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The Virtues of Animals in Seventeenth-Century Thought

Author(s): Peter Harrison

Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 463-484
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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Journal of the History of Ideas.
The Virtues of Animals in

Peter Harrison

Discussions aboutanimals-their purpose,their minds or souls, theirinte-

rioroperations,our duties towardsthem-have always played a role in human
self-understanding.At no time, however,except perhapsour own, have such
concerns sparkedthe magnitudeof debate which took place duringthe course
of the seventeenth century. The agenda had been set in the late 1500s by
Montaigne,who had made the remarkable(if somewhatrhetorical)claim that
animals were both moraland rational,and moreover,more moraland rational
thanhumans.In the centurywhich followed, Descartes, not to be outdone,put
forwardthe even morecontentiouscounter-proposalthatanimalswere not only
neitherrationalnormoral,butthatthey were not even conscious. The Cartesian
hypothesisfueled a debatewhich continueduntil well into the eighteenthcen-
tury.'While in recent years much attentionhas been given to issues of animal
consciousness and cognition in seventeenth-centurythought,the relatedques-
tion of the moralcapabilitiesof animalshas been by comparisonneglected. In
this paperI shall explorethe converseside of the betterknownargumentsabout
the rationalcapabilitiesof the beasts, focusing on seventeenth-centurydiscus-
sions concerning the behaviors and passions of the beasts and the extent to
which animals were thoughtto participatein the moral universeof humanbe-

I. Duringthe first sixteen hundredyears of the common era, those thinkers

who directedtheirattentionto the naturalworld had tended to be preoccupied
neither with questions of how animals came into being nor with the direct

'See George Boas, The Happy Beast in the French Thoughtof the SeventeenthCentury
(New York, 1966); Leonora Rosenfield, From Beast-Machine to Man-Machine (New York,
1968); Hester Hastings, Man and Beast in French Thoughtof the Eighteenth Century(Balti-
more, 1936); and Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique (2 vols.; Rotterdam,1697-
1702), s.v. "Pereira,""Rorarius."
Copyright1998by Journalof theHistoryof Ideas,Inc.
464 Peter Harrison

causesof theirvariousoperationsbut ratherwith the questionof why they

existedat all.Almostwithoutexceptionresponsesto thisquestionwerevaria-
tionson a singletheme:animalshadbeenplacedin theworldto provideforthe
physicalneedsof humanbeings.2Whilethisresponseprovedto be satisfactory
in generalterms,therewere acknowledgeddeficiencies.Manylivingthings
seemedto havebeenratherextravagantly designedfor theirputativepurpose.
Othersseemedblatantlyto contradictit. Whywereourmeatsupplies,for ex-
ample,not moreconvenientlypresented,like thefabledScythianlambwhich
grewon a tree?Whywas it thata significantnumberof creaturesappearedto
be uselessor even downrightharmfulto thosewhomtheyweredesignedto
Responsesto thesedifficultiesgenerallytookone of threeforms,eachof
whichwas influentialthroughout the MiddleAges andbeyond.First,it could
be assertedthatas a resultof theFall,humanbeingshadforfeitedtheirdomin-
ionoverthecreatures, manyof whichnowservedas instruments fortheirpun-
ishmentandcorrection. Augustine observed that"there aremanythings,such
as fire,frost,wild beastsandso forth,whichdo not suitbutinjurethis thin-
bloodedandfrailmortalityof ourflesh,whichis at presentunderjustpunish-
ment."3 In the seventeenthcenturythis view still attractedmanysupporters.
ThusGodfreyGoodman,in TheFall of Man(1616),wrotethat"allthe crea-
tures,forsakingtheirfirstandnaturalluse,didserveformanspunishment, and
Second,anappealcouldbe madeto thePlatonicprincipleof plenitudeand
the relatedidea of the chainof being.The principleof plenitudetaughtthat
moreis betterandthatvarietyis preferable to uniformity. God,wrotethethird-
century Christian apologistLactantius, "wished to displayHisprovidenceand
powerby a wonderfulvarietyof manythings."5 It followedthatall existing
things could be rangedin a vastscale from non-existence to Godhimself,with
eachlinkin thechainseparated fromits neighborby a smalldifference.Again,
thisviewfoundmanyadherents in theearlymodemperiod.ThomasRobinson
declaredthat"itwas necessarythatthereshou'dbe a varietyof Natures,and

This view was typical of both Greek and Christianwritings. See Plutarch,De sollertia
animalium,Bruta animalia ratione uti, and De esu carnum;Porphyry,De abstinentia.
3Augustine, City of God, tr. MarcusDodds (New York, 1950), XI.22 (365); cf. De Genesi
ad litteram 3.16 (Corpus scriptorumecclesiasticorum latinorum,28.3.2).
4 Godfrey Goodman, The Fall of Man or the Corruptionof Nature (London, 1616), 280;
Cf. GeorgeWalker,Historyof the Creation(London, 1641), 193, 229; JohnEdwards,A Demon-
stration of the Existenceand Providenceof God, Fromthe Contemplationof the VisibleStruc-
ture of the Greaterand the Lesser World(London, 1696), pt. 1, 241; R. Franck,A Philosophi-
cal Treatiseof the Original and Productionof Things (London, 1687), 161.
5 Lactantius,On the
Workmanshipof God, V, in Ante-Nicene Fathers (Edinburgh,1989),
VII, 286. Cf. Augustine, City of God, XI.22; Reply to Faustus, XXI, 5.
The Virtues of Animals 465

different Degrees of Life and Perfection." Thus "every Creature even of the
lowest Degree of Life, is Good and Perfect in its Kind."6 Important for our
purposes is the fact that the chain of being provided the ontological basis for
knowledge based on analogy. From our knowledge of particular links in the
chain we can infer probable truths about other links. Thus, what is true of one
link in the chain can be predicated of other links to an extent that depends on
their proximity. Such analogical reasoning was employed by Aquinas and later
came to play an important role in seventeenth-century speculations about the
morality of beasts.7
According to a third view, many of the more puzzling features of the cre-
ated order were to be read, as were problematic texts in scripture, as symbolic
representations of certain moral or theological truths. Animals and plants were
not simply to provide for the physical needs of humanity but also to serve for
higher spiritual and moral needs. In Proverbs we find the familiar injunction:
"Go to the ant, thou sluggard" (Prov. 6. 6). In Job, likewise: "But ask now the
beasts and they will teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee.
Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee, and the fishes of the sea shall
declare unto thee" (12.7f.). The moral significance of the creatures is the main
theme of the hexaemeral literature of the Patristic period. "Fishes," wrote
Ambrose of Milan, "follow a divine law, whereas men contravene it. Fishes
duly comply with the celestial mandates, but men make void the precepts of
God." The birds, similarly, are "examples for our own way of life."8
Animals not only taught important moral lessons but also served as sym-
bolic representations of important theological truths. Basil the Great concluded
that "all poisonous animals are accepted for the representation of the wicked
and contrary powers."9 In the third-century Physiologus, a work on animals,
plants, and stones which was to serve as the chief source of the medieval bestiaries
and books of birds, the symbolic meanings of the creatures were set forth. The
fox "is a figure of the devil," the owl, "the figure of the Jewish people," the
phoenix "represents the person of the saviour," and so on.'0 In short, for the
Church Fathers and their medieval successors, the natural world was a book, a
repository of rich and varied symbols which bore important meanings. So it
was that whatever properties creatures had-physical characteristics, behav-

6 Thomas Robinson, New Observationsof the Natural History of this Worldof Matter,
and of this Worldof Life (London, 1696), 139f, cf. 12; John Cockbur, An Enquiry into the
Nature, Necessity and Evidence of the ChristianFaith (London, 1696), 42; Edwards,A Dem-
onstration, 233; Jean d'Espagnet, Enchyridionphysicae restitutae (London, 1651), 30.
7 Thus Aquinas:"Weinfer the
presence of inneremotions [passiones] in the animals from
their outwardbehaviour."Summatheologiae, la2ae. 40, 3 (London, 1964-76, XXI, 9).
Ambrose, Hexaemeron,V.x.29, V.xv.50 (Fathers of the Church [Washington, 1947-],
XLII, 184, 200).
9 Basil, Homilies, XIII.6 (Fathers of the Church,XLVI, 207).
Physiologus, tr. M. Curley (Austin, 1979), XVIII (27), VII (11), IX (14).
466 Peter Harrison

iors, life histories,passions-all potentiallytaughtsome morallesson or signi-

fied some eternalverity.The materialfeaturesof creation,in short,were signs
which pointed beyond themselves to anotherworld of transcendentaltruths.
In the MiddleAges these three themes were reinforcedby two relatedsys-
tematizingprinciples:the idea of the humanbeing as a microcosmand a ten-
dency to orderknowledge accordingto physicalresemblancesor similitudes."I
The arcaneidea that man was the paragonor epitome of the animals-that in
some sense he containedall creatureswithinhimself-was initiallyintroduced
into the Judeo-ChristianWest as a hermeneuticalprinciple.In the exegetical
writings of Philo of Alexandria,for example, scripturalreferencesto animals
were read as referencesto persons or partsof persons.'2The Fathersfollowed
this lead, utilizing microcosm in the interpretationof scripturein a numberof
ways. Origen linked it with both allegorical interpretationand the notion of
man as the image of God.'3 St. Gregory,who transmittedthe idea of micro-
cosm to the MiddleAges, used it to explain an awkwardpassage in the gospel
of Mark in which the disciples are enjoined to "preachthe gospel to every
creature"(16.15). Wishing to avoid thatimplicationwhich in a laterage would
promptSt. Francis to preach to birds and beasts, Gregorydeclared that it is
actuallyman who is "everycreature"because he comprehendsall creaturesin
himself.14St. Ambrosehad takenup a position quite similarto thatof Gregory,
emphasizingboth the dominionof man, who is "a summationof the universe,"
and the significanceof microcosm as the basis of tropologicalinterpretation.15
Thus was the materialworld, the venue for the moraldevelopmentof hu-
manbeings, populatedwith living remindersof virtuesto be imitatedand vices
to be shunned.The basis of tropologicalreadingsof the worldwas, then, in the
wordsof Ambrose,that"we cannotfully know ourselveswithoutfirstknowing
the natureof all living creatures."16 In the twelfth centurythe significance of
this conceptionfor a considerationof animalpassions was explicitly statedby
Jacob ibn-Zaddik:"thereis nothing in the world which has not its correspon-
dence in man.... He is courageous like the lion, timorouslike the hare, patient

" See P. Allers, "Microcosmus from Anaximandrosto Paracelsus" Traditio, 2 (1944),

318-407; G. P. Conger, Theories of Macrocosmosand Microcosmosin the History of Philoso-
phy (New York, 1922); M.-D. Chenu, Nature, Man, and Society in the TwelfthCentury (Chi-
cago, 1968), 23. On "similitude"see Michel Foucault, The Orderof Things (London, 1970),
ch. 2.
12Philo, On the CreationLI.146, LIII. 151, in Works,tr.C. D. Yonge (Peabody, 1993), 21;
Cf. The Laws of Allegory, 11.22(Works,40): "manis every kind of animal";"he resembled ...
both the world and God; and he representedin his soul the characteristicsof the nature of
Homilies in Genesis, I.xi, xii (Fathers of the Church,LXXI, 61ff). Cf. Philo, On the
Life of Moses II, XII.65 (496).
14 Gregory, Homiliae in Evangelium, 29 (Patrologia latina, ed. Migne, LXXVI, 1212);
Nemesius, The Nature of Man, I.i-ii.
'5Ambrose, Hexaemeron,VI.ix.55 (368); VI.x.75 (282)
Ibid., VI.ii.3 (229).
The Virtues of Animals 467

like the lamb,clever like the fox."'7 By the time of the Renaissancetherewas a
generalconsensusaboutwhich animalsrepresentedparticularvirtuesandvices.
In Spenser's Fairie Queen, for example, the peacock appearsas a symbol of
pride, the lion of wrath,the wolf of envy, the goat of lust, the pig of gluttony,
the ass of sloth.'8
These allied notions-that the humanbeing was a microcosmand thatthe
beasts representeddistinct virtuesor vices-enjoyed wide currencyto the end
of the seventeenthcentury. The Germantheosophical writer Jacob Boehme
wrote in his Mysteriummagnum(1623) that man was "a Beast of all beasts."
There are, he thought,"variouspropertiesin man;as one a Fox, Wolfe, Beare,
Lion, Dogg, Bull, Cat, Horse, Cock, Toad, Serpent; and in briefe as many
kindes of creaturesare upon the earth,so many and Variouspropertieslikewise
there are in the earthlyman."'9In his Governmentof the Passions (1700) Wil-
liam Ayloffe observedsimilarlythatwe can "unitein the Personof Every Man,
the Malice of a Serpent,the Furyof the Tyger,the Cholerof the Lyon, and the
Lubricityof the Goat."This demonstrates"thatMan alone has as many Pas-
sions as all the Beasts together."20 Ayloffe also relies upon the principle of
macrocosm-microcosmin his accountof the changes to which humanpassions
were subjectat the Fall. Just as in the macrocosmthe animalsrebelledagainst
human dominion following upon Adam's lapse, so in the microcosm, human
passions rebelled against a woundedreason. "Reasonwhich ought to regulate
his now disobedientPassions,is becomeobnubulated," wroteAyloffe,and"from
this mighty Disorderproceed all the Malignity of our Passions."21 In the same
vein John Donne had read the grantingof dominionover the beasts in Genesis
as an injunctionto controlthe beastwithin,andthusmake"thatraveningWolfe
a Man, that licentious Goate a man, that insinuating Serpent a man."22

'7 Qu. in Allers, "Microcosmos from Animaxandros to Paracelsus,"346. See also the
exhaustive list of animals along with their moral and symbolic characteristicsin Alanus de
Insulis, De planctu naturae 11-17 (Patrologialatina, ed. Migne, CCX).
18Fairie Queen, 1.4.17-36; and see Diane McColley, A Gustfor Paradise: Milton's Eden
and the VisualArts (Urbana, 1993), 82f.
19Jacob Behm, MysteriumMagnum.Or an Exposition of the first Book of Moses (Lon-
don, 1654), 93. Cf. EdwardTaylor,Jacob Behmen's TheosophickPhilosophy Unfolded(Lon-
don, 1692), 75; John Pettus, Volatilesfrom the History of Adamand Eve (London, 1674), 188.
20William Ayloffe, The Governmentof the Passions, according to the Rules of Reason
and Religion (London, 1700), 31. See also, e.g., Jean FranqoisSenault,De L'Usage des Pas-
sions (1641): "he uniteth in his person the guile of Serpents, the fury of Tygers, Choler of
Lions; teaching ... That man alone hath as may Passions as have all Beasts put together."Qu.
from the translationby Henry, Earl of Monmouth,The Use of Passions (London, 1671), 85.
Cf. also G. Havers(tr.),A General Collectionof Discourses of the Virtuosiof France (London,
1664), 141; Taylor,Jacob Behmen's TheosophickPhilosophy Unfolded,75.
Ayloffe, Governmentof the Passions, 22f.
John Donne, Sermon on Genesis 1.26, in G. Potterand E. Simpson (eds.), The Sermons
of John Donne (10 vols.; Berkeley, 1953-62), IX, 58; "To Sr Edward Julyers,"
Complete English Poems, ed. C.A. Patrides(London, 1994), 200. Donne relies explicitly on
the idea that man is a microcosm: "Manis a lumpe, where all beasts kneadedbee, /Wisdome
468 Peter Harrison

The secondsystematizing principleis the notionof "resemblance" or "si-

militude."MichelFoucaulthasidentifiedthecategory"similitude" as thegov-
erningfeatureof sixteenth-century explanationsof the naturalworld.23 It is
physical resemblance which allows connections to be made between micro-
cosm andmacrocosm,betweenadjacentlinks in the chainof being,between
aquaticandterrestrial creatures,betweenthe celestialandterrestrial objects,
betweenthemotionsof thesoulandmovementsof thebody.Knowledgeitself
is constitutedby thoselinks.Sympathy,antipathy, andanalogyareall related
conceptions.JacobBoehme explicitly reliedon this principlewhen he observed
that "whatsoeveris Internally,and howsoever its operationis, so likewise it
hath its Characterexternally."In beasts "everything as it is inwardly... so it is
outwardlysigned."2The signs of the passions of beasts resemblethe signs of
humanpassions, and this resemblanceserves in turnto reinforcethe principle
of the humanbeing as a microcosm.
If we ask, then, what is the significanceof the behaviorsof animalspriorto
the modem period,one importantansweris thatanimalbehaviorsare so many
differentrepresentationsof humanpassions, virtues, and vices, presentedin a
living pageant,accessible to the meanest minds, to the end that we might all
learn moral rectitude.Animals acting underthe impulse of some passion dis-
play to the world"characters"of the passions.These arenaturalsigns by which
we learnmorallessons. They indicateour relatednessto the whole of creation.
While thereis some evidence of interestin what we would call the "physiologi-
cal" basis of the passions, their chief significance lies in theirbeing signs for
us ratherthanbeingoutwardeffects of internaloperations.5Animalsarecyphers,
insignificantin themselves, yet useful for humans at every level. In this radi-
cally anthropocentricview every featureof the existence of the creaturesplays
some role in the physical,moral,or theological developmentof humanbeings.

makes him an Arke where all agree; / our businesse is, to rectifie Nature to what she was."
Ibid., 200. Donne's source is probably Philo, who writes that the ark "is an emblem of the
body, which of necessity thereforecontained all the most tameable and ferocious evils of the
passions and vices." De plantatione XI.43 in Works,194b; or Augustine:'Then the wild ani-
mals are quiet and the beasts are tamed and the serpents renderedharmless:in allegory they
signify the affections of the soul.... So in the "living soul" there will be beasts that have
become good by the gentleness of their behaviour....For these animalsserve reason when they
are restrainedfrom their deathly ways." Confessions XIII.xxi, tr. Henry Chadwick (Oxford,
1991), 291. Cf. JohnChrysostom,Homilies on Genesis VIII.14 (Fathersof the ChurchLXXIV,
113); Jerome, Commentariorumin Hiezechielem 1.1.6/8 (Corpus christianorumseries latina,
LXXV, 11f).
Foucault, The Orderof Things, 17-44.
24Jacob Boehme, SignaturaRerum:Or the Signatureof all Things(London, 1651), 77, 3.
25Physiological discussions generally rely on Aristotle and Galen. See Aquinas, Summa
theologiae, la2ae. 44, 1 (XXI, 61-5), and editor's appendix6, 172-77; Duns Scotus, Quaest in
Lib. Arist. de Anima, Disput. II, sec. 7, in Opera omnia (Paris, 1891), III, 698.
The Virtuesof Animals 469

The Historiumanimalium(1612) of Wolfgang Franziusis a typical early

seventeenth-centurywork of naturalhistory,which drawstogetherthese vari-
ous themes. In his introductionFranziusobserves that "God hath also given
beasts inwardsenses, they can see objects, and distinguishbetween them by
their Phancy,and they can rememberthem, but yet they have not rightreason,
what they do is in imitation, and have only shadows of Virtue."26Addressing
himself to the subjectof the passions, Franziuscontinues:"As to the sensitive
and loco-motive faculties thatarein beasts, theyhave themanalogouslyas they
are in man; the externalSenses receive externalobjects, and so are carryedto
the braine,therecausingjoy or griefe."27 Moreover,"theaffectionsthathappen
in the blood are the same thathappenin man. An ass is foolish, a Horse hot in
love, and in war,and a Wolf unruly,a Lyon bold, a Fox crafty,the Dog docile,
and so other creatures I could instance in."28
These general considerationsare exemplified in the descriptionsof indi-
vidual animals.The Lion, for example,"is a fierce andintractableCreature,but
yet famous, because it haththe shadowsof manyVertues,which we may learn
partlyfrom the propertyesof his body, and of his soul."29Propertiesin the soul
of the lion which receive mention are its generosity,pride, cruelty,and hasti-
ness. As an exampleof "propertiesof the body"or "caracteres"of the passions
Franziususes anger:"andas Horses shew their angerby hair,so do Lyons by
their tayl, which they strike againstthe groundwhen at any time they are an-
gered; but when their passion is a little over, they striketheir own backs with
it."30It is important to note that while it had long been acknowledged that the
passions had been placed in creaturesto assist in their preservation,many of
the movementsof the body which accompaniedthe passions-such as the lion's
thrashingits tail-were not obviously relatedto the survivalof the creature.It

WolfgangFranzius,TheHistoryof the Brutes(London,1670),12.
Ibid., 9. See also Edward Topsell, The History of Four-FootedBeasts and Serpents
(London,1658),EpistleDedicatory; insectis(Bologna,1602),505-
De animalibus
Wilde,Deformica(Amberge,1615),70 andpassim;ThomasMoufet,Insectorum
sive minimorumanimalium theatrum(Londini, 1634), ch. XVI; Noel Pluche, Spectacle de la
de Reamur,
Nature(7 vols.;London,17705),I, dialogues7, 8 (106ff);ReneAntoineFerchault
The Natural History of Bees (London, 1744), 297.
29Ibid., 39.
30 Ibid., 41. Cf. Samuel Clarke,A Mirrouror
LookingGlass (London, 1671): A lion's tail
"is his Sceptre,by whichhe expresseshis passion."The angrylion was also commonlyde-
pictedin emblembooks.AndreasAlciati'sEmblemata (Padua,1621)includesanemblemof a
lion beingattackedby fourdogs.The mottois anger,andthe epigramreads:"TheAncients
saidthe tail of the lion is powerful;becauseof its stimulusthe lion conceivesgreatanger.As
the yellow bile rises, and the resentmentbegins to mountwith the black gall, it arouses
uncontrolablefury (EmblemLXII).The Spanishtranslation,Los Emblemasde Alciato
Traducidos in RhimasEspanolas(Lyon,1549),adds,"justlike the manwho stimulatesand
incites himselfto unbridledfury."See PeterDaly et al. (eds.), AndreasAlciatus(2 vols.;
470 Peter Harrison

wasreasonedthatsincenaturedoesnothingin vain,suchmotionsof thebody

whichaccompanythe passionsmustbe "externalor sensiblesignes"which
makepossible"theknowledgeof theinsideby theoutside."31 Theyweresigns,
moreover, for the human observer,signswhich facilitated
a readingof the in-
nermostmotionsof the souls of beasts,andeven moreimportantly, for the
studiousobserver,of the soulsof men.
If for Franziusaspectsof thebehaviorof lionsserveas signs,it is no less
truethatthe whole animalis a livingsign. It has significanceat two levels,
levelsof meaningdrawnfromthe standard medievalhermeneutical approach
to scripture:tropological(moral)andallegorical.Thetropological readingis as
follows:"Moreover we readEccles.4.35 whereit is said,be thouas a Lyonin
thehouse,by whichall Governours of Familiesaretaughtto be mildandgentle
towardstheirFamilies,andneverto disturbthatconjugalloveandsocietywhich
oughtto be betweenManandWife,whichwe aretaughtby the Lyon...."32 In
the allegoricalreading,the lion is seen to symbolizethe devil:"as the Lyon
doth not eat one partof his preyonly,but devoursit all, so the Devil doth
destroybothbodyandsoul;andas Lyonsarefiercestwhenold, wandringnear
Citiesmakinga preyof Men,so the Devil in theselasttimesis mostdiligent
and watchful to seduce the souls of men ... and as a Lyon cannot endure the
crowingof a Cock,so theDevilis onlybythesoundof theGospelovercome...."33
Franziusconcludeshis treatmentof the lion by observingthat"thoseseveral
fablesof the Lyonsarenot to be madelightof, for fromthemwe may learn
good Morals."34
Franzius'saccounthas the typicalfeaturesof earlyseventeenth-century
naturalhistory.First,thereis whatseemsto us a rathercredulousacceptanceof
the traditionalsources.Second,we find reasoningby analogy.Man differs
fromthosecreaturesbelowhimin thechainof being,by virtueof his posses-
sion of "rightreason."Yetbeastspossess"shadowsof vertues"and"faculties
analogouslyas theyarein man."Third,we aretaughtmoralityby thebeasts-
in the case of the lion, aboutfamilyandmaritalrelations.Fourth,animalsare
symbolicobjectsstandingforotherthings.Fifth,we see theattemptto arriveat
charactersof the passions-outwardsignsof spiritualconditionof soul:"the
lion thrashingits tail."

II. Havingconsideredsomeof thegeneralthemeswhichinformearlysev-

enteenth-centuryaccountsof thevirtuesof animals,I proposenowto consider
in moredetailthe discussionof this issue whichtook place in seventeenth-
centuryFrance.Herewe can identifythreedistinctpositions.First,the group

31 Havers, Discourses of the Virtuosi,139f.

32 Franzius,History of the Brutes, 52.
33 Ibid., 53.

34 Ibid., 54.
The Virtuesof Animals 471

to whom,followingGeorgeBoas, I shall referas "theriophilists" (literally,

"animallovers").Thesethinkers,who took theircue fromthe sixteenth-cen-
turyessayistMontaigne,werechampionsof animalvirtueandsagacity.They
arguedthatif animalswereto be moralexemplars,theymustin consequence
be oursuperiors. Animalsaremoremoralthanus andpossiblyareevenmore
rationalas well. Theirchief representatives in the seventeenthcenturywere
PierreCharronandMarinCureaude la Chambre.
The middlegroundwas occupiedby the moretraditionalAristotelians,
whobelievedthatanimalshaveonly a sensitivesoulwhilehumanbeingshave
a rationalsoul.Ina strictsense,forthesePeripatetics, animalscouldbe neither
moralnorrationalfor whiletheyhavesensitiveappetites,movedby sensible
goods-such as food-they do nothavea rationalappetite,thatis to say,a will,
whichcouldapproveor disapproveof the motionsof the sensitiveappetite.35
Even so, the proximityof some of the beaststo theirhumanrelativesin the
scale of beingwouldsuggestthatthey have"shadowsof virtues"and"foot-
stepsof reason."Thusanimalscouldserveas moralexemplars,butonly in a
formalsense,for theyarenotgenuinemoralagents.
Rangedagainstboththeriophilists andPeripateticsweretheCartesians who
deniedthatanimalshadanysoulat all.36Animalscouldnotreason.Theycould
notbe moralagents.Theycouldnotbe thesubjectsof anymentalstateswhat-
soever.Thuswhileanimalswereregardedas havingpassionsin the sensethat
theyexhibitedcertainphysiological andbehavioral responsestoparticularstates
of affairs,theynonethelesswerepresumedto lackthosepsychologicalstates
whichin humansaccompanythe passions.Passionsfor animalswere solely
bodilyoperations, whereasforhumanstheywerebodilyoperations whichwere
consciouslyrepresented in the soul.
Thetheriophilists arguedthatanimalswereourmoralteachersessentially
becausetheylivedin accordancewiththe dictatesof nature.Themostimpor-
tantsourcefortheseventeenth-century championsof animalswerethewritings
of Montaigne, whohimselfhadrehearsed manyof thearguments andexamples
of animalchampionsof antiquity.37 Montaigneadopted the Stoicdoctrinethat
to liverightlyis to live in accordance withnature."Wecannoterrein following
nature,"he insisted,"andthe sovereigndocumentis, for a manto conforme
himselfto her."Forthisreason"ourwisedomeshouldlearneof thebeasts,the
most profitabledocuments."38 Neithershouldwe believe,Montaigneurged,
thatthebeastsarecompelledto followthedictatesof naturethroughinstinct:
35 See
Aquinas, Summa theologiae, la.2ae. (Blackfriarsedn., XIII, 22).
3 Or, more
correctly, that their souls are nothing but their blood. Descartes, Letter to
Plempius, 3 October 1637, in Philosophical Letters,ed. and tr.A. Kenny (Oxford, 1970), 36.
Montaigneis most heavily indebtedto Plutarchfor his examples (Plutarch,De sollertia
animalium, 968F-969C; 971B-972F).
38Montaigne,The Essayes of Michael Lordof Montaigne,tr. John Florio (3 vols.; Oxford,
1951), III, 316, 305.
472 Peter Harrison

I shouldsay therefore,thereis no likelyhood,we shouldimagine,the

beastsdoe the very samethingsby a naturallinclinationandforced
genuities,whichwe doe of ourownfreewilandindustrie.Of thevery
sameeffectswe mustconcludealikefaculties;andby the richestef-
fects inferthe noblestfaculties,andconsequentlyacknowledgethat
the samediscourseandway we hold in working,the very same,or

Thebeaststhuspossess"reason,discourse,andforcast,"as well as a rangeof

passions:sympathy,affections,joy, love, hate,jealousy,licentiousness,ava-
rice, revenge,and grief.o4Montaigneconcludesthatin the absenceof direct
accessto "theinwardandsecretmotionsof thebeasts,"onlyhumanprideleads
us to deprivethemof thesehighercognitivefunctions.4'
In the seventeenthcenturythe mostprominentdefendersof Montaigne's
positionwerePierreCharron andMarinCureaude la Chambre.Charron, while
not alwaysentirelyconsistent,also defendedthe positionthatthe goal of life
was to live in conformitywith natureand thatanimalsseemedto be much
betterat thisthanhumans:

If we regardthe livingin agreementwith Nature,and in conformity

withwhatshedictatesandrequiresfromus, Beastsseemto excelus in
this respect,verymuch;for theylead a Life of moreFreedom,more
EaseandSecurity,moreModeration andContentedness, thanMendo.
AndthatManis deservedlyreputedWise,whomakesthemhisPattern,
andhis Lesson,andreapsProfitby theirExample;by reforminghim-
self to thatInnocence,Simplicity,Liberty,Meekness,andGentleness
of Temper, whichNaturehadoriginallyimplanted bothin us andThem:
Andwhichin Brutesis still veryconspicuous,but in Us is decay'd,
chang'd,and utterlycorruptedby our IndustriousWickedness,and
ArtificialDepravations;thusdebaucingandabusingtheparticular Pre-
we and
rogative pretendto, rendring ourselvesmorevile thantheBeasts,
by meansof thatveryUnderstanding andJudgement, whichsetsus so
farabovethem.Hencesureit is, thatGodintendingto Shameus into
Vertue,sendsus to Schoolin Scripture,andbidsus growwiserby the
Example of theseCreatures.42

Whenarguingfor a comparability of psychologicalstates,Charronappeals

explicitlyto the chainof being."Those,whomNaturehathplacednear,or
close to one another,"he writes,"haveall of thema mutualResemblance."
Ibid., II, 169.
40 Ibid.
Ibid., II, 162, 184-97.
PierreCharron,Of Wisdom(London, 1697), 263. Tr.of De la sagesse (Bordeaux,1601).
The Virtuesof Animals 473

Man and the higherbeasts thus have "severalPropertiesalike, and common to

both,"for they are "next adjoyning Links, twisted within one another,in the
great Chain of the Universe."43
A more articulateandpersuasivespokesmanfor theriophilistsin the seven-
teenth centurywas Cureaude la Chambre,sometime physician to the king of
France. In 1645 La Chambre published as the second volume of his Les
characteres des passions, an essay entitled Des passions courageuses. de la
connoissance des betes.44Here he suggested thatbeasts are capableof reason-
ings of a certainkind.While this latterwork standsin the traditionof Plutarch,
Porphyry,Raimondde Sebonde, and Montaigne,there is an importantdiffer-
ence. La Chambrefollows the lead of Descartes in locating his discussion of
animal psychology in the context of human psychology. The Traite de la
connoissance is virtuallydevoid of the anecdotalevidence which was so typi-
cal of preceding and contemporaryworks on animal psychology. Instead,La
Chambrefollows Charron'slead, invokingthe chainof being. "Theorderwhich
God hathestablishedthroughthe whole universe,"said La Chambre,is one in
which "thelesse noble things serve for the degreeswherebywe rise to the most
excellent, and all of them have some beginnings of that perfection which is
more full and perfectin these."45La Chambremarshalsargumentsto show that
in the sensitive soul of animals,there are "images"or "vestiges"in which the
"first draught"of reasoning may be observed.46He goes on to argue in the
standardfashion that when animals act in ways which are to a degree analo-
gous to the way in which humans act, they must have faculties analogous to
human ones. It follows that animals deliberate,are subject to the passions of
hope and fear, may doubt,and are awareof the passage of time.
His most convincingargumentfor a reasoningfaculty in animalscomes in
his discussion of animalpassions, where he betraysa reliance on the classical
view that passions arise out of knowledge.47Setting up a distinction which
approximatesthe traditionaldivision between irascibleand concupisciblepas-
sions, he arguesas follows:

Whenthe Soul indeedthinksherselfweakerthanthe Ill, She endeavours

to shun the encounter,and accordingto the motions she makes to es-

43 Ibid., 241f.
44 (Paris, 1645). See the response by Pierre Chanet, De l'instinct et de la connoissance
des animauxauec l'examen de ce que Monsieur de la Chambrea escrit sur cette matiere (La
Rochelle, 1646), and La Chambre,Traite de la connoissance des animaux, ou tout ce qui a
este dit pour, & contre le raisonmentdes bestes (Paris, 1648); English tr. (by "a person of
quality"),A Discourse of the Knowledgof Beasts (London, 1657).
45 La
Chambre,Discourse, 21. Cf. 28f.
46Ibid., 21f.
47 See Plato, Timaeus,69c-70c, Laws, 644d, Protagoras,358c-d. Cf. Summatheologiae,
la2ae (Blackfriarsedn., XLIV, 2).
474 Peter Harrison

trangeherselffromit, she formsHatred,Aversion,Grief,Fear,and

Despaire.Butwhenshe thinksherselfsufficientlystrongto overcome
it, or at leastto bearagainstits assaults,thenshe raisethup Boldness,
Anger,andConstancy.... Forif theSoulthinksit self strongerorweaker
thentheills, shemustcompareherforceswiththeirs,andconsequently
shemustReason;forasmuchas withoutreasoningwe cannotcompare
onethingwithanother.So thattheSoulof Beastswhichis susceptible
of thesePassionsmustbe oblig'dto reason,whenshe wouldmakeuse
of them;Andso shewouldbecomeReasonable. Andso Reasonwould
no longerbe thatdifferencewhichdistinguisheth ManfromotherAni-

Animalsthushavebothpassions,reason,and,as LaChambregoeson to show,

moralsin someweaksense.God"hathsignedin allAnimalsthestrokesof his
Justice,andhathgiventhemknowledgeof the wrongwhichmaybe doneto
them,andthejustdesiretheyhaveof revengingthemselves."49 The"morality"
of beasts,then,consistsin theirabilityto choosesensiblegoodsoversensible
LaChambre's workis in somerespectsa considerable advanceoverthatof
his predecessors,if for no otherreasonthanfor the absenceof thosedubious
talesof animalsagacitywhichareliberallysprinkledthroughthe writingsof
MontaigneandCharron.He was nonethelessfirmlyanchoredin thatRenais-
sancetraditionwhichsoughtconnectionsin thenaturalworldbasedon resem-
blance or similitude.In the first volume of Les caracteres des passions (1658)
he arguesthatthe humanbodybearsexternalsignswhichserveto shownot
onlytheinterioroperationsof thebodybutwhichalsolinkthoseoperations,by
meansof similitude,to otherbodies,inanimate,animate,andcelestial.50
generalscienceof thesesignswasphysiognomy, which,alongwithits discrete
branches-chiromancy, podomancy, metoscopy-hadcomeintovoguein the
sixteenthcenturyandenjoyedconsiderablepopularitythroughout the seven-

48La Chambre,Discourse,Advertisement to the Reader.A similarargumentis usedby

Ulyssesagainst the Lion and the Dog in the G.-B. Geli'sCirce.See Boas, TheHappyBeast,
33f. Theargument thatthepassionsrequirereasonmight,of course,yieldtheoppositeconclu-
sionthatbeastshaveneitherreasonnorpassions.Thiswasthe view of JustusLipsius.See his
discussionof the passionsin Manductio ad stoicamphilosophiam (Lyon,1644),Bk. III,diss.
7 (277-95).
49 La Chambre, Discourse,Pt. II, 234, cf. 256. Cf. Senault,Use of the Passions,80f.
50Cureaude la Chambre, Lescaracteresdespassions,I andII (Amsterdam, 1658),Advis
necessaireau lecteur,iiif.
51See MichelLescot,
Physionomie(Paris,1540);Jeand'Indagine,Chiromance (Lyon,
1549);Giovambattista dellaPorta,De humanaphysiognomia (Hanover,1593);RobertFludd,
Chambre's ownDiscourseon thePrinciplesof Chiromancy (London,1658);CharlesLe Brun,
The Virtuesof Animals 475

Physiognomy,explains La Chambre,concerns "the exact knowledge de-

duced from physical effects."These "Effects,or Signs, which are imprintedon
the Body" may be one of two kinds-"one is Natural,which proceedsfrom the
constitutionsof the Body, and the otherElementaryCauses; the other,the As-
trological, which proceedsfrom the Starsor Celestial Bodies."The most obvi-
ous of the naturalsigns are "the Figure, the Air of the Countenance,and Mo-
tion,"and the less important,"theColour,the skin, the Fleshinessof the parts,
and the Voice."Unless we know the meaningof these varioussigns, we cannot
hope to penetrateto the secret motions of the soul. "Therecannotbe an assured
judgement made of the Soul's inclinations,"insists La Chambre,"otherwise
than by the properand permanentSigns, and that these are commonly drawn
from the Figure,the Air of the Countenance,the Motions, and the Fleshy parts
of the Body."52
The meaning of the permanentsigns was to be establishedthrougha con-
siderationof four kinds of resemblance:the physical signs on one man may
resemble those of anotherman, a beast, a woman, or a man from a different
climaticzone.53Of the man-beastrelationLa Chambrestatessimplythat"judge-
ment was made of the conformity of their Inclinations,by the resemblance
there was between them."54Because no-one perfectly resembles a beast it is
usually necessary to consider several individuals who have the same "sign,"
and compare them with several animals who have the same sign. Men who
have large mouths and thick and strong extremities, for example, are to be
comparedto "Lions,Bulls, Eagles, and Tigres"-creatures known to have the
virtue of strength.These charactersin men, therefore,are a sign of strength."
To know the natureof men's souls, then, one must study the signs of the pas-
sions in the creatures:"it is thereforerequisite[to treat]of the naturesof these
Animals,andespecially of those partsof them,wheretothose of men may have
any resemblance,and of the inclinationsthey denote."56 La Chambrethus ech-
oes the teachingof the Fathers,thatman is, in a sense, every creature,and that
he cannot know himself without first knowing all the creatures.Study of the

Conferencede M. Le Brun sur l'Expression Generale et Particuliere(1698); and Barthelemy

Cocles, Physiognomonia(Strassbourg,1533), which includes a series of woodcuts which de-
pict the physical charactersof various passions: e.g., the foreheads of irascible, cruel, and
covetous men; the eyes of lazy, reckless, and voracious men; the noses of vain, untruthful,
luxurious, and fickle persons, etc.
52 La Chambre,TheArt How to Know Men, 191f, 195, 204.
53 Ibid., 205. The resemblances which obtain across
species boundarieswere first sug-
gested by Aristotle, Historia animalium, 486b.
54Ibid., 206.
55 Ibid., 210.
56 Ibid., 214. Cf. discussion in Havers (tr.) Discourses of the Virtuosi, 139-42. These

principles were subsequentlyemployed in Charles Le Brun's Conferencede M. Le Brun sur

I'ExpressionGenerale et Particuliere (1698).
476 Peter Harrison

charactersof the passions, then, was primarilya science of signs, based upon
physical resemblance.And the significance of these characterslay in the fact
that they were signs bearingmeaning, ratherthan the effects of physiological
The possibilitythatthe various"characters" of animalpassionsmight serve
as signs for the animals themselves and not merely for humanobservershad
not escaped the theriophilists.It was frequentlyalleged, againstthe Cartesians
in particular,that animalshad naturallanguagesof their own, bodily or vocal,
and thatthe humaninabilityto comprehendthese languagesreflected a failing
on our part, ratherthan theirs.58Some claimed that we had once enjoyed the
ability to comprehendthe naturallanguagesof bird and beast, a capacity now
lost. Our presentdeficiency in this regardwas variously attributedto the Fall,
to the events which took place at Babel, or simply to the artificialand affected
structuresof humanlanguageas comparedto the naturallanguagesof animals.
Vestiges of what might have once been our naturallanguage remained,how-
ever.59In his Chirologia(1644), John Bulwer,for example, arguedthathuman
gestureswere "naturallsignes"which enjoyedcertainadvantagesover conven-
tional speech. The motions of the hand, said Bulwer, "proceedfrom the meere
instinct of Nature, and all these motions and habits of the Hand are purely
naturall,not positive; nor in their senses remote from the true natureof the
things that are implyed."60Bulwer pointed out that humangestures amounted
to a naturallanguage which had survivedthe confusion of Babel. They were
tracesof a paradisalpast when man and beast comprehendedeach other's dis-
course.Following Montaigne,he assertedthatanimalsstill communicatedwith
a naturallanguage and "expressetheir desire of honour,generositie, industri-
ous sagacity, courage, magnanimity,and the love and feare; neither are they
void of subtiltyand wisdome."Animals, moreover,are "ableto understandand
expresse themselves in this languageof gesture,teaching us by learningof us,
that capable they be not onely of the inwarddiscourse of Reason, but of the
outwardgift of utteranceby gesture."61
While such comparisonsof humanand animallanguages seem to us rather
strained,there is a consistency in the theoriophilists'position: both in their
behaviorsand in their "languages"animals are closer to naturethan their hu-

57 La Chambre,TheArt How to KnowMen, 184:

"by the cause which is known to it, of an
obscure cause by a manifest effect, and an unknowneffect by anotherwhich is evident. And
these means are called Signs, because they denote, signifie, and design the things that are
58Montaigne,Essayes, II, 159-61, 167, 181;Charron,Of Wisdom,244. Cf. William Holder,
Elementsof Speech (London, 1669), 5f; Plutarch,De sollertia animalium,973A; Porphyry,De
abstinentia III.
59 See Richard Kroll, The Material World(Baltimore, 1991), 201-25.
60 John Bulwer, Chirologia: or the Natvrall Langvage of the Hand (London, 1644), 2, 3.
Ibid., 6. Cf. Montaigne, Essayes, II, 160.
The Virtuesof Animals 477

mancousins.By comparisonhumanmoresandlanguagesappearas affected

conventions.Indeed,it was this widespreadrecognitionof the conventional
natureof humanlanguagewhichunderpinned seventeenth-century questsfora
universalcharacter andlanguage.
Inthelatterhalfof theseventeenth centurythepositionof thetheriophilists
becameuntenablefortworeasons.First,it becameincreasingly clearthat"na-
ture,"at leastas it wasconstruedby Montaigneandhis followers,wasa some-
whatdoubtfulguidein mattersof morality.Second,theworld-viewwhichun-
derpinnedthe moralrelationsbetweenman and the naturalworldbeganto
collapse,a pointwhichwe shallconsiderbelow.
SpecificreactionsagainstMontaigneand his followerstendedto focus
uponthepatentambiguities in theirvariousdefinitionsof moralityas "livingin
accordance withnature." In 1624PereGarassepointedoutthatsucharguments
resteduponanequivocations abouttheconcepts"nature" and"natural."62For
manto followhis naturalinclinationsin moralaffairs,as thebeastsapparently
do, wouldturnhiminto a beast.63 PierreChanetarguedsimilarlythatthe no-
tion of "lawof nature"is at best unclearin the writingsof thosewho would
haveus followtheexampleof thebeasts.Thebiblicalinjunctionto "goto the
ant,"he argues,was addressedonly to the sluggardwho hadlost his natural
reasonandwas on thataccountdirectedto an irrationalbeast.4If following
natureis conceivedof as somethingotherthanfollowingthedictatesof reason,
thenit is reasonwhichmustprevail.
Curiouslyenough,thereductioad absurdum of thetheriophilists'position
on thisissuehadbeenunwittinglyprovidedby Cureaude la Chambre himself,
in his discussionof thepeculiar"virtues" of women:

With this precaution,we may presumeto affirm ... that the Womanis
cold andmoist,in orderto theend,whichNaturehathproposedto her
self, andthatfromherbeingcold, it followsthatshe shouldbe Weak,
andconsequentlyFearfull,Pusillanimous,Jealous, Distrustfull,Crafty,
apt to Dissemble, Flatter,Lie, easily Offended,Revengefull,Cruel in
her revenge, unjust, Covetous, Ungratefull, Superstitious,And from
her being moist, it follows, that she shouldbe Unconstant,Light,
Unfaithfull,Impatient,easily Persuaded,Compassionate,Talkative.65

Whereasa rationalistaccountwouldsuggestthatmoralityinvolvesbringing
thesepassionsunderthecontrolof reason,advocatesof theviewthatmorality

Pere Garasse,La Doctrine Curieuse des Beaux Esprits de ce Temps,ou pretendus tels
(Paris,1624);cf. ScipionDupleix,La Physique,I.iv,citedby Boas, TheHappyBeast,72f.
Ibid., 693.
sur la sagessede Charon(Paris,1643),142,378.
65La Chambre,
TheArtHowto KnowMen,26.
478 Peter Harrison

consistsin livingin accordance

withnatureweredrawnto oppositeconclusion.
Onthe qualitiesof the "coldandmoist"sex, La Chambreconcludes:

Moreover,thoseInclinations,whichgo underthe nameof vices, are

not, to speakexactly,so manydefects,butrather,on the contrary,so
manynaturalperfections,as beingcorrespondent andcomformable to
the feminineSex. Foras it is no imperfectionin a hareto be fearfull,
norin a tygre,to be cruel,for as muchas theirnaturesrequirethose
qualitiesin them;so can it notbe said,thatTimidity,Distrust,Incon-
stancy,&c., are defectsor imperfections in a Woman,in regardthat
theyarenaturaltoherSex,whichwouldbe defective,if it weredepriv'd

Thatsucha determination is so counter-intuitive to the moder mind,not

merely specific details
but also in its general form is testimonyto theperva-
siveinfluenceof Hume'ssubsequent distinctionbetween"is"and"ought." The
objections of Garasseand Chanet imply such a distinction,but it mustbe said
thatmostseventeenth-century discussionsof thepassionsoccurin thecontext
of moraldiscourse,andnowherein thesediscussionsdo we encounteran ad-
equatedistinctionbetweenwhatwe wouldnow term"motivational psychol-
ogy"(the "is"of human actions),and "ethics" (the"ought" of human actions).
The theriophilistsrepresentthe extremeformof this confusion,while their
critics,in theirdemandsforclarification of theconcepts"reason" and"nature"
andtheirrolein ethics,areslowlygropingtheirwaytowardsthatdivisionwith
whichwe arenowfamiliar.As thisdistinctiongradually,if tacitly,emergesin
the seventeenthcentury,the convictionthatthe studyof the naturalworldcan
providemoralinsightsbecomesincreasinglyless plausible.Animals,accord-
ingly,beginto lose theirstatusas moralexemplars.
LaChambre's conclusionsaboutthe"naturalness" of women'sinconstancy
andtimiditywerein anycase not universallywell receivedin the seventeenth
centuryeither.If the proponents of continuityin the animalworldhadtended
to locatewomenrathercloserto theiranimalcousinsthantheirmalecounter-
parts,Cartesiandualismimpliedthatwomenandmen stoodtogetheron the
samesideof thatgreatdividewhichseparated thembothfromtheanimalrealm.
TheCartesianmindwasa placewhere,to harkbackto Augustine,"thereis no
sex"-a fact whichexplainsnot only thatFather'senthusiasmfor the mental
realm,butalso,fora differentreason,theattraction of Descartes'sphilosophy
for his femaledisciples,the cartesiennes.67
Ibid., 27.
On these implications of the Cartesian doctrine, see Erica Harth, Cartesian Women

(Ithaca, 1992), 1-3. Harth observes that Descartes's disembodied soul enabled women "to
overcome their perceived sexual inferiority"and that the Cartesian active will "offered the
possibility of dominatingdisabling passions" (93). Also see Ruth Perry,"RadicalDoubt and
The Virtuesof Animals 479

As forthegreatdeedsof thebeasts,Chanetarguedthatthosethingswhich
Montaigneandhis followershadattributed to reasonandmoralitycouldas
easily be explainedby instinct.(By instincthe seemsto mean,at times,the
directactivityof God.Boas haspointedout thatthisis a clearanticipation of
Occasionalism.68)Concedingto his opponentsthemarvellousachievements of
someof thebeasts,he concludesthatthisonly showsthattheyarenot guided
by reason.Humanreasonrequiresexperience,is often slow,andoftenfails.
Thenearperfectionof manyof thefeatsof thebeastsmerelyshowsthattheir
behaviorsaretheeffectsof someperfectcounsel-God.69Descartes'sfirstre-
cordedobservation aboutanimalsconveysa similarmessage:"Thehighdegree
of perfectiondisplayedin someof theiractionsmakesus suspectthatanimals
do not havefreewill."70
In sum, for the traditionof ChristianStoicismwhichemergedwith re-
newedvigorin the sixteenthcentury,followingthe law of natureis nothing
otherthanfollowingthelawof rightreason.Accordingto thisview,thedivine
reasonis thesourcebothof regularities
of nature)andof humanreason.71 Withtheadventof theBaconianprogramfor
scientificadvancement, however,the agendaincreasinglybecameone of the
mastery of naturerather thanconformityto it. Humanreasonis nowviewedas
somethingapartfromnature.Onlythroughits independence fromnaturecan
humanreasonassertits dominance.Nowhereis thisnewdichotomybetween
humanreasonand the naturalworldmore explicit thanin the thoughtof
Descartes,who positsa vastgulf betweenthe immaterial mind,characterized
by reason,andthecorporealworldwhichis totallydevoidof human-likepur-
poses.Whereashumansuperiority wasonceperceivedto lie in thefactthatthe
humanbeing,as a microcosmof nature,comprehended all naturalthingsin
itselfandthuswasmoreintimatelyconnectedwitheverysinglepartof nature
thananyothercreature,nowhumansuperiority lay in thepossessionof a mind
whichparticipated in a differentorderfromthe rest of materialnature,and
whichwas not subjectto thebasemechanicallawswhichgovernedthe lower
partof creation.

III. In the openinglines of the RegulaeDescartesmakesthe following

observation:"Wheneverpeople notice some similaritybetweentwo things,

the Liberationof Women,"Eighteenth-CenturyStudies, 18 (1985), 472-93. For a discussion of

Augustine on this question, see Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason (Minneapolis, 1984),
68 Boas, The Happy Beast, 75f.
69Pierre Chanet, Considerations, 104-9. Cf. Aquinas, Summatheologiae, la 2ae. 13, 2
(Blackfriarsedn. XL, 3).
70 Descartes,
CogitationesPrivatae,in ThePhilosophicalWritingsof Descartes,tr. J.
Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch(3 vols.; Cambridge,1984-), I, 5.
71 Robert
Hoopes, Right Reason in the English Renaissance (Cambridge,Mass., 1962),
480 Peter Harrison

theyareinthehabitof ascribingto theone whattheyfindtrueof theother,even

whenthe two arenot in thatrespectsimilar."72The scientificmethodwhich
Descartesadvocatedcouldfindno placefor a knowledgebasedon similitude,
or on reasoningby analogy.Aristotelianmechanics,whichhad been based
largelyon analogyfromhumanmovement,hadbeen largelydiscredited.As
Descarteswasto explainwithregardto the principleof inertia:

Fromourearliestyearswe haveoftenjudgedthatsuchmotions,which
arein factstoppedby causesunknownto us, cometo an end of their
own accord.Andwe tendto believethatwhatwe haveapparently ex-
periencedin manycasesholdgoodin all cases-namely thatit is in the
verynatureof motionto cometo anend,or to tendtowardsa stateof

Themethodsof thenew sciencedemandedthatin the sphereof mechanics,at

least,analogiesfromhumanexperiencebe set aside.Descarteswasthefirstto
applythisinsightto the realmof livingthings,insistingthatif the motionsof
animalswereto be accountedfor by the samelaws as otherphysicalobjects,
thentherecouldbe no place in the life sciencesfor analogicalexplanations
baseduponsuperficialresemblances or similitudes.

Mostof theactionsof animalsresembleours,andthroughout ourlives

this hasgivenus manyoccasionsto judgethattheyactby an interior
principlelike the one withinourselves,thatis to say, by meansof a
soul whichhas feelingsandpassionslike ours.All of us are deeply
imbuedwiththisopinionby nature.Whateverreasonstheremaybe for
denyingit, it is hardto saypubliclyhowthecasestandswithoutexpos-
ing oneselfto theridiculeof childrenandfeebleminds.Butthosewho
wantto discoverthe truthmustdistrustopinionsrashlyacquiredin

Previously,certainareasof thelife scienceshadbeenoff-limitsto mecha-

nisticexplanationbecauseit was acceptedthatlivingthingswereanimatedby
souls,the principlesof whoseoperationslay beyondthephysicalrealm.Life,
or "animation," was thoughtto meansimplythe presenceof soul. Descartes
deniedthatit wasthesoulwhichconferredlife on livingentities.Creatures
he insisted,notbecausethe soulleavesthebody,but"becauseone of theprin-
cipalpartsof the bodydecays."A live animalis analogousto a watchwhich

Philosophical Writings,I, 9.
73 Principles of Philosophy, 2.37, in Philosophical Writings,I, 241.
74 Descartes, Letter to Reneri, April 1638, in Philosophical Letters, 53.
The Virtuesof Animals 481

has been wound up, a dead animal to one which has run down.75If analogies
were to be made, they mustnow be made between animaland machine,not the
animal and human mind. The Cartesianhypothesis about animal movements
thus entailed a rejection not only of knowledge by analogy but also of the
Peripateticview according to which animals were animatedby souls. In the
words of the CartesianGeraudde Cordemoy:"Forasmuchas most of the Mo-
tions, that are observ'd in Animals, are accompaniedin us with some knowl-
edge, it hathbeen believed, thattherewas in Animals a principleof knowledge,
which is called a Sensitive Soul."The sensitive soul, however,becomes obso-
lete ontological baggage once it is recognized that God "hath contriv'd the
Bodies of Animalsaftera certainway, andthathe hathestablish'dcertainRules
of Motion."76 Only in the humananimal,concludes Cordemoy,is "themotion
of the Organ... accompaniedwith a thoughtor Perceptionof the Soul."77
For the Cartesians,then, beasts have no soul. They do not think, they do
not feel. They are not, in any sense, autonomousagents. Animals have sensa-
tions but not conscious sensations;they have passions but not conscious pas-
sions. These latter distinctionshave understandablybeen the source of some
confusion.At least one influentialcommentatorhas arguedthatDescartesmust
allow brutesto be conscious in some sense, for he allows that they are subject
to passions.78This view, however,fails to take into considerationthe signifi-
cance of Descartes'sdistinction,statedin the opening lines of The Passions of
the Soul, between a passion "with regardto the subject"and a passion "with
regardto that which makes it happen."79 Descartes does ascribe passions to
animalsbut only in a limited sense:

And the same may be observed in animals. For although they lack
reason,and perhapseven thought,all the movementsof the spiritsand
of the gland which producepassions in us are neverthelesspresentin
them too, though in them they serve to maintainand strengthenonly
the movements of the levers and the muscles which usually accom-
pany the passions, and not, as in us, the passions themselves.80

75 Descartes, The Passions of the Soul,, in Philosophical WritingsI, 329.

76 Geraudde Cordemoy,A Discourse written to a Learned Frier (London, 1670), 121f.
Cf. Kenelm Digby, Two Treatisesin the one of which, The Nature of Bodies, in the other,The
Nature of Mans Soule, is looked into (London, 1645), 399; Antoine Le Grand,An EntireBody
of Philosophy (London, 1694), 254; John Norris, Essay towards the Theory of the Ideal or
Intelligible World(London, 1704), pt. II, 58-100.
77 Ibid., 130.
78 John Cottingham,"A Brute to the Brutes: Descartes' Treatmentof Animals,"Philoso-

phy, 53 (1978), 551-61. Also Boas, The HappyBeast, 90, n. 201. Cf. Peter Harrison,"Descartes
on Animals" Philosophical Quarterly,42 (1992), 219-27.
79 Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, I.i, in Philosophical Writings,I, 328.
80 Ibid., 1.50, (I, 348).
482 Peter Harrison

In short, animals share with us the physiology of the passions, the movement
of the animal spirits,but they have no conscious states. In humans"whatis a
passion in the soul, is usually an action in the body."8'In animals,which lack a
soul, the passions are merely bodily dispositions. The "meagre"and "implau-
sible" writingsof the ancientson this topic, Descartessuggests, owe theirdefi-
ciencies to the failureto observe this distinction.Animals then, as Descartes's
disciple Malebrancheexpressed it, are not "susceptibleof all the Motions of
the Passions, Fear,Desire, Envy,Hatred,Joy, Sorrow."Rather,"theyeat with-
out pleasure, cry without pain."82
The Cartesianapproach,while admittedlyrathercounter-intuitive,solved
a numberof seventeenth-centuryquandariesaboutanimals.Thus, for example,
if animalshad spiritualsouls, were they immortal?And if they were immortal,
were even the imperfect animals (like flies and beetles) to be recipients of
eternal life? If animals did not have spiritual souls, how could they be con-
scious? If matter were capable of thought and sensation, might not human
beings too, be purelymaterial?Finally,why, if animalswere not moralagents,
were they createdsuch thatthey were subjectto pain and suffering?God would
seem to have createdanimalssuch thatthey suffered,despite theirneverhaving
committed wrongs. This would impugnthe justice of God. To deny both that
animals had souls and states of consciousness was an elegant way of negotiat-
ing all of these difficulties, and one thatwas more in keeping with the prevail-
ing science thanany of the alternatives.
The Cartesianapproachalso spelled an end to the marriagebetween natu-
ral history and ethics. The new attitudeto naturalhistory was clearly spelt out
later in the centuryby English naturalistJohn Ray. In the Ornithologyof 1678
Ray professes to have gathereda naturalhistory which is totally devoid of
"Hieroglyphics,Emblems,Morals,Fables, Presages or ought else appertaining
to Divinity,Ethics, Grammar,or any sortof HumaneLearning."83 Science now
concentratedon tracingcauses fromphysical effects, ratherthanseeing effects
as signs. The naturalworld hadcome to be regardedas a complex web of cause
and effect ratherthanbook of signs which had moral or transcendentalmean-
For all this, animalswere to retainsomethingof a moralrole, butnow their
exploits were relocated to the literaryrealm, where they could still exert a
powerfulinfluence over the morallives of theirrationalcousins. The passions,
virtues, and vices of animals became literary devices for moral edification.

Ibid., 1.1, (I, 328).
Nicolas Malebranche,Father Malebranche, his Treatise concerning the Search after
Truth, tr. T. Taylor (London, 17002), 185; Oeuvres completes, ed. G. Rodis Lewis, (Paris,
1958-70), II, 394.
83 John Ray and Francis
Willughby,TheOrnithologyof Francis Willughby(London, 1678),
The Virtuesof Animals 483

Such a shift had been forshadowedas early as the end of the sixteenthcentury,
when Sir Philip Sidney inquired"whetherthe feigned image of Poesy or the
regularinstructionof Philosophyhathmore force in teaching?"84 Increasingly,
as the seventeenthcentury progressed,the question was resolved in favor of
Poesy.85While naturalistslike JohnJohnstonhad attributedlove, fidelity,chas-
tity, and courageto horses, these equine virtues were transferred,for example,
in JonathanSwift's Gulliver'sTravels,to the fictional"houyhnhnms"a race of
rationalhorses.86Here horses are imbuedwith "temperance,industry,exercise
and cleanliness" and comprise a society "well united, naturallydisposed to
every virtue,wholly governedby Reason."87 CyranoDe Bergerac'sStoryof the
Birds(1650), the numerouseditions of Aesop's fables which begin to appearat
this time, La Fontaine'sFables (1668-94), Bunyan'sBookfor Boys and Girls
(1686)-all are in some way compensationsfor the increasingtendencyof the
seventeenthcenturyto exclude real animalsfrom the moral universe.

IV.Overthe courseof the seventeenthcenturythebehaviorsof brutesceased

to be "signs"which bore specific meanings for humanobservers.Increasingly
they came to be considered solely as effects of particularinternaloperations.
Discourseaboutthe passionsof animalsbecomesdiscourseaboutthemechanical
effects of animal spirits.This change is more or less what we would expect to
take place in the seventeenthcentury,when the scientific preoccupationwith
causal relationsdisplaces the medievaltendencyto interpretnaturein termsof
symbols and similitudes.The moral role previouslyplayed by the creaturesis
taken over into fictional depictions of animals as rationaland moral agents;
theirtheological role is narrowedto a single focus-physico-theology. Beast-
machines no longer posture as moral exemplars,but as remarkablemachines
which give mute testimony to the power of the creatorwho fashionedthem.88
The new field for discussion is how the variouseffects (Descartes's "ac-
tions")are producedby the interioroperationsof animals.Are mechanicalex-
planationsalone sufficientto accountfor animalbehaviors,or do the conscious
volitions of creaturesplay some causal role in modifying their behaviors,as
they do in humans?Perhapsno seventeenth-century thinkeransweredthis ques-
tion as elegantly as Descartes,who saw clearly thatif we deny thatanimalsare
rationaland moral agents, as did most of his contemporaries,then to endow

84Philip Sidney, An Apologyfor Poetry, in E. Jones (ed.), English Critical Essays (Ox-
ford, 1963), 16.
85 Cf. Sidney,An Apology, 17.
86Johnston,Nature of Four-FootedBeasts (Amsterdam,1678), 4. It is not clear how these
virtues stand given Johnston's earlier statementthat horses are the most lustful of beasts.
JonathanSwift, Gullivers Travels,pt. IV (chs. 8, 9).
See, e.g., Walter Charleton, Natural History of the Passions (London, 1674), 33-7;
Kenelm Digby, Two Treatises, 343; John Norris, Essay, pt. II, 92; Pluche, Spectacle de la
Nature, I, 315.
484 Peter Harrison

themwithconsciousnessis anunwarranted extravagance. Thatsucha counter-

intuitiveview couldattractanyadherentsat all-and thereweremanyin the
seventeenthcenturywho supportedthe Cartesianview-is testamentto the
problematiccharacterof the alternatives.Somewhatironically,the Cartesian
doctrineof thebeast-machine was eventuallyto leadto the postulationof the
man-machine-anentityinwhichmechanical operations weredeemedsufficent
to explainthe phenomenaof consciousness.89 And if humanscouldbe con-
sciousmachines,therewouldseemto be littlejustificationfordenyingaware-
nessto animalmachines.Addedto thisoverthenexttwocenturies,newevolu-
tionaryconceptionsof the inter-relatednessof livingthingsweregraduallyto
assumetheroleonceplayedby theideaof a hierarchy of being.Thesedevelop-
ments,culminating in the appearenceof Darwin's theoryof naturalselection,
wereto makethebasisof theCartesiandistinctionbetweenhumanandanimal
almostimpossibleto sustain.


See, e.g., Ignace-GastonPardies,Discours de la connoissance des bestes (Paris, 1672);
Julian de La Mettrie, L'homme-machine(Leyde, 1748). Also see Rosenfield, From Beast-
Machine to Man-Machine, 141-153.

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