The Great Chain of Being

The Astronomer by John Vermeer (1668)

For a long time now I have been trying to work out the philosophical underpinnings of my views on animals, which I do not believe differ that greatly from other people’s. By which I mean the views of the vast majority who think it’s okay to keep pets, use fly spray, eat meat and yet refrain from slavery. murder and cannibalism. Here is a sketch of how those metaphysical underpinnings might be laid out, although it lacks the rigour and structure of an academic treatise. I am not trying to illuminate the path every step of the way and counter every possible movement of dissent. The destination is already known to be the right one, I am merely shining a torch down the path as I go along it.

I hold the view – derived from Aristotle, codified and made Christian by the Medievals – that there is a Scala Naturae, ‘Chain of Being’, which accords certain creatures a morally higher status than others. As an atheist, I’ve dispensed with God (along with the angles from Seraphim to Principalities) leaving Man at the top. From Man, there is a line coming down through mammals and birds, via reptiles and amphibians, onto the invertebrates, and thence beyond the Animal Kingdom into Plants, Fungi, Protists and Monera. Continue reading

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