part of our self- identity, both individually and culturally.
For all the powers which energize in conjunction with sense and body, are injured, in consequence of the soul not abiding in the intelligible; (just as the earth, when in a bad condition, though it frequently receives the seed of wheat, yet produces nothing but tares), and this is through a certain depravity of the soul, which does not indeed destroy its essence from the generation of irrationality, but through this is conjoined with a mortal nature, and is drawn down from its own proper to a foreign condition of being.
Remember that the Greek word we translate into English as "Soul" is psyche , which we sometimes equally translate as Mind, and which essentially indicates the reasoning faculty, that which is capable of truly understanding, of recognizing the Good (i.e. the divine) within. We are, in our essence, a pure psyche, uncoloured by erroneous ideas and conceptions, untarnished by false beliefs, and it is this ideal and 'flawless' condition that is potential in each of us. The journey Porphyry would have us take is that journey by which we begin to strip ourselves of everything erroneous that we might return once again to our native state, which he equates with pure intelligence. The Soul not abiding in the intelligible is the Mind not abiding in itself (i.e. unconnected to true understanding or wisdom), but instead filling itself with falsities and living in them, or imagining them to be reality.
In veganism we take a similar (if not the very same) journey. We are not simply refraining from exploiting animals, we are endeavoring to clean ourselves outwardly and inwardly, to get rid of all the crud we have accumulated over the years - the physical and metaphorical fat we wear, the baggage we carry with us. Porphyry addresses his essay to all those who wish to undertake this process and thus discover who they truly are, which is the true path of the philosopher, the lover of wisdom. As he says, the soul (psyche) "does not indeed destroy its essence from the generation of irrationality" - i.e. the psyche (Mind, Intelligence) remains pure and available, just waiting for us to drop all the stuff we've covered it over with. We have not, in this view, lost our true self, but have merely covered it up, clouded it or "conjoined it with a mortal nature," which is to say corrupted our true intelligence with false notions, unfounded concepts and twisted logic.
… if we are desirous of returning to those natures with which we formerly associated, we must endeavour to the utmost of our power to withdraw ourselves from sense and imagination [false conceptions], and the irrationality with which they are attended … but such things as pertain to intellect should be distinctly arranged, procuring for it peace and quiet from the war with the irrational part; that we may not only be auditors of intellect and intelligibles, but may as much as possible enjoy the contemplation of them, and, being established in an incorporeal nature, may truly live through intellect; and not falsely in conjunction with things allied to bodies. We must therefore divest ourselves of our manifold garments, both of this visible and fleshly vestment, and of those with which we are internally clothed, and which are proximate to our cutaneous habiliments; and we must enter the stadium naked and unclothed, striving for (the most glorious of all prizes) the Olympia of the soul.
It's important to ask ourselves what Porphyry means when he says "garments". We must remember that he is a philosopher and a metaphysician and is therefore speaking often in subtle terms, by way of allegory and symbol. When we wake up in the morning do we not "put on" our garment of flesh? Do we not also put on our "garments" of Mind - our ideas about ourselves and the world, our identities, our personalities, our habits? These are that "with which we are internally clothed", and as he says, to return to our true natures we must "enter the stadium [of life] naked and unclothed [i.e. without the baggage of our false ideas, our inner garments]". This also applies to meditation, wherein we "procure for it [the mind, soul, Self] peace and quiet from the war with the irrational part", i.e. that part of us that we've accumulated over the years, that doesn't actually (or natively) belong to us, but is simply (mental) baggage that we've decided to carry around from day to day.
The importance of this is stated plainly by Porphyry:
The first thing, however, and without which we cannot contend, is to divest ourselves of our garments.
We must divest ourselves, we must rid ourselves of the mental fat we wear around our minds every day. We must begin to let go of our mistaken ideas and to slowly return to our true selves, i.e. to "associate with the intelligible".
But since of these [garments] some are external and others internal … one kind is through things which are apparent, but another through such as are more unapparent. Thus, for instance, not to eat, or not to receive what is offered to us, belongs to things which are immediately obvious; but not to desire is a thing more obscure; so that, together with deeds, we must also withdraw ourselves from an adhering affection and passion towards them. For what benefit shall we derive by abstaining from deeds, when at the same time we tenaciously adhere to the causes from which the deeds proceed?
Porphyry touches on something of profound importance here. It is not enough to simply divest ourselves of our outer garments and continue to wear our inner ones. It is not enough, for instance, to forcefully stop consuming animals but to continue inwardly to desire or crave animal products. If we are to be truly free, to truly return to our native state, we must divest ourselves of all the inward ideas, passions, etc., that bind us to our past habits. It is easy to see that the most successful vegans, as the most successful philosophers, are those who have truly cleansed themselves inwardly, who are vegans and philosophers straight through to the very core of their being. This is what Porphyry is telling us: we must reach within and really begin that cleaning process in earnest.
… this separation [the departure from sense, imagination, and irrationality] is introduced by a continual negligence of the passions. And this negligence is produced by an abstinence from those sensible perceptions which excite the passions, and by a persevering attention to intelligibles.
The way to begin this process, this withdrawal from irrationality, etc., which is the cleaning up of ourselves, is through "negligence of the passions", through "abstinence" from that which excites those passions, and by keeping ourselves focused on that which is intelligible. If we wish to rise above some unwanted part of ourselves, if we want to strip off one of our inner garments, we must maintain abstinence from those specific passions that are associated with that particular garment - i.e. that "adhere" us to it. We cannot, for instance, divest ourselves of the inner garment associated with alcoholism without first addressing and thenceforth abstaining from the passions associated with the drink. The former requires the latter.
This comes into full effect in our vegan journey, as well as with the journey of the philosopher. Continuing to 'feed' the passions associated with our inner garments (false beliefs, ideas, etc.), and thus to actively maintain them, will do nothing but keep us imprisoned by them. In veganism this is plainly seen, as our indulgence in non-vegan lifestyles does nothing but keep our feet firmly locked where we are, holding us back from truly living a vegan lifestyle. We cannot put one foot in the door and keep one outside; we must step fully away from our past bad habits and move fully into our truer nature, thus dropping off those garments that have served only to weigh us down.
And Porpyry makes it clear that:
… among these passions or perturbations, those which arise from food are to be enumerated.
These passions are like the glue which binds the "garments" to our Self. We wake in the morning, or come out of meditation, and immediately that glue takes hold and our very sense of self becomes interlocked with all our self- identified garments. To take them off we must loosen the glue, which is to eliminate the passions surrounding each one.
If one is addicted to a harmful substance, one must abstain from it while also replacing it with beneficent substances (to trade the bad for the good), and the longer one does this the weaker the passion for the harmful substance becomes. Similarly, if one is addicted to a harmful idea or belief, one must abstain from it, while focusing on beneficent ideas (by looking only towards truth), and slowly the glue binding one to that harmful belief will weaken until the garment can be taken off completely. Applying this to veganism, we can see that one must adopt it fully, absolutely, leaving entirely behind all non-vegan activities, and slowly, over time, the passions and habits that bound one to the old lifestyle will fade and one will find a new life awaiting them.
"We should therefore abstain, no less than from other things, from certain food, viz., such as is naturally adapted to excite the passive part of our soul [psyche] … these, the passions being excited, and the whole of the irrational nature becoming fattened, the soul [psyche] is drawn downward, and abandons its proper love of true being.
Anyone familiar with addiction can recognize in these words a true understanding of the process by which one forms an addition. That process of being "drawn downward" can be seen both spiritually and practically. We (the person we truly are) are drawn down into the habits we've gathered to ourselves over the years, we are drawn into believing that we are those habits , when in reality they are but a temporary passenger, so to speak, in our life-journey. We are no more our habits than the fire is the smoke it produces.
Thus we lose our "proper love of true being" in favor our our habitual life of day-in and day-out self-identification. We think we are all these ideas we hold about ourselves and the world, but Porphyry is telling us that this is but the irrational nature becoming "fattened" by feeding it too much nonsense, just as our bodies become fattened by feeding them too much unhealthy food. And food, he makes clear, is one of those elements that excites this part of our nature and keeps us stuck in it. We are what we eat, as the old saying goes, so that what we eat lends itself to either the path of the philosopher or to the state of the multitudes, in which we remain confused about who we truly are. The choice between the two is ours to make.
Porphyry proceeds to examine how the passions are excited by each sense, and when he comes to the sense of taste, we find him saying:
But what occasion is there to speak of the passions produced through the taste? For here, especially, there is a complication of a twofold bond; one which is fattened by the passions excited by the taste; and the other, which we render heavy and powerful, by the introduction of foreign bodies (i.e. of bodies different from our own). For, as a certain physician said, those are not the only poisons which are prepared by the medical art; but those likewise which we daily assume for food, both in what we eat, and what we drink, and a thing of a much more deadly nature is imparted to the soul through these, than from the poisons which are compounded for the purpose of destroying the body.
Not only are the passions (those associated with whichever foods we choose to consume) excited, but we may also slowly poison ourselves through that consumption. As we know in our time, this is absolutely true. A whole host of diseases are associated with the consumption of animal products, and we see every day around us the negative health effects of poor dietary choices. However, an oft neglected effect is that which these foods have on the Mind, or Soul (psyche). Porphyry goes as far as to say that these poisons are far worse for the soul than those designed to kill the body. Killing the body does no further damage to the Soul, as is evident by the ceasing of life (or association between soul (psyche) and body) - regardless of what we believe may or may not happen after death - but slowly poisoning the psyche through the consumption of such foods does continual and long-term damage to the mind.
Clear thinking is essential if we are to drop our old garments, and clear thinking becomes hampered by the consumption of unhealthy foods, as they restrict the body and brain of essentials, but also because we continue to train and enhance and maintain our old mental habits - we continue to apply more and more glue to the garments we wrap ourselves in, thus making the journey to discover who we truly are that much more difficult.
Hence, to be purified from all these [the passions that bind us] is most difficult, and requires a great contest, and we must bestow much labour both by night and by day to be liberated from an attention to them, and this, because we are necessarily complicated with sense. Whence, also, as much as possible, we should withdraw ourselves from those places in which we may, though unwillingly, meet with this hostile crowd [of passions].
Our senses provide the means by which the passions are excited and thus the means by which we continue to strengthen the glue binding us to the garments we wish to let go of (those that are keeping us unhealthy and restraining us from knowing our true selves), therefore we must be careful what we do with our senses, and careful as to what environments we put ourselves in. If one wants to quit drinking, hanging out in a bar is a bad idea. If one wants to be vegan, going to a steakhouse is a bad idea. If we indulge one sense, it is likely to lead to the indulgence of another. Thus, if we indulge an enjoyment of the smell of cooked meat, it only strengthens the passion that will inevitably lead to the indulgence of the taste of cooked meat. However, if we abstain all senses from this, and indulge them only in healthy vegan foods, in time the passion associated between smell or taste and cooked meat will vanish - we will simply not enjoy it anymore, because the enjoyment was only a trained or learned thing, not a natural thing essential to who we are.
… intellect, indeed, is present with itself, though we are not present with it. But he who departs from intellect, is in that place to which he departs; and when, by discursive energies, he applies himself upwards and downwards by his apprehension of things, he is there where his apprehension is.
This is an age-old philosophical assertion, that where the mind directs itself so follows the perceived "reality" of that mind. Thus, what we focus on becomes (to us) our reality. If we focus on the negative, we become absorbed by it, it fills our view of all things. If we focus on the positive, likewise we become absorbed by it. If we place our focus entirely upon aspects of ourselves that we dislike, our reality will become that of one who dislikes themselves. When we depart from intellect (i.e. when we indulge ourselves in false ideas and beliefs) that "place" to where we go becomes our reality - we will see the world only through those goggles, but never with our naked eyes (i.e. never clearly, truthfully, accurately).
He, therefore, who submits to the assumption of (every kind of) food, and voluntarily betakes himself to (alluring) spectacles, to conversation with the multitude, and laughter; such a one, by thus acting, is there where the passion is which he sustains.
Our passions are much more than simple indulgences; they color our entire sense of reality when we follow them. We not only begin to see the world through the coloring of those passions, but we also draw ourselves into environments associated with those passions. We thus create a sort of self- fulfilling prophecy (for ourselves), when we believe something to be true we will continue to reinforce that belief by drawing ourselves to things that verify (feed) it. We must be very careful then, in considering "where" we wish to focus our attention, and this applies to both outer environments and inner ones (i.e. where we wish to spend our time and on which ideas we wish to dwell).
… through ignorance of, and abstaining from sensible concerns, he (the delirious man) is unacquainted with them.
Just as abstaining from the passions will slowly lead to our detachment from them, so too abstaining from "sensible concerns" (i.e. from true reason, rationality, logic, intelligence) will cause a detachment in us from our true nature (clarity of Soul, psyche or Mind). By living only in the passions associated with our false sense of self, our beliefs, habits and all the garments we wear, we also deprive ourselves of the opportunity to be who we truly are, in our truest self. Thus, in taking up the journey of the philosopher, it is as important to leave behind who we were as it is to begin finding who we are. In veganism this is equally applicable: we must both leave behind our old habits and begin finding healthy ones. We cannot maintain both our old self and our new self: one of the two must perish.
So that to the attainment of a life according to intellect, it is requisite to abstain from all these [base passions] … for it is not possible for us to be borne along to this place and to that, while we are here, and yet be there, (i.e. be present with an intelligible essence). For our attentions to things are not effected with a part, but with the whole of ourselves.
Or in other words, we must give ourselves fully to where we lend our attention, we must commit all of ourselves to where we choose to focus, and not be scattered, having only part of our attention on one thing and another part on another. In veganism this is evident: we cannot be partly vegan. In the life of the philosopher it is even more so: we cannot live two lives: one rational and one irrational. Because our focus determines what we perceive as our reality, we cannot expect to live in the reality of the person we truly are if we continue to focus on the person we know to be a fiction made up of societal assumptions, habits and expectations. We must let that person go and give our full attention to the person we know we are (and can be).
The man … who is cautious, and is suspicious of the enchantments of nature [of the passions], who has surveyed the essential properties of body, and knows that it was adapted as an instrument to the powers of the soul [psyche], will also know how readily passion is prepared to accord with the body, whether we are willing or not, when anything external strikes it… . the irrational part [our confused self] verges downward, thither it is borne along, without any power of governing itself in things external. Nor does it know the fit time or the measure of the food which should be taken, unless the eye of the charioteer [the Soul, our real Self, the "intelligence"] is attentive to it, which regulates and governs the motions of irrationality … But he who takes away from reason its dominion over the irrational part, and permits it to be borne along … such a one, yielding to desire and anger, will suffer them to proceed to whatever extent they please. On the contrary, the worthy man will so act that his deeds may be conformable to presiding reason …
This, therefore, is the cause why the multitude err in words and deeds, in desire and anger, and why, on the contrary, good men act with rectitude, viz. that the former suffer the boy within them to do whatever it pleases; but the latter give themselves up to the guidance of the tutor of the boy, ( i.e. to reason) and govern what pertains to themselves in conjunction with it. Hence in food, and in other corporeal energies and enjoyments, the charioteer being present, defines what is commensurate and opportune …
Hence, to worthy men, abstinence in food [i.e. abstaining from animal products, wine, etc.], and in corporeal enjoyments and actions, is more appropriate than abstinence in what pertains to the touch … Since … a prolongation of time in cooking and digesting food, and together with this the co-operation of sleep and rest, are requisite, and, after these, a certain temperament from digestion, and a separation of excrements, it is necessary that the tutor of the boy within us should be present, who, selecting things of a light nature, and which will be no impediment to him, may concede these to nature, in consequence of foreseeing the future [i.e. understanding the effects of his actions], and the impediment which will be produced by his permitting the desires to introduce to us a burden not easily to be borne, through the trifling pleasure arising from the deglutition of food.
In short, we must allow ourselves to be governed by the highest in us, i.e. by reason , that faculty of the soul (psyche) which allows us to know what is rightful and beneficial and what is not. In regards to food (as to all of life), we mustn't allow ourselves to be "borne away" by the "boy" in us (i.e. the irresponsible and irrational), but must allow the "tutor" to govern, such that we will select the most appropriate foods in the proper amounts and live a healthy life. This philosophy is found clearly also in the Bhagavad Gita wherein we are shown the importance of allowing "Krishna" (our true Self) to guide Arjuna (the boy) - indeed Porphyry uses the exact same analogy of the charioteer as used in the Gita. This need for the assertion of the higher over the lower is found among nearly all philosophical systems.
The importance of reason and intelligence cannot be understated, and as Porphyry explains, this is of immense import when it comes to food.
Reason, therefore, very properly rejecting the much and the superfluous, will circumscribe what is necessary in narrow boundaries, in order that it may not be molested in procuring what the wants of the body demand… . nor (will it) endeavour to receive much pleasure in eating, nor, through satiety, to be filled with much indolence; nor by rendering … the body more gross, to become somnolent; nor through the body being replete with things of a fattening nature, to render the bond more strong, but himself more sluggish and imbecile in the performance of his proper works.
It is reason, therefore that should guide us in our selection of food, not the runaway passions. Reason will do the job right; the irrational in us will do nothing but harm.
This forms the central recurring theme underlying Porphyry's philosophy, which is the dominion of the rational over the irrational within us, the need of the higher, noble, reasoning ability to take precedence and thus rule over the lower, base, passionate and unreasonable within us. This central pillar of his system of thought becomes interwoven with his definition of justice, from which he will then argue that justice ought to be extended equally to animals as to humans. The exposition of his philosophy, then, builds up the foundation upon which his chief arguments for animal rights will rest.
… the essence of justice consists in the rational ruling over the irrational, and in the irrational being obedient to the rational part [in each being]. For when reason governs, and the irrational part is obedient to its mandates, it follows, by the greatest necessity, that man will be innoxious [harmless] towards every thing.
Justice thus, springs naturally when the rational is asserted over the irrational. In short: when we begin to exercise clarity of mind, with true reason and rationality, we begin naturally to embody and exemplify justice, which arises from a true perception of morality.
Hence, the just man appears to be one who deprives himself of things pertaining to the body; yet he does not (in reality) injure himself. For, by this management of his body, and continence, he increases his inward good, i.e., his similitude to God. … By making pleasure … the end of life, that which is truly justice cannot be preserved … For, in many instances, the motions of the irrational nature, and utility and indigence, have been, and still are the sources of injustice. For men became indigent (as they pretended) [partook] of animal food, in order that they might preserve, as they said, the corporeal frame free from molestation, and without being in want of those things after which the animal nature aspires. But if an assimilation to divinity [i.e the inward good] is the end of life, an innoxious [harmless] conduct towards all things will be in the most eminent degree preserved.
Within each of us, then, we have this power-struggle between the 'irrational' and the 'rational', between what might be called our 'desire-nature' and our 'divine-nature'. If we follow purely the dictates of our passions and desires, without a care for what is truly good, then injustice follows, as is evident from countless examples in our society. If, however, the rational within us is asserted as primary and of most importance, and we are led not by blind passions, habits, appetites or false conceptions, but by our highest reason, then justice naturally follows.
As, therefore, he who is led by his passions is innoxious [harmless] only towards his children and his wife, but despises and acts fraudulently towards other persons, since in consequence of the irrational part predominating in him, he is excited to, and astonished about mortal concerns; but he who is led by reason, preserves an innoxious conduct towards his fellow-citizens, and still more so towards strangers, and towards all men, through having the irrational part in subjection, and is therefore more rational and divine [good] than the former character; - thus also, he who does not confine harmless conduct to men alone, but extends it to other animals, is more similar to divinity; and if it was possible to extend it even to plants, he would preserve this image in a still greater degree.
This then, is the primary situation in which we find ourselves, raising always the question: which part of ourselves will we allow to dominate, the rational or the irrational? The logic and reason, not to mention the ethics and morality underlying Porphyry's philosophy and his arguments, is apparent to those who exercise their reason. The arguments of his opponents, however, are discovered to be founded upon irrational prejudices, distorted logic and the desire to maintain one's existing habitual or societal life, i.e. the status- quo both within ourselves and within our culture.
For custom is most powerful in increasing those passions in man which were gradually introduced into his nature.
And as Porphyry will argue (see Part 5), both the killing (for sacrifice or otherwise) and the consumption of animals is not something natural to us, but something that was introduced, and thus seeped its way into the culture, becoming over time an indistinguishable part of it, and sadly, something we have come to identify as part of our nature. We can, however, remove this "garment" of our culture, and this false identity by recognizing it as the foreign element it is, in the exact same way as we can remove our individual garments. And this must be accomplished through the exercise of the highest reason.
He … who is indigent [in need] of a greater number of externals, is in a greater degree agglutinated [adhered] to penury [need]; and by how much his wants increase, by so much is he destitute of divinity [good], and an associate of penury. For that which is similar to deity, through this assimilation immediately possesses true wealth. But no one who is (truly) rich and perfectly unindigent injures any thing. For as long as any one injures another, though he should possess the greatest wealth, and all the acres of land which the earth contains, he is still poor, and has want for his intimate associate. On this account, also, he is unjust, without God, and impious, and enslaved to every kind of depravity, which is produced by the lapse of the soul into matter, through the privation [lack] of good. Every thing, therefore, is nugatory [worthless] to any one, as long as he wanders from the principle of the universe; and he is indigent of all things, while he does not direct his attention to Porus (or the source of true abundance). He likewise yields to the mortal part of his nature [the irrational], while he remains ignorant of his real self [the rational]. But Injustice is powerful in persuading and corrupting those that belong to her empire, because she associates with her votaries in conjunction with Pleasure.
Thus we see that, to Porphyry, there was a much deeper philosophical and psychological aspect to the condition of animal exploitation and consumption. To him, the disease went much deeper into Man's psyche. For the ancient philosophers, divinity is exemplified by goodness - the two being essentially one. To be divine was to be good and vice versa. To ascend to our "true self" is to embrace and activate that which is already latent within us, being the goodness that exists in us, even if only in potential. To stray from divinity, or to degrade ourselves into our "mortal" or "material" self is to stifle the good in us in favor of the purely (blind) passionate nature that thrives when reason is absent.
Porphyry, along with the Neoplatonists and Pythagoreans, explains that one who would rise to the good within them, and thus come to know their own divinity (their "true self"), will naturally embody justice and harmlessness to all sentient beings, as this quality is native to the divine in us (i.e. it is inherently of the good ).
We will see, as we now proceed to Porphyry's arguments, the role this philosophy will play in his stance for animal rights. Particularly, we will notice the universality of justice in Porphyry's conception. We will also see the concepts of virtue and vice addressed, as intimately connected with rationality and irrationality and these will play a central role also in his chief argument. Thus the conceptual framework, briefly explored here, becomes the weapon of true reason with which Porphyry will dismantle his opponent's arguments.
Part 3: Porphyry's Central Argument
Having thus touched on the philosophic foundations underlying his position, we can now proceed to Porphyry responses to his opponent's arguments. Two arguments constitute the core of Porphyry's essay, and it is during those arguments that he is able, also, to tackle the several minor arguments of his opponents. These two central arguments are (1) against the opinion that animals are not rational (sentient) and therefore need not be extended justice, and (2) against animal sacrifice and its relation to the consumption of animal products. We will structure our review of his arguments beginning with the first of these, then into the several minor arguments presented, and lastly into the arguments related to animal sacrifice and history.
Argument against the opinion that animals are irrational (non-sentient) and thus that justice need not be extended to them.
This is a most important argument, and one that is at the cornerstone of the modern animal rights movement, namely that animals are sentient, rational, capable of feelings akin to those of human beings, including pleasure and pain, desire for life, and so on and thus ought to be protected from forceful suffering, just as we endeavor to protect humans from forceful suffering.
To Porphyry, this argument is intimately connected with his definition of justice. He opens his argument thus:
We shall pass on, therefore, to the discussion of justice; and since our opponents say that this ought only to be extended to those of similar species, and on this account deny that irrational animals can be injured by men, let us exhibit the true, and at the same time Pythagoric opinion, and demonstrate that every soul [psyche] which participates of sense and memory is rational. For this being demonstrated, we may extend, as our opponents will also admit, justice to every animal.
From this, he proceeds to explain that his opponents imagine there to be two kinds of reason; (1) internal reason (i.e. internal thought ) and (2) external reason (i.e. reason exhibited by voice or speech), and furthermore that reason itself can be distinguished as either reason or right reason. Porphyry approaches this latter distinction first, wherein he argues that his opponents:
… appear, indeed, to ascribe to brutes an entire privation [lack] of reason, and not a privation of right reason alone. For if they merely denied that brutes possess right reason, animals would not be irrational, but rational beings, in the same manner as nearly all men are according to them. For, according to their opinion, one or two wise men may be found in whom alone right reason prevails, but all the rest of mankind are depraved; though some of these make a certain proficiency, but others are profoundly depraved, and yet, at the same time, all of them are similarly rational. Through the influence, therefore, of self-love, they say, that all other animals are irrational; wishing to indicate by irrationality, an entire privation of reason. If, however, it be requisite to speak the truth, not only reason may plainly be perceived in all animals, but in many of them it is so great as to approximate to perfection.
In short: if reason is qualified in this manner (the way his opponents wish to qualify it), then we can only say that animals lack "right reason", being the capacity to correctly understand certain complexities (i.e. complex mathematics, sciences, philosophies, etc.), but that we cannot deny them reason itself, of ordinary degree, as even among humans there are many who lack entirely "right reason" but are still said to have reason itself (i.e. to be sentient, thinking beings, however flawed or limited their thinking might be).
For reason, indeed, is ingenerated by nature; but right and perfect reason is acquired by study and discipline. Hence all animated beings participate of reason, but our opponents cannot mention any man who possesses rectitude of reason and wisdom (naturally), though the multitude of men is innumerable. But as the sight of one animal differs from that of another, and the flying of one bird from that of another, (for hawks and grasshoppers do not similarly see, nor eagles and partridges); thus, also, neither does every thing which participates of reason possess genius and acuteness in the highest perfection.
We are all, animals included, born with the capacity of reason, never with "right reason" (genius) innately available, but only attained through "study and discipline", something that applies equally to birds learning to fly as it is to humans learning to read, the variety of ability (both in sense and reason) covering a vast spectrum of degrees.
We will now see how beautifully woven is Porphyry's argument, as he strips apart the views of his opponents, and their two-fold concept of reason. These two types of reason, they claim, manifest as internal and external (i.e. "the silent discourse which takes place in the soul" and that "consisting in external speech"). Porphyry explains that speech, of any kind, "whether in a barbarous or a Grecian, a canine or a bovine mode" is always linked to internal reason, for "do they [animals] not discursively perceive the manner in which they are inwardly affected, before it is vocally enunciated by them?" (i.e. do they not inwardly perceive and cognize prior to expressing that cognition through speech?). If there were no internal process of reason (thought), animal speech would be utterly meaningless, but, as we know, it is far from it.
But if we do not understand what they [animals] say, what is this to the purpose? For the Greeks do not understand what is said by the Indians, nor those who are educated in Attica the language of the Scythians, or Thracians, or Syrians; but the sound of the one falls on the ears of the other like the clangor of cranes, though by others their vocal sounds can be written and articulated, in the same manner as ours can by us. Nevertheless, the vocal sounds of the Syrians, for instance, or the Persians, are to us inarticulate, and cannot be expressed by writing, just as the speech of animals is unintelligible to all men.
Thus, simply because the speech of animals is unintelligible to us does not indicate that it is unintelligible to them. Modern scientific studies verify, of course, that animals do indeed intelligently communicate, often in quite complex ways, with one another. There is no logic, therefore, in assuming that because we don't understand it, it is meaningless or an indication that there is no reason or cognitive process associated with it. Thus, his opponent's argument that animals have no reason, whether internal or external, will be seen to be deeply flawed.
Indeed, the variety and difference in the vocal sounds of animals, indicate that they are significant. Hence, we hear one sound when they are terrified, but another, of a different kind, when they call their associates, another when they summon their young to food, another when they lovingly embrace each other, and another when they incite to battle. And so great is the difference in their vocal sounds, that, even by those who have spent their whole life in the observation of them, it is found to be extremely difficult to ascertain their meaning, on account of their multitude.
… when animals speak to each other, these sounds are manifest and significant to them, though they are not known to all of us. If, however, it appears that they imitate us, that they learn the Greek tongue, and understand their keepers, what man is so impudent as not to grant that they are rational, because he does not understand what they say?
A profoundly important point. Not only are animals capable of understanding one another, but are also capable of understanding humans, something that by all accounts requires a good deal of reasoning ability.
But what about those animals who do not vocalize, do they have reason (cognition)?
It is also narrated, that some dumb animals obey their masters with more readiness than any domestic servants… . Many likewise relate that the eels in Arethusa, and the shell-fish denominated saperdae, about Maeander, are obedient to those that call them. Is not the imagination, therefore, of an animal that speaks, the same, whether it proceeds as far as to the tongue, or does not? And if this be the case, is it not absurd to call the voice of man alone reason, but refuse thus to denominate the voice of other animals? For this is just as if crows should think that their voice alone is external reason, but that we are irrational animals, because the meaning of the sounds which we utter is not obvious to them …
We can certainly admire the soundness of Porphyry's reasoning, which corresponds in our day to the reasoning of animal rights activists who maintain that all animals are sentient, whether we can understand them or not, on similar grounds of argument, except now backed by a myriad of scientific studies to support the clear logic of it.
Porphyry continues with further examples:
The hunter … from the barking of his dog, perceives at one time, indeed, that the dog explores a hare, but at another, that the dog has found it; at one time, that he pursues the game, at another that he has caught it, and at another that he is in the wrong track, through having lost the scent of it. Thus, too, the cowherd knows, at one time, indeed, that a cow is hungry, or thirsty, or weary, and at another, that she is incited to venery, or seeks her calf, (from her different lowings). A lion also manifests by his roaring that he threatens, a wolf by his howling that he is in a bad condition, and shepherds, from the bleating of sheep, know what the sheep want.
Neither … are animals ignorant of the meaning of the voice of men, when they are angry, or speak kindly to, or call them, or pursue them, or ask them to do something, or give something to them; nor, in short, are they ignorant of any thing that is usually said to them, but are aptly obedient to it; which it would be impossible for them to do, unless that which is similar to intellection energized, in consequence of being excited by its similar. … For they do not hear our voice as if it was a mere sound only, but they also perceive the difference in the meaning of the words, which is the effect of rational intelligence.
Regardless of their ability in terms of voice, the very fact that an animal is capable of understanding and following orders proceeding from human language demonstrates that they must indeed have cognitive abilities (intellection) at least somewhat similar to human beings. Without a quite high degree of cognitive ability, how would an animal process the information embodied in the sounds of our voice, and from that both understand and follow the instructions?
Porphyry then wonderfully demonstrates the reasoning capacity of dogs thus:
… dogs have a knowledge of dialectic, and make use of the syllogism which consists of many disjunctive propositions, when, in searching for their game, they happen to come to a place where there are three roads. For they thus reason, the beast has either fled through this road, or through that, or through the remaining road; but it has not fled either through this, or through that, and therefore it must have fled through the remaining third of these roads.
This process of reasoning is essentially the same mental process as the dialectic of the philosopher who moves from one proposition to another, eliminating options until the true one is discovered; the difference between the philosopher's and the dog's reasoning being not of kind but of degree.
These arguments are simple and logical enough, and yet even in our world of so-called 'enlightenment' the bulk of humanity seems to shrug them away and continue to insist upon Man as the only reasoning being on Earth. At the very least, we can see that vegans have been making these arguments for many centuries, sadly falling most often on the deaf ears of the ignorant.
Porphyry moves on from external to internal reason:
But it is now requisite to show that brutes have internal reason. The difference, indeed, between our reason and theirs, appears to consist, as Aristotle somewhere says, not in essence, but in the more and the less …
This statement is of profound importance. It becomes essential, in examining the sentience of animals, to realize that the consciousness operating within them and within us is not different in type but only in degree. And just as among humanity the degree varies immensely from an Einstein down to a so- called 'savage', but we refrain from calling one sentient and the other not, so when we extend this to animals we are forced to admit their sentience (and reason).
… indeed, so far as pertains to sense and the remaining organization, according to the sensoria and the flesh, every one nearly will grant that these are similarly disposed in us, as they are in brutes. For they not only similarly participate with us of natural passions, and the motions produced through these, but we may also survey in them such affections as are preternatural and morbid. No one, however, of a sound mind, will say that brutes are unreceptive of the reasoning power, on account of the difference between their habit of body and ours, when he sees that there is a great variety of habit in men, according to their race, and the nations to which they belong and yet, at the same time, it is granted that all of them are rational.
He proceeds to point out that not only is the underlying reasoning ability of the same kind in animals and humans in relation to the senses, but that many animals exhibit far greater sensory perception, and thus on the whole they may be said to be superior to us in this regard. Our ability to cognize our environment comes through our senses and is processed by our reasoning faculty, but our senses report hardly a fraction of what many animal's do, and thus our reasoning ability is limited by this lack of sensory ability \- limits which do not similarly exist in many animals, who may see or smell or hear with far greater accuracy and thus who may perceive far more of reality than we.
As a verification of animal reason, Porphyry later states:
… nature … did not make an animal sensitive merely that it might be passively affected, and possess sensible perception; but as there are many things which are allied and appropriate, and many which are foreign to it, it would not be able to exist for the shortest space of time, unless it learnt how to avoid some things, and to pursue others. The knowledge, therefore, of both these … the apprehension and pursuit of what is useful, and the depulsion and avoidance of what is destructive and painful, can by no possible contrivance be present with those animals that are incapable of reasoning, judging, and remembering, and that do not naturally possess an animadvertise power.
Thus we see the utility and purpose of sensory perception and its relation to reason. The use of sensory perception to successfully navigate the world itself demonstrates that underlying the perceptions is an active reasoning capacity.
Citing a work available in his day, he concludes:
There is … a treatise of Strato, the physiologist, in which it is demonstrated, that it is not possible to have a sensible perception of anything without the energy of intellection. … For the objects which fall on the eyes and the ears do not produce a sensible perception of themselves, unless that which is intellective is present.
This is an obvious assertion to the philosopher, and one that is backed by modern scientific studies. Our senses, without the mind to interpret them are useless. It is the mind that gives meaning to the input given it by the senses, and it is through a complex inner process that understanding of the information is gained. Animals, thus, demonstrate by their use of their senses that they too have this inner process of mind.
Moving steadily from reason towards the subject of justice, Porphyry observes:
… with respect to other animals, in the same manner as with respect to men, many things are taught them by nature, and some things are imparted by discipline. Brutes, however, learn some things from each other, but are taught others, as we have said, by men. They also have memory, which is a most principal thing in the resumption of reasoning and prudence. They likewise have vices, and are envious; though their bad qualities are not so widely extended as in men …
In light of what we witness daily in the "world of men" today we can certainly agree with this last statement. Animals certainly seem much less "vice ridden" than humans. And yet we are superior, many insist!
This point, that animals exhibit vice, is exceedingly important when looked at in combination with its opposite, virtue - these two opposites being paramount to the concept and exercise of justice. Porphyry thus proceeds to the subject of justice in relation to animals, supported by his arguments for their rationality (sentience).
Who likewise is ignorant how much gregarious animals preserve justice towards each other? for this is preserved by ants, by bees, and by other animals of the like kind. And who is ignorant of the chastity of female ringdoves towards the males with whom they associate? for they destroy those who are found by them to have committed adultery. Or who has not heard of the justice of storks towards their parents? For in the several species of animals, a peculiar virtue is eminent, to which each species is naturally adapted; nor because this virtue is natural and stable, is it fit to deny that they are rational? For it might be requisite to deprive them of rationality, if their works were not the proper effects of virtue and rational sagacity; but if we do not understand how these works are effected, because we are unable to penetrate into the reasoning which they use, we are not on this account to accuse them of irrationality …
Demonstrating first that justice exists in the animal kingdom, by way of examples (and many more exist that could be used, particularly, as we know in modern times, among species that exhibit complex social orders), he argues that this very act of justice demonstrates the existence of virtue among animals, and from this we can surmise the ability to discern between virtue and vice, something we humans consider a product of high reasoning!
Upon an examination of their vices and virtues, Porphyry then demonstrates that their vices are less than men's and that many of their virtues are greater. His prime example of this is in regards to those animals who are held as slaves.
But many brutes are slaves to men, and, as someone rightly says, though they are in a state of servitude themselves, through the improbity of men, yet, at the same time, by wisdom and justice, they cause their masters to be their servants and curators. Moreover, the vices of brutes are manifest, from which especially their rationality is demonstrated. For they are envious, and the males are rivals of each other with respect to the favour of the females, and the females with respect to the regard of the males. There is one vice, however, which is not inherent in them, viz., acting insidiously towards their benefactors, but they are perfectly benevolent to those who are kind to them, and place so much confidence in them, as to follow wherever they may lead them, though it should even be to slaughter and manifest danger. And though some one should nourish them, not for their sake, but for his own, yet they will be benevolently disposed towards their possessor. But men [on the contrary] do not act with such hostility towards any one, as towards him who has nourished them; nor do they so much pray for the death of any one, as for his death.
We would argue, alongside Porphyry that this benevolent disposition that countless animals maintain, even towards their captors, is a demonstration of virtue rarely found among humans. How then, with such exhibitions of virtue, can we deny them either justice or reason?
Porphyry also examines, in light of the philosophy covered in Part 2, the importance of experiencing both the irrational and the rational as a means of growth and learning (and in its relation to virtue and vice), which leads to the proper exercise of reason (i.e. from reason to right reason).
… he who lives according to intellect, will more accurately define what is eligible [rightful to do] and what is not, than he who lives under the dominion of irrationality. For the former has passed through the irrational life, as having from the first associated with it; but the latter, having had no experience of an intellectual life, persuades those that resemble himself, and acts with nugacity [worthlessness], like a child among children.
As stated earlier, we are not born with "right reason", but only with "reason", which holds within itself the capacity for or potential of right reason. It takes discipline and study to ascend to right reason, which brings with it the benefit of knowing, from direct experience, both the irrational and the rational. And it is essentially this knowing (in whatever degree) that allows for one to distinguish between virtue and vice, and to act accordingly. Thus, the rational man understands both himself and the irrational man, but the irrational man understands only his own irrationality.
This is important in the application to animals, since Porphyry demonstrates earlier that animals possess both virtue and vice, and are able to distinguish between the two and thus incorporate justice into their social systems. This, in itself is a powerful argument for the reasoning capacity of animals, which, it may be argued, may exceed that of many humans, who are as yet unable to distinguish between virtue and vice and thus maintain quite confused notions of justice. It becomes difficult, in the light of these arguments, to maintain the concept of human superiority - we may be superior in potential , but have we yet demonstrated ourselves to be superior in actuality?
Porphyry continues on to dismantle several of his opponents arguments which suppose to prove that animals are not rational, among them being:
that brutes do not consult, nor form assemblies, nor act in a judicial capacity,
to which he replies:
But tell me whether all men do this? Do not actions in the multitude precede consultation? And whence can anyone demonstrate that brutes do not consult? For no one can adduce an argument sufficient to prove that they do not. For those show the contrary to this, who have written minutely about animals.
In modern times we, of course, know animals to consult with one another, in one manner or another, particularly among anthopoids and other social animals in regards to their social structure and communal decisions. Porphyry continues:
As to other objections, which are adduced by our adversaries in a declamatory way, they are perfectly frivolous; such, for instance, as that brutes have no cities of their own. For neither have the Scythians, who live in carts, nor the Gods. Our opponents add, that neither have brutes any written laws. To this we reply, that neither had men while they were happy. For Apis is said to have been the first that promulgated laws for the Greeks, when they were in want of them.
This is quite important, as it can be seen, upon reflection, that the need for legal laws arises only due to the want of them - i.e. only because we have proven ourselves incapable of living in harmony without exterior laws to enforce the self-control and right reason that we evidently lack. Animals, having no such laws, demonstrate not an incapacity, but a lack of need of such laws, and thus can be seen to surpass humans in their ability to live naturally in harmony.
In regards to equal justice to animals, Porphyry observes:
… is it not absurd, since we see that many of our own species live from sense alone, but do not possess intellect and [right] reason, and since we also see, that many of them surpass the most terrible of wild beasts in cruelty, anger, and rapine, being murderous of their children and their parents, and also being tyrants, and the tools of kings (is it not, I say, absurd,) to fancy that we ought to act justly towards these, but that no justice is due from us to the ox that ploughs, the dog that is fed with us, and the animals that nourish us with their milk, and adorn our bodies with their wool? Is it not such an opinion most irrational and absurd?
One after another, his opponents arguments are shown to be unfounded and illogical.
Following this, and directly towards the application of justice to all animals, he rightly observes:
… all men [are allied] to each other; for one of these two reasons, either because they originate from the same ancestors, or because they participate of the same food, manners and genus. Thus also we must admit that all men have an affinity, and are allied to each other. And, moreover, the principles of the bodies of all animals are naturally the same… . But animals are much more allied to each other, through naturally possessing souls, which are not different from each other … in the reasoning faculty, and, above all, in the senses. But as with respect to bodies, so likewise with respect to souls, some animals have them more, but others less perfect, yet all of them have naturally the same principles… . And if this be admitted, the genus of other animals has an affinity, and is allied to us… . Hence, since animals are allied to us, if it should appear … that they are allotted the same soul [psyche] that we are, he may justly be considered as impious who does not abstain from acting unjustly towards his kindred.
Through these arguments, therefore … it is demonstrated that brutes are rational animals, reason in most of them being indeed imperfect, of which, nevertheless, they are not entirely deprived. Since, however, justice pertains to rational [sentient] beings, as our opponents say, how is it possible not to admit, that we should also act justly towards brutes?
The question ought to hang in the air for a while, to be considered fully in light of the sound arguments that preceded it.
It is beneficial for us to close this section by considering, as Porphyry does, the effect engendered by one who does extend justice to all animals.
Pythagoras said, that to injure no one, and to be exhilarated with justice, is the sweetest sauce; as the avoidance of animal food, will also be the avoidance of unjust conduct with respect to food.
And indeed we agree. This exhilaration with justice lends itself to joy, bliss, or what Porphyry calls "felicity", which is again what eastern philosophers might call Anand. It exists together with compassion and empathy and all other noble virtues, which exist potentially in all sentient beings but are activated in but a few.
For he who abstains from every thing animated [i.e. from exploitation of animals] … will be much more careful not to injure those of his own species. For he who loves the genus, will not hate any species of animals; and by how much the greater his love of the genus is, by so much the more will he preserve justice towards a part of the genus, and that to which he is allied. He, therefore, who admits that he is allied to all animals, will not injure any animal. But he who confines justice to man alone, is prepared, like one enclosed in a narrow space, to hurl from him the prohibition of injustice.
Justice breeds justice, as love breeds love and compassion does compassion. Our recognition that animals are "allied to us" by shared principles and reason, by genus (kind), lends itself to an expansion of justice not just externally, but within ourselves, which carries with it profoundly beneficent results. We become, as Porphyry explained earlier, increasingly divine (Good) by the practice of goodness.
Porphyry closes book three of his discourse with the following profound statement, addressing directly the inherent problem of the irrational (passionate) nature - a problem existing in excess in our consumerist world.
If, however, say our opponents, all men were persuaded by these arguments, what would become of us? … But now this question is just the same as if men should be dubious what the life of the Danaids would be, if they were liberated from the employment of drawing water in a sieve, and attempting to fill a perforated vessel. For they are dubious what would be the consequence if we should cease to replenish our passions and desires, the whole of which replenishing continually flows away through the want of real good; since this fills up the ruinous clefts of the soul more than the greatest of external necessaries. Do you therefore ask, O man, what we should do? We should imitate those that lived in the golden age, we should imitate those of that period who were (truly) free. For with them modesty, Nemesis [harmony], and Justice associated, because they were satisfied with the fruits of the earth.
The fertile earth for them spontaneous yields abundantly her fruits.
But those who are liberated from slavery, obtain for themselves what they before procured for their masters. In like manner, also, do you, when liberated from the servitude of the body, and a slavish attention to the passions produced through the body, as, prior to this, you nourished them in an all-various manner with externals, so now nourish yourself all-variously with internal good, justly assuming things which are (properly) your own, and no longer by violence taking away things which are foreign (to your true nature and real good).
This visual of trying to "fill a perforated vessel" or of "drawing water in a sieve" is immensely profound. It is an illustration of how the passionate nature within us operates, wherein it seeks more and more of that which it is associated with, but remains always empty, ever unfulfilled. Our reasoning nature - our higher self, our Soul (psyche) in its highest degrees - is capable, however, of "nourishing us all-variously with internal good", thus truly fulfilling us. It is entirely our choice which of these paths we will take - the one of blind and irresponsible passions, mistaken beliefs and ignorance, or the other of mindful responsibility, true perception and understanding, compassion and wisdom. The latter is that which is associated with animal rights, the former is that which is associated with the status-quo of exploitation, destruction and suffering.
Part 4: Additional Arguments
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) only because 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 their God 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 live as 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.
Part 5: On Sacrifice and History
Having covered the bulk of Porphyry's arguments against the opponents of animal rights and veganism, we will now take into consideration the second of his central arguments, which comprises a large portion of his essay. This argument, as we will see, is interwoven with Porphyry's treatment of the history of animal consumption and its counterpart, veganism. His examination of history is worth serious consideration, as it stands in contrast to conventional modern theories but in direct correlation with alternative theories put forward in recent years.
Addressing the argument of the need to sacrifice animals to the gods and its relation to the consumption of animal products:
Porphyry speaks at length on the subject of sacrifice, but it will serve us best here to make a few selections as a summary. Prior to entering into his argument, however, let us understand that while we may not actively sacrifice animals on the alters of religious institutions in our modern times, we are very far from abolishing the underlying practice. On the contrary, we have simply replaced religion with science, and its gods with ourselves, having continued the practice of sacrifice under the name of vivisection and all manner of animal testing. We sacrifice countless animals annually to ourselves, the 'gods' of science, to please our own desires for knowledge, for medicine, fashion and so on. Let us then, read the following with this in mind, and not detach ourselves from this portion of Porphyry's essay by perceiving this to be solely an archaic practice. The act of carelessly sacrificing animals, and its underlying brutality of thought, is alive and well in our day and needs to be fought as strongly as it was in Porphyry's.
The argument Porphyry presents, opens with a little display of simple logic to separate and target the issue.
… it does not follow because animals are slain that it is necessary to eat them. Nor does he who admits the one, I mean that they should be slain, entirely prove that they should be eaten.
… the laws permit us to defend ourselves against enemies who attack us [by killing them]; but it did not seem proper to these laws to grant that we should eat them, as being a thing contrary to the nature of man." And "… it does not follow, that because it is proper to sacrifice certain animals to daemons, or Gods, or certain powers, through causes either known or unknown to men, it is therefore necessary to feed on animals.
"For these things not being confused, but distinguished in a proper manner, most of the opposing arguments will be found to be vain. For the greater part of them endeavour to show, either that it is necessary to slay animals, on account of the injuries sustained from them, and it is assumed as a thing consequent, that it is proper to eat them; or because animals are slain in sacrifices, it is inferred that therefore they may be eaten by men. And again, if it is requisite to destroy certain animals, on account of their ferocity, it is conceived, that it must follow, that tame animals likewise ought to be slain… . all these inferences are bad, and are incapable of exhibiting any necessity for their adoption. And, indeed, that all of them are bad, will be immediately evident to men that are not contentious."
This is important at the outset, that we separate the act of consuming an animal from the act of killing them (for whatever reasons we conceive). The two acts must be addressed individually, as one does not follow from the other. In this way, we can easily see that the argument for sacrificing animals, even if it were successful, in no way leads to the conclusion that we ought to eat animals. However, as Porphyry will explain, the two acts are related in their historical context.
So, in moving forward from this logical separation, Porphyry proceeds to trace the history of sacrifice, demonstrating that the original sacrifices made to the gods consisted of burning grasses, flowers, leaves, or by presenting fruits, cakes made of wheat, etc., but that:
This mode … of offering first-fruits in sacrifices, having, at length, proceeded to great illegality, the assumption of immolations, most dire and full of cruelty, was introduced; so that it would seem that the execrations, which were formerly uttered against us, have now received their consummation, in consequence of men slaughtering animals, and defiling altars with blood; and this commenced from that period in which mankind tasted of blood, through having experienced the evils of famine and war.
Religious sacrifice, then, was not originally meant to consist of something as cruel the slaughtering of animals, this being only a later development, spawned by the trauma of human experience.
The sacrifice, therefore, through animals is posterior and most recent, and originated from a cause which is not of a pleasing nature, like that of the sacrifice from fruits, but received its commencement either from famine, or some other unfortunate circumstance.
In terms of modern practices (vivisection, animal testing, etc.), we may likewise say that scientific observation of animals began in their natural environment and without injury to them, and only later did it devolve into capturing, imprisoning, torturing, murdering and dissecting them, as our thirst for knowledge and power (over nature) overpowered our morality.
The practice of sacrifice, according to Porphyry, began as a simple showing of gratitude and respect for the gods (the embodiments of the forces of nature) - a basic act of thanking Mother Earth for supplying us with our needs - and only later was it degraded to the killing of animals to please supposedly vengeful gods (imagined to be the cause of human plight). These sacrifices, Porphyry tells us,
… had their beginning, either in ignorance, or anger, or fear…
While this specific type of animal sacrifice (to the gods) is, as said, no longer a direct concern in our current societies (though its morphed 'brother' is), what is of great important in Porphyry's treatment of this issue is his explanation of the history underlying animal sacrifice - and it is important because he traces not only the history of animal sacrifice, but the history of animal consumption itself. He begins this by recounting specific instances of the first animal sacrifices, after which he concludes that:
All of them however, are full of explanations that are not holy. But most of them assign famine, and the injustice with which it is attended, as the cause. Hence men having tasted of animals, they offered them in sacrifice, as first- fruits, to the Gods; but prior to this, they were accustomed to abstain from animal food.
Here Porphyry agrees with several modern historians, taking the position that the consumption of animal products is a relatively recent adaptation, and that humans were once "accustomed to abstaining from animal food," and he is clear on the cause of this transition to eating animals:
… pestilence and war were the causes that introduced the necessity of eating them [animals].
We must also recognize that even his opponent, Claudius, himself verified this tradition - that humanity was once accustomed to abstaining from animals (see Part 1, Claudius's first argument).
Furthermore, Porphyry relates:
… at first, indeed, sacrifices of fruits were made to the Gods; but, in the course of time, men becoming negligent of sanctity, in consequence of fruits being scarce, and through the want of legitimate nutriment, being impelled to eat each other, then supplicating divinity with many prayers, they first began to make oblations of themselves to the Gods, not only consecrating to the divinities whatever among their possessions was most beautiful, but, proceeding beyond this, they sacrificed those of their own species.
We can imagine the process: the trauma and desperation of famine and pestilence leading men to face the choice of death or such acts as cannibalism. This history (as we'll discuss later) is pre-agricultural, wherein the skills to grow and harvest were not utilized, and given that, according to Porphyry, they were "accustomed to abstaining from animal foods" the skill of hunting was likewise absent, and thus in the advent of famine humanity found themselves rather helpless.
To appreciate this process, the trauma of famine must be fully recognized, understood and appreciated for its magnitude. The psychological effect of starvation, without the prospect of availability of food has, throughout human history, led to many terribly difficult decisions, cannibalism among them. And according to Porphyry, with many historical records at his disposal that are unavailable today, humans were first accustomed to abstaining from animal foods, but then faced the trauma of famine, pestilence and war, which led some to adopt, out of desperation, the practice of sacrificing and eating each other.
Proceeding therefore from hence, they made the bodies of other animals supply the place of their own in sacrifices, and again, through a satiety of legitimate nutriment, becoming oblivious of piety, they were induced by voracity to leave nothing untasted, nothing un-devoured. And this is what now happens to all men with respect to the aliment from fruits. For when, by the assumption of them, they have alleviated their necessary indigence [need], then searching for a superfluity of satiety, they labour to procure many things for food which are placed beyond the limits of temperance. Hence, as if they had made no ignoble sacrifices to the Gods, they proceeded also to taste the animals which they immolated; and from this, as a principle of the deed, the eating of animals became an addition to men to the nutriment derived from fruits.
So men began by sacrificing vegetation and "first-fruits" to the gods - i.e. they sacrificed that which they also ate - and when they began eating animals (which started only as a response to pestilence, famine and war) they continued the habit of sacrificing that which they ate. But more importantly, the consumption of animal products, while it started as a reaction to harsh conditions, became a habitual part of human life, even when conditions improved and fruits were again in plentiful supply.
From here, Porphyry cuts straight to the point of the issue, making his position on animal sacrifice absolutely clear.
But the most beautiful and honourable of those things, by which the Gods benefit us, are the fruits of the earth. For through these they preserve us, and enable us to live legitimately; so that, from these we ought to venerate them. Besides, it is requisite to sacrifice those things by the sacrifice of which we shall not injure any one… . if someone should say, that God gave animals for our use, no less than the fruits of the earth, yet it does not follow that they are, therefore, to be sacrificed, because in so doing they are injured, through being deprived of life. For sacrifice is, as the name implies, something holy. But no one is holy who requites a benefit from things which are the property of another … for how can this be holy, when those are injured from whom they are taken? … In sacrifices, therefore, we should abstain from animals.
From his arguments we can see that the sacrifice of animals is firstly not holy or necessary, even from the perspective of one steeped in the holy life, as Porphyry was, and secondly that even if one does insist on the practice of sacrificing animals (or killing them for any reason) there is no logic in the sentiment that they then ought to be eaten. Indeed, he takes the position that the consumption of animal products began only as a response to imminent starvation and only later did it become habitual. Therefore, neither act, animal sacrifice or animal consumption, need play a role among humanity, as both are artificial additions to human life.
In relation to modern practices we may say that the study of animals need not include harm to any animal. In this case also "it is requisite to sacrifice [only] those things by the sacrifice of which we shall not injure any one." In seeking the abandonment of cruelty to any animal, we must fully remove any injury resulting from scientific study as well as the practice of consumption.
Porphyry moves to an explanation of the proper substance to be sacrificed and the proper state of mind from which real sacrifice naturally arises in the form of gratitude:
… the benefit derived from fruits is the first and the greatest of all others, and which, as soon as they are matured, should alone be offered to the Gods, and to Earth, by whom they are produced. For she is the common Vesta of Gods and men; and it is requisite that all of us, reclining on her surface, as on the bosom of our mother and nurse, should celebrate her divinity, and love her with a parental affection, as the source of our existence.
This is sacrifice: gratitude. It is an offering of our thanks to the Earth that sustains us and gives us life. As she supplies us with fruits for our sustenance, it is fruits that constitute the most noble objects of our gratitude, being the symbol and source of our health and of our Mother Earth's love.
Argument against the fallacy that consuming animal products is natural because all nations engage in it:
Following his arguments on sacrifice, Porphyry expands upon the history of veganism, which we will summarize here. He does not bother to directly counter the very obvious fallacy that because something is customary it is right, but simply illustrates that not all nations or individuals do engage in the consumption of animal products, which in itself dismantles the fallacy.
… we shall confute the assertion of our opponents, that no wise man, nor any nation, has rejected animal food, as it leads those that hear it to great injustice, through the ignorance of true history …
… we shall begin from the abstinence of certain nations, in the narration of which, what is asserted of the Greeks will first claim our attention, as being the most allied to us, and the most appropriate of all the witnesses that can be adduced. Among those, therefore, that have concisely, and at the same time accurately collected an account of the affairs of the Greeks, is the Peripatetic Dicaearchus, who, in narrating the pristine life of the Greeks, says, the ancients, being generated with an alliance to the Gods, were naturally most excellent, and led the best life; so that, when compared to us of the present day, who consist of an adulterated and most vile matter, they were thought to be a golden race; and they slew no animal whatever. The truth of this, he also says, is testified by the poets, who denominate these ancients the golden race, and assert that every good was present with them.
We must again remember that Porphyry had many works available to him that we no longer have, many of these having been destroyed by the budding Christian Church in the centuries after his time. Our approach to Greek history is, therefore, almost surely lacking in comparison to the history available to Porphyry. And while we explored, in a previous blog, the Orphics - the most ancient of philosophers of Greece - who were known to have eaten no animal products, the prehistoric Greece described here as the "golden age" would refer to far more distant eras, indeed, as we'll see, to the pre- argricultural Greeks.
All things, therefore, are very properly said to have been then [in Prehistoric Greece] spontaneously produced; for men did not procure any thing by labour, because they were unacquainted with the agricultural art, and, in short, had no knowledge of any other art. This very thing, likewise, was the cause of their leading a life of leisure, free from labours and care; and if it is proper to assent to the decision of the most skilful and elegant of physicians, it was also the cause of their being liberated from disease… . For they neither assumed such food as was stronger than the nature of the body could bear, but such as could be vanquished by the corporeal nature, nor more than was moderate, on account of the facility of procuring it …
Moreover, there were neither any wars among them, nor seditions with each other. For no reward of contention worth mentioning was proposed as an incentive, for the sake of which some one might be induced to engage in such dissensions. So that the principal thing in that life was leisure and rest from necessary occupations, together with health, peace, and friendship.
Truly a picture of Eden, corresponding to many other versions of prehistoric humanity found throughout religious and ancient philosophic literature. And, parallel to other traditions, Porphyry then recounts the "fall" from this condition:
But to those in after times, who, through aspiring after things which greatly exceeded mediocrity, fell into many evils, this pristine life became, as it was reasonable to suppose it would, desirable … A pastoral life succeeded to this, in which men procured for themselves superfluous possessions, and meddled with animals. For, perceiving that some of them were innoxious [harmless], but others malefic and savage, they tamed the former, but attacked the latter. At the same time, together with this life, war was introduced. And these things, says Dicaearchus, are not asserted by us, but by those who have historically discussed a multitude of particulars. For, as possessions were now of such a magnitude as to merit attention, some ambitiously endeavoured to obtain them, by collecting them (for their own use), and calling on others to do the same, but others directed their attention to the preservation of them when collected. Time, therefore, thus gradually proceeding, and men always directing their attention to what appeared to be useful, they at length became conversant with the third, and agricultural form of life.
The historical documents Porphyry had at his disposal seem to have been quite clear on this process, notwithstanding modern theories. Those documents give light to the idea that animal consumption is a recent addition to human life, and thus unnatural and capable of being discarded.
And this [history] is what is said by Dicaearchus, in his narration of the manners of the ancient Greeks, and the blessed life which they then led, to which abstinence from animal food contributed, no less than other things. Hence, at that period there was no war, because injustice was exterminated. But afterward, together with injustice towards animals, war was introduced among men, and the endeavour to surpass each other in amplitude of possessions.
We can certainly see the logic in these assertions. Infant human civilization undoubtedly had less possessions in much narrower variety; there is no indication of war among "pre-civilization" humanity - war going hand in hand with both the increase of possession and the accompanying desire for more (i.e. the "attempts to fill a perforated vessel" from Part 2). Indeed, Porphyry is clear that, according to these historical records:
… together with the slaughter of animals, war and injustice were introduced.
There is, according to this history a correlation and commonality in the adoption of cruelty to animals and the adoption of war and a consumerist mentality. And, if we reflect on the sound philosophy underlying Porphyry's arguments, we can see clearly why these things correlate with one another.
Moving on from the ancient Greeks, Porphyry then recounts a portion of the history of Lacedaemonia (Laconia, Sparta).
Hence, this [the relation of possessions, slaughter of animals, war and injustice] being afterwards perceived by the Lacedaemonian Lycurgus, though the eating of animals then prevailed, yet he so arranged his polity, as to render food of this kind requisite in the smallest degree. For the allotted property of each individual did not consist in herds of oxen, flocks of sheep, or an abundance of goats, horses, and money, but in the possession of land, which might produce for a man seventy medimni of barley, and for a woman twelve, and the quantity of liquid fruits in the same proportion. For he thought that this quantity of nutriment was sufficient to procure a good habit of body and health, nothing else to obtain these being requisite.
He further explains how this leader created policies to lessen the negative effects that he had observed in the "fall" into vice throughout and surrounding his region, and that this led to a most peaceful, frugal and temperate kingdom.
As the exploitation and consumption of animals became more and more ingrained into society, we see that veganism and animal rights became increasingly relegated to the priests and priestly organizations. Porphyry relates several of these bodies of holy men in regards to their abstinence of animal foods, wherein the degrees of initiation into such a life were often accompanied by increased abstinence, such that the higher degrees absolute veganism was demanded.
He speaks at length on the Egyptian priests and their strict lifestyle, saying that:
… they were studious of frugality in their diet and apparel, and also of continence and endurance, and in all things were attentive to justice and equity.
… they abstained from all the fish that was caught in Egypt, and from such quadrupeds as had solid, or many-fissured hoofs, and from such as were not horned; and likewise from all such birds as were carnivorous. Many of them, however, entirely abstained from all animals; and in purifications this abstinence was adopted by all of them, for then they did not even eat an egg.
We get a sense here then, that even during times when animal consumption was common, there were orders of men, considered by the Platonist philosophers to be of great wisdom, who practiced varying levels of vegetarian and even vegan lifestyles. He relates that:
… though they neither exercised themselves in walking or riding, yet they lived free from disease, and were sufficiently strong for the endurance of modern labours. They bore therefore many burdens in the performance of sacred operations, and accomplished many ministrant works, which required more than common strength.
Furthermore, he relates that:
… the Egyptian priests, through the proficiency which they made by this exercise [of their lifestyle], and similitude to divinity, knew that divinity [the Good] does not pervade through man alone, and that soul [psyche] is not enshrined in man alone on the earth, but that it nearly passes through all animals. On this account, in fashioning the images of the Gods, they assumed every animal, and for this purpose mixed together the human form and the forms of wild beasts, and again the bodies of birds with the body of a man… For they venerated the power of God which extends to all things through animals which are nurtured together…
An unlearned man, however, does not even suspect that they [the priests], not being borne along with the stream of the vulgar who know nothing, and not walking in the path of ignorance, but passing beyond the illiterate multitude, and that want of knowledge which befalls every one at first, were led to reverence things which are thought by the vulgar to be of no worth.
Thus, while the multitudes fell into all manner of depraved living, seeing animals (among other things) as of no inherent worth (except as of utility to Man), the proper and natural human lifestyle and diet remained among the wise, who continued to hold much reverence for animals.
Another example given of those who abstained from animal foods is the Essenes, which account Porphyry bases on the historian Josephus. The Essenes, however, in Porphyry's account, abstained from certain animals, but not entirely from animal products.
He moves on:
Farther still, it is likewise related that the Syrians formerly abstained from animals, and, on this account, did not sacrifice them to the Gods; but that afterwards they sacrificed them, for the purpose of averting certain evils; yet they did not at all admit of a fleshly diet.
He then relates how the Syrians devolved into the practices of both animal sacrifice and animal consumption, along the same general outline as covered in his general history.
Moving eastward, he touches on the Magi among the Persians.
Eubulus … wrote the history of Mithra, in a treatise consisting of many books. In this work he says, that the first and most learned class of the Magi neither eat nor slay any thing animated, but adhere to the ancient abstinence from animals. The second class use some animals indeed [for food], but do not slay any that are tame. Nor do those of the third class, similarly with other men, lay their hands on all animals.
Porphyry continues to India, where, like Apollonius before him, he credits the tradition of the Brahmins as including no animal foods. The average Bramins, however, may be said to be vegetarians, not necessarily vegans, as many (though not all) of them condone the consumption of milk. Porphyry relates:
A Bramin … is not a subject of any government, nor does he contribute any thing together with others to government. And with respect to those that are philosophers, among these some dwell on mountains, and others about the river Ganges. And those that live on mountains feed on autumnal fruits, and on cows' milk coagulated with herbs. But those that reside near the Ganges, live also on autumnal fruits, which are produced in abundance about that river. The land likewise nearly always bears new fruit, together with much rice, which grows spontaneously, and which they use when there is a deficiency of autumnal fruits. But to taste of any other nutriment, or, in short, to touch animal food, is considered by them as equivalent to extreme impurity and impiety.
Having completed a brief and basic survey of several vegan and vegetarian men and groups, Porphyry describes that the common groups of nomads, etc., that:
… were brought to the necessity of eating animals through the infecundity of the region they inhabit, which is so barren, that it does not even produce herbs, but only shores and sands. And this necessity is indicated by their not being able to make use of fire, through the want of combustible materials; but they dry their fish on rocks, or on the shore. And these indeed live after this manner from necessity. There are, however, certain nations whose manners are rustic, and who are naturally savage; but it is not fit that those who are equitable judges should, from such instances as these, calumniate human nature …
It is not fitting of those of us who are "equitable judges" (of what is right and wrong) to imagine that because some peoples, either out of necessity or savagery, consume animal products, that we also ought to do so. On the contrary, as many of the wisest men among humanity have maintained, even while the multitudes continued their unjust practices, we must follow our own sense of reason, compassion and justice and to do what we know, in our hearts, is rightful to do. As Porphyry says:
… he who is perfectly legal and pious ought to abstain from all animals. For if some who are only partially pious abstain from certain animals, he who is in every respect pious will abstain from all animals.
And this is the stance of modern vegans. We have come to recognize that true justice must be extended to all sentient beings, that to be "perfectly legal and pious" is to abstain from causing harm to any of our kin, and we have learned that animals are our kin. Indeed, we agree with Porphyry when he asks:
… how is it possible not to lament the condition of the generality of mankind, who are so involved in darkness as to cherish their own evil, and who, in the first place, hate themselves, and him who truly begot them, and afterwards, those who admonish them, and call on them to return from ebriety to a sober condition of being?
We too can but lament this condition, wherein the most depraved vices rule our actions, wherein humanity demonstrates itself to be so full of hatred and cruelty. And we agree with that great mind who first envisioned the existence of the atom, for:
Democrates says, that to live badly, and not prudently, temperately, and piously, is not to live in reality, but to die for a long time.
We, however, wish to live, to truly live, and to be truly human. We wish to be reasonable, rational, intelligent and compassionate beings, and it is this wish that underlies our veganism and our action as animal rights activists. We wish to walk the age-old path of the philosopher, to rise into our truest self, thus embody all that is good , all that is divine.
As vegans, our closest kindreds in human history are to be found among the (oft concealed) wise ones of every age and region, among the philosophers and spiritually minded, who despite the fall of the multitudes into unpardonable sin, continued to "adhere to the ancient abstinence from animals."
There have been vegans and animal rights activists throughout human history, Porphyry (and his predecessors) among them. But while these have for long centuries been relegated to the few, before us today stands the opportunity to rescue the most natural and just lifestyle from the hidden corners of humanity and restore it to its rightful place among the majority. Porphyry used all the means available to him to defend the animals in his day, and it is our duty to do the same in ours.