Brute Souls, Happy Beasts, and Evolution: The Historical Status of Animals

Brute Souls, Happy Beasts, and Evolution: The Historical Status of Animals

Rod Preece

Language: English

Pages: 448

ISBN: 0774811579

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this provocative inquiry into the status of animals in human society from the fifth century BC to the present, Rod Preece provides a wholly new perspective on the human–animal relationship.

Brute Souls, Happy Beasts, and Evolution traces the historical status of animals in western civilization, and shows that current scholarship in this area is seriously deficient. Preece particularly contests the customary claims: that the Christian doctrine has denied immortality to animals, with the corresponding implication that they were thereby denied ethical consideration; that there was a near universal belief animals were intended for human use, with the corresponding implication that they were not ends in themselves, and were thus not entitled to ethical consideration; that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had a profoundly positive impact on the way in which nonhuman animals were regarded and treated; and that the idea of the “happy beast” was merely a trope to condemn humans for their hubris and was not at all a sincere attempt to raise the status of animals.

In contrast to prevailing intellectual opinion, Preece argues that a significant number of early Christians were vegetarian; that control of nature was often undertaken not at the expense of animals but, in part, out of exasperation at their tribulations; that the Cartesian conception of animals as automata was largely rejected, especially in the English-speaking world; that Darwin’s theory of natural selection had no appreciable influence on the status of animals; and, finally, that “theriophily” – the notion of animal superiority over humans – was given greater credence than is commonly recognized.

Rod Preece believes that our ethical responsibilities to animals are ill served by the current simplistic and misleading conception of the historical record, and with this book, attempts a significant re-thinking of the human–animal perspective. Brute Souls, Happy Beasts, and Evolution will be required reading for those from animal scientists to animal philosophers to animal rights activists who have an interest in the history and philosophy of animal ethics.

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drafted The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals () – the working title referred to the Lower Animals – he “resolved not to use the terms ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ in his description of animals” and thus “went through the manuscript striking out terms of rank.”48 James Rachels tells us that “such notions as ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ are very un-Darwinian ... There is no ‘more evolved’ or ‘less evolved’ in Darwinian theory.”49 Marjorie Spiegel refrains the theme, indicating that the “attempt to

essentially a synonym for “animal,” was reserved for those animals of a more specific nature, the category often, but by no means always, denoting wild or feral animals. Only later did it acquire the pejorative sense. And even today it is occasionally used without any attitudinal implications. Of course, the historical reality is that animals were often termed “brutes” and “beasts,” and my use of “brutes” and “beasts” reflects the fact that I am concerned with the historical understanding of the

punishment which he so barbarously inflicts on others.”86 Writing a decade after Fielding, the British parliamentarian and commissioner of the Board of Trade, Soame Jenyns, took the doctrine quite seriously in Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil, bemoaning the failure of his contemporaries to do so: But the pride of man will not suffer us to treat this subject [of the transmigration of souls] with the seriousness it deserves; but rejects as both impious and ridiculous every supposition

Oriental and Aboriginal pronouncements on appropriate attitudes to animals. To take but a few examples, in the Bhagavatam we read that “The perfect devotee of the Lord is one who sees Atman [the principle of life] in all creatures as an expression of the Supreme Being and all beings as dwelling in the Supreme Spirit.”34 According to the Jaina Sutra, “with the three means of punishment, words, thoughts, and deeds, you shall not injure living things.”35 The Acaranga Sutra instructs us that “All

Theophilus, who was Archbishop of Alexandria at the same time that Augustine was Bishop of Hippo: “As the fathers were eating with [the archbishop], they were brought some veal for food and they ate it without realising what it was. The bishop, taking a piece of meat, offered it to the old man beside him, saying, ‘Here is a nice piece of meat, abba, eat it.’ But he replied, ‘Till this moment, we believed we were eating vegetables, but if it is meat, we do not eat it.’ None of them tasted any more

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