Animal Minds and Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate

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9780715624708: Animal Minds and Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate
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"They don't have syntax, so we can eat them." According to Richard Sorabji, this conclusion attributed to the Stoic philosophers was based on Aristotle's argument that animals lack reason. In his fascinating, deeply learned book, Sorabji traces the roots of our thinking about animals back to Aristotelian and Stoic beliefs. Charting a recurrent theme in ancient philosophy of mind, he shows that today's controversies about animal rights represent only the most recent chapter in millennia-old debates.
Sorabji surveys a vast range of Greek philosophical texts and considers how classical discussions of animals' capacities intersect with central questions, not only in ethics but in the definition of human rationality as well: the nature of concepts; how perceptions differ from beliefs; how memory, intention, and emotion relate to reason; and to what extent speech, skills, and inference can serve as proofs of reason. Focusing on the significance of ritual sacrifice and the eating of meat, he explores religious contexts of the treatment of animals in ancient Greece and in medieval Western Christendom. He also looks closely at the contemporary defenses of animal rights offered by Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Mary Midgley.
Animal Minds and Human Morals sheds new light on traditional arguments surrounding the status of animals while pointing beyond them to current moral dilemmas. It will be crucial reading for scholars and students in the fields of ancient philosophy, ethics, history of philosophy, classics, and medieval studies, and for everyone seriously concerned about our relationship with other species.

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About the Author:

Richard Sorabji is Professor of Ancient Philosophy at King's College, London, and Director of the Institute of Classical Studies.


"A wealth of information and argument on an important issue. . . This exhilarating book shows how studying the history of philosophy can be a way of examining our own lives."―Philosophical Review

"Sorabji starts . . . by examining philosophical treatments of animals in ancient Greece. From there he goes on to current thinking and argues that the animal rights movement is philosophically incoherent. His philosophical analysis is so thorough that anyone who's thinking about these issues has an obligation to read this book."―Lingua Franca

"A tour de force, Animal Minds and Human Morals is a brilliant contribution to the literature and will be an essential reference for anyone interested in the history of philosophical debates about the cognitive and moral status of animals. Sorabji convincingly argues that these concerns go to the very core of the Western philosophical tradition. The clarity, wit, and charm of the prose will make this book engaging to a wide audience."―Dale Jamieson, University of Colorado

"Extremely impressive. Sorabji documents fully and sharply two startling points which need very much to be widely seen: first, the bizarre neglect of moral questions about animals until quite recently; second, the distortions that have afflicted philosophy on this topic in the decades since it has been properly noticed. Sorabji shows admirably both how badly this corrupted our practice and how our careless thinking here has rebounded to cause confusion in the philosophy of mind. I believe his book can help us considerably to use more realistic methods, not just on this topic, but in ethics generally."―Mary Midgley, author of Animals and Why They Matter

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