chapter  3
34 Pages

ANIMAL BEHAVIORS

The doctrine that animals are superior to human beings, which is sometimes termed animalitarianism or “theriophily” (“love of beasts”), entails an admiration for the character and behavior of non-human species vis-à-vis those of humans and may have originated in classical thought in a reaction to Aristotle’s assertion that humans alone are rational and are consequently elevated above the rest of animal creation. Other sources may include the Cynics who professed to admire the demeanor of animals that lived, unlike humans, close to nature (phusis) and avoided the artifices that plagued human life. At times, the position included the assertion that non-human species were rational, like their human counterparts, and at others that non-human species were better off in a non-rational state since they were not led astray by a clever and scheming intellect. Because theriophilic assertions often appear in contexts in which human behavior is being censured, it is often difficult to determine whether the admiration for animals is seriously intended or satirically employed. In any case, there are few extant instances of this strain of thought in classical literature, and none so elaborately developed as the account of animal excellences contained in Plutarch’s treatise Bruta animalia ratione uti (Whether Beasts Are Rational), wherein the philosophical pig Gryllus lectures Odysseus on the moral failings of human beings. One may conclude that Plutarch’s assumption of a strongly theriophilic stance here is largely satirical since the doctrine is otherwise absent from Plutarch’s animal treatises, however admiring he may elsewhere show himself to be of the intellectual attainments of animals.