Stories & History

 

Animal Hierarchy
Trunk Full of Tales

 

Below is a Brief look into Western foundations for the "Animal Hierarchy" and then on the following page an in-depth look at the Buddhist master Nagarjuna´s translations on emptiness / rebirth and the animal hierarchy.

The presence in society of an animal hierarchy has existed for as long as our capability for centrism has planted us humans at the centre of the universe and at the so believed "top" of evolution. It seems that many places, doctrines, experimentation, and thought today still maintain this rigid structure that one day hopefully will come crashing down to Earth. A great and easily accessible description of the philosophical history for this hierarchy is deftly illustrated in Roger Fouts´s Next Of Kin. I have paraphrased some of the information he provided to give a background for the essay on an Eastern look at this issue; specifically my essay deals with rebirth and the inherent problems that may arise in Nagarjuna´s Buddhist philosophy of emptiness when maintaining a hierarchy of value (i.e. a hierarchy for judging a better vs. a words rebirth).

Plato segmented out these differences by creating two distinct souls. Man, the possessor of two souls, was capable of reason and was connected with the eternal divine through "his" immortal soul, and of course was capable of other animal brute acts with the mortal soul. Not surprisingly, non-human animals only possessed the brute mortal soul.

Aristotle followed suit in the same footsteps with a definition of man as "an animal capable of intellect." He created a structured hierarchy in which humans were elevated above all other animals. The structure was that of a "Great Chain of Being, at the top of which stood the free man, imbued with intellect and subordinate only to the angels"(Fouts. P49). Below man was the female, the child and the slave. His `reasoning´ for this was based on their defective ability to reason and their destiny to be ruled. Finally, below this he sorted out the multitude of non-human animals who only existed to server human beings. Aristotle, granted the beasts the ability to feel pain and pleasure, and the capability of memory, but drew the line at their ability to reason and feel emotion. Thus, the prison of reason was placed over a society. Its chains held all those who were not powerful enough to speak out. A prison so strong that we still feel its chains today mixed in with our own selfishness and justifications.

This Greek background of dominion fit quite well with a Judeo-Christian tradition, in which humans were given the dominion over all living beings and the earth. A result of this led to the Church Fathers embracing Aristotle's Great Chain of Being. In the seventh century, Rene Descartes finishes the job the Greeks leave hanging. In one incredible declaration, by splitting mind and body, he wipes out the capability of animals to feel, to think and turns them into mere machines in the endless mechanism of nature

"Kick a dog, or vivisect a dog, and it yelped not out of pain but like the spring in a clock being struck."(Fouts. P49).

Man was now supernatural and totally separated from nature and its brutish characteristics.

Obviously, I was interested in investigating a more compassionate philosophy. If you are not familiar with Buddhism it might be wise to do so before proceeding. I am planning to post a few pages on rudimentary Buddhist philosophy some time in the near future. For now it will have to suffice to say that Buddhism focuses on suffering and `realizes´ that the every being suffers. This is not limited to us humans, but spans across the whole spectrum of life. Second, is the understanding, which must turn into a realization, that the root or cause of suffering is attachment / grasping. It is through our grasping that we suffer and it is through ceasing the grasping we find the end to suffering. There are many different interpretations of this which can easily lead a person astray so please do not rely upon this as a complete understanding: the mind needs to stay open.

Intrigued?

click here to go to the essay on the topic

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