Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Stephen Newmyer

10393492Essential text for animals studies book, recommended with reservations.

Newmyer’s anthology argues for the rights and inclusiveness model of thinking animals critically and ethically. Kinship and the shared possession of “reason,” in various quantities, determines whether nonhuman animals should be treated as subjects like us or objects available for us. The Stoics, great dividers and the founding figures of the dominant strains of medieval Christianity, say no reason at all; the skeptics and their ancestors say perhaps. No one, not even Newmyer, quite asks the question Cora Diamond does, which is: so what? If something lacks (what we call) reason, why should we just in killing and eating it? In any case, this is a familial ethics, or at best a neighborly ethics, rather than an ethics of the absolute other. It’s thus not much of an ethics at all.

Had Newmyer engaged with modern animals work outside the rights tradition, he might have seen this, and he might have chosen his passages from Philo, Plutarch, and Porphyry differently. Looking outside the philosophers (and the followers of philosophers, like Cicero), he might have given us more from the weirdness of Aelien, Pliny, and even from Lucian of Samosata, whom he doesn’t cite.

PS I’m a great fan (because of my colleague Craig Williams) of the dolphin love stories, a fan too that ants, spiders, and bees are the admired animals of the philosophers (and lions loathed)–so much for our conceptions of “higher” and “lower” animals–but also a fan (in another way) of Cicero’s ‘proof’ that animals exist to be subjugated: look at the backs of oxen! he says, so clearly made to take a yoke! We may have here the first appearance of Kirk Camaron’s notorious ‘banana proof’ of God’s existence.