Introduzione a Darwin (I filosofi) (Italian Edition)

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Now, the weak point of this theory lies precisely in this confusion between superiority and dominion. Indeed, whatever event or monster could operate a total dominion over the entire humanity, but this would not demonstrate such an entity's superiority. The position of the Fathers of the Church mirrors the biblical and Paulinian concept whereby man holds power over all animals and judges all other living beings, but cannot be judged by anyone.

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Augustine of Hippo denies reason in animals, in respect of an irrefutable hierarchy that places man at the top. Animals live in a state of subordination. They are edible, and the questioning of the legitimacy of eating meat can be an expression of diabolical influence. Scotus Erigena is the first philosopher to challenge the authority of the Fathers of the Church. A 9th century neo-Platonist thinker, Erigena professes unity among men and animals.


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The rational and the irrational, he says, are specific differences within the same genus. There is no valid reason for believing that only the soul of man is immortal: "If unique is therefore the genus of all realities consisting of soul and body, the genus defined as animal, because it contains in their substance all of the manifestations of animality indeed man, the ox, the horse, within the genus are a unity, a substantial unity , for what reason then will all species within the genus die, while only one is destined to persist, that of man?

According to Erigena, the Fathers have not extended the soul to other animals for fear that men indulge in animal-like desires. The Fathers, however, teach the immortality of all souls to the initiated. The purpose of all creation is the return of all living things to Nature that neither creates nor is created, namely God. Just as man is the notion of divine intellect, thus animals are a notion of human intellect, since man has been provided with a notio of all beings created as his equals or as his subjects.

Rationality and irrationality are the opposing categories by which man nominates the other beings according to the relationship he sets up with them. The other, irrespective of appearance or voice, can be each time an animal or a human being, according to the power of nominating that God conferred to Adam.

Journal of the History of Philosophy

In his Summa theologiae , Thomas Aquinas states that animals are creatures destined to be instruments for intellectual creatures. If the Scriptures forbid cruelty towards animals, this is not because of the duty of respect for the life of animals. Indeed, the killing of an animal does not offend God, because the animal is intended for man.

Similarly the killing of a human being is an offence to God, while the killing of a slave is an offence to the slave's master. The Cathars contested the killing of animals as contrary to the evangelical teachings. They taught piety for every form of life and unlike Thomas Aquinas rejected the feudal order founded on the classification into three social categories: oratores, bellatores, laboratores.

Ditadi writes that "the reason for the persistent hatred against the Cathars -- against which numerous crusades were launched -- essentially lies in the fact that, together with other Christian religious movements, they constituted a serious menace for the feudal system.

The Cartesian "mechanical man" theory is quite famous. In an even more radical manner than the Thomists, Descartes denies whatever chance of recognising the presence of a soul in animals. Against all evidence, Descartes rejects the possibility that animals may have a conscience or be capable of thought. Animals are automata: they are not aware of any activity they carry out, not even of sensation.

Unlike Giordano Bruno, Descartes does not distinguish between machines and organisms. Animals therefore do not speak, because their sounds are natural movements -- they are nothing more than interesting machines at times capable of performing better than humans. The soul is a property unique to mankind. Only man, in addition to the res extensa , possesses the res cogitans.

Thomas Hobbes believes that man indeed differs from animals through speech and the construction of meanings, but animals are not mere mechanical bodies lacking intelligence. In fact, they are capable of adding and of associating experiences and can foresee their behaviour, within certain limits. But do animals suffer? Nicolas Malebranche refutes the notion that animals are capable of any sensation, only because their suffering would be incomprehensible from the theological viewpoint: "Under an infinitely just and omnipotent God, an innocent creature would suffer pain, that is the penalty and punishment for a sin.

If animals felt pleasure and pain, they would be subjected to an infinite variety of disasters without deserving them, because animals are incapable of sin. Pierre Bayle, in his Dictionnaire historique et critique , forcefully reacts against the Cartesian theory, observing that the souls of beasts have the same destiny -- mortality or immortality -- as the soul of humans.

He does not hide the tremendous difficulties involved in both cases. If all souls are mortal, then the fundamentals of religion are destroyed. If instead, in order to preserve the privilege of immortality for man's soul, one extends immortality to animals too, then where are we to put the infinite number of immortal souls as indicated by the vast quantity of living things circulating on Earth?

Shall the souls transmigrate from one body to another or shall they too have a paradise and a hell?

Journal of the History of Philosophy

The main exponents of the Enlightenment grant animals the possession of a conscience, of intelligence and of speech suitable for their physical and environmental conditions. In totally rejecting Cartesian dualism, Voltaire attributes to matter the capability of thought, negates the existence of innate ideas, and places on the same level the souls of man and of animals: the soul is material and mortal in all living things.

Voltaire also professes the existence of a God that governs the world with uniform, universal and eternal laws. D'Holbach firmly refutes the existence of a clear-cut line separating men from beasts. Can the soul, as simple substance, represent the basis of the alleged difference of man compared to all other living beings? D'Holbach denies this, based on the reasoning that if such a simple substance existed, then individuals of the human species would all have to have the same intellectual capabilities, while it is evident that "men differ in terms of quality of mind as much as they have different facial features.

Men often show unreasonableness, something that is totally lacking in animals, and yet man's vanity persuades him that he stands at the centre of the universe. After creating for himself a world and a God to his own advantage, man is not ashamed to fall into atheism by negating animals the faculty of feeling sensations. In order to demonstrate that Nature was created only for him, man has even gone so far as to consider animals as simple automata. As regards man's pretension that animals were created for his sole purpose, D'Holbach uses Celsus' objection and points out the contradiction between man's alleged privileged position and his position as animal often prey to attacks by individuals of other species.

La Mettrie interprets Descartes' dualism as a stratagem for redeeming the physical world from traditional theology. In his most famous work, L'homme machine , La Mettrie writes that thought can be reduced to a natural function of language and language to a function of the vocal organs.

La Mettrie extends Cartesian mechanism to all living beings.


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  5. Any trace of res cogitans disappears, while thought becomes a property of matter just like electricity, and the body is interpreted from a vitalistic viewpoint, based on a mechanistic outlook. According to La Mettrie, there is continuity between man and beast. Man has become so by virtue of his sign-capabilities and animals too have sentiments, conscience, intelligence and we see that they too feel torment, doubt, regret. One can understand how the memory and sensitivity of animals are entirely sterile, unlike man, simply by comparing the body of man with that of the animal, without having to turn to any metaphysical explanation the soul of man or extravagance contrary to evidence the idea that animals are machines.

    By examining the extremities of animals that impede them from handling any kind of utensil , by considering how short their life span is and what their natural equipment is they are most suitably covered and armed for their needs , as well as their subordinate position with regard to man, to whom they must always submit or run from, we see why animals lack man's ingenuity and inventiveness -- simply because they don't need them. Man instead has exploited an extremely developed memory and sensitivity for his survival. The Encyclopaedists tackled the issue of the soul of animals.

    Encyclopaedists had been accused of negating that there was an essential difference or of nature between man and beast. They had been reproached for refuting the existence of a spiritual substance in men and in animals. In his article, however, Yvon reverses Malebranche's theory and openly states that an immaterial principle operates in animals.

    According to Yvon, if animals were machines, God would be deceiving us because the experience we have of animals refutes this mechanistic concept of living beings. Yvon writes: "What do we notice in them? Coherent and reasoned actions that express sense and represent ideas, desires, interests, plans of some particular being.

    It's quite true that beasts do not speak, and this difference between them and men will at most help to prove that they do not have universal ideas, like man, nor do they construct abstract reasoning.

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    But they do operate coherently: this proves that they possess the sentiment of themselves and individual interest, principle and purpose of their actions. All of their movements are intended for their profit, preservation and well-being. It is sufficient to observe their behaviour to notice the existence of an evident social instinct among individuals of the same species, and sometimes even among those of different species. They seem to get along, to act in unison, to contribute in the same projects. They interact with men, as seen in horses and dogs, etc.

    Even if the sphere of thought in animals is small, the difference between them and man mainly regards duration: in beasts the soul lasts as long as the body does, while in man it is immortal. Yvon states that the soul of beasts, although made of an immaterial and intelligent substance, is limited to indistinct perceptions and confused desires because their destination is the same material world into which they are born.

    Hume openly challenges the philosophical constructions of the 17th century, and his quarrel with Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza is without compromise; Hume's models are Bacon, Locke and Newton. Hume starts from the assumption that all animals are equipped with thought and reason; the actions and behaviours of animals and men are so similar in the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain that one is forced to reject whatever philosophy that instead postulates a difference in nature between man and beast.

    According to Hume, in man and in animals reasoning is based on identical principles. In his Treatise of Human Nature he writes: "First of all it is necessary that there be some impression immediately present in the memory or in the senses, to provide a basis for judgement.


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    6. From the tone of voice the dog deduces the anger of the master and foretells his punishment; from a given olfactory situation he judges that the prey is not far off. Secondly, the deduction he derives from the first impression is based on experience and on the observation of the link between certain facts in the past. If you vary this experience, he varies his reasoning. Give a punishment following a sign or a gesture for some time and then following some other, and the dog will reach different conclusions according to his most recent experience.

      The causal link is based on experience: it is only through the repeated experience of the connection of A with B that a cause and effect relationship is constituted, featuring by the anteriority of the cause, necessity of the connection and contiguity of cause and effect. The idea of necessary connection, which represents the central element of the relation of cause and effect, does not directly correspond to any impression as the idea of yellow could be, for example , and therefore one must derive it from the repetition of similar cases in the past.

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      The anticipation of the future, in man and beast alike, is made possible by the experience in the past: certain regularities of concomitance and succession discovered empirically immediately acquire a predictive function, since there is no other reason for believing that what occurred in the past cannot reoccur in the future. The principle of uniformity of Nature, the idea that Nature obeys the same laws always and everywhere, is also a piece of knowledge obtained -- as expounded later on by John Stuart Mill -- through a second degree induction. The principle of uniformity of Nature is nothing but a generalization of generalizations.

      Hume's theory is that man cannot boast any superiority compared to animals. As for mathematical thought, one should observe that sense and imagination are the sources of mathematics. Reason is not independent from passion. Reason is a slave to passion: it is incapable of single-handedly contrasting any impulse. Hume says that an impulse can be opposed only by an impulse contrary to it. Reason is therefore a name to which no function or faculty corresponds. In man as in beast, behaviour and mental activity are based on experience, on the formation of habits, on passions and on sentiments.

      The same causes produce in man and in animals the passions of pride and of humility, of love and of hate. Kant once again proposes the outlook of animals as instruments at the disposal of man.