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Thursday, February 5, A.D. 2015
Animae Bestiarum

A thread about the souls of animals has appeared on the Orthosphere in Dr. Bertonneau’s “Article of Interest.” I give the usually insightful Mark Citadel (who is just wrong in this case!) some rubbing:

I don’t understand people’s apprehension about recognizing the souls of animals (even of spiders) or plants, for that matter. It is obvious that they have souls — they are alive! They “breathe.” Myself, I wonder whether even particulars that modern science considers inorganic have souls. (I err on the side of caution.) There is a long history of recognizing different levels of souls, just as there are different levels of pretty much everything. Remember the anima in animal!

Mark, does your qualification (“in the meaningful, immortal sense”) mean that the only true life is the life of the mind, following Aristotle’s understanding that the intellectual part of soul is the only one that may exist apart from the body? Such would dismiss anything that is necessarily enfleshed as “unalive,” which Aristotle doesn’t do. Be it far from me to deny that the theoretical life of the philosopher or the spiritual life the saint are superior to other modes of earthly existence, but the Lord has given us a bountiful order, from spiders to Saint Felix of Nola. It strikes me as perverse and quite modern (but I repeat myself) to flatten being out, and then this error compounds its folly by clipping away all inconvenient (to the reduction) aspects of the world from the mashed paper model that it has made of reality. “There is the mind of man — and then there is mechanism. Nothing else!”

A hearty, honest assessment of the world doesn’t tremble at the thought of granting beings lower in the divine order their rightful place on the ladder. Civilizations that kept such an image of the world’s hierarchy did not fall prey to men like Peter Singer. Rather, we are such dupes! We modern fools, we modern fooled! The human / non-human dichotomy is an impoverished Cartesian reduction — and, as Bertonneau notes above concerning dogs, such a reduction has historically had a tendency to devour the distinction between man and matter, as well. Nihilistic mechanism isn’t satisfied to exempt man from its colorless, vapid suffocation. All will become dull atoms in the void.

I understand where people are coming from when they draw that line under humanity and say that things below it are on a lower order of being that while not entirely mechanical, does not share the kind of free will we enjoy as human beings.

I understand where people are coming from when they draw that line under billionaires and say that people below it are on a lower order of economic wellbeing that, while not entirely destitute, does not share the kind of riches we enjoy as billionaires.

See the problem with these statements?

we enter dangerous territory when we start affording animals the status of having souls, in the true sense of the word. As I said this has horrible implications, for instance animals would become accountable for their actions and so when a pack of dogs ripped a fox apart they would be committing a moral evil.

Why does this follow? What is “in the true sense of the word”? By the true sense of soul, you appear to mean human soul. But one can affirm all sorts of souls without equating them to human souls, just as one can acknowledge all sorts of intelligences without equating them to human intelligence, and so on. Moreover, why does moral accountability follow from having a soul? The life-principle and the moral faculty appear rather distinct.

I have many nasty suspicions about contemporary Western man, and one is that he believes that the world is meaningless and without life. Various groups in the West have their special exception to this view — some admit larger sections of reality than others. The Calvinist has the heart and mind of the elect. Everything else is the outer darkness. The Kantian has his rational agent. The Latin has his sacramentalism, which often appears rather stingy to me — invoking a place for God in so few places and under such restrictions. Is it any wonder that such a snuffing out of the really real has triggered ill conceived backlashes such as the neopagans champion? As I note above, though, the more common tendency has been to throw out the exceptions. The human mind loves simplicity and uniformity — just make it all matter in motion.

You may wish to revisit some related posts of yore:

“Do Elephants Have Souls?”

“Man’s Best Friend”

“Spider Hunting”

If you do not know why I mentioned Saint Felix, read the book review of Saint Felix and the Spider on Beauty of the Picture Book.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, February 5, Anno Domini 2015
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