Eco on the animal soul

Umberto Eco reviews an anthology of ancient works devoted to considering the ensoulment of the animals:

On the animal soul

Acording to the ancients, animals possessed rational knowledge. But
they also had feelings. And, according to this theology, they can
therefore go to Heaven.

Einaudi published a lovely anthology of ancient writings on “The
Soul of the Animals” (at 85 euros it is an expensive book but it is
a really nice one.) It is not only we of contemporary times who are
preoccupied with our dog or decide to go on a vegan diet in order to avoid killing animated beings. The ancients already considered the problem
of when an animal possessed reason. In his Historia animalium,
Aristotle said that in many animals could be seen traces of the
quality of soul, by which animals demonstrated gentleness and
courage, timidity, fear, and slyness, and even something that bears some similarities to wisdom.

It is in a stoic form that an argument appears, unanimously
attributed to Chrysippus of Soli, that was destined to be of great
popularity. It exists in two versions, but we will cite the more
notable, that of Sextus Empiricus, in which he recounted a dog that,
upon arriving at the meeting point of three paths and recognizing
with its sense of smell that the prey had not taken two of them,
deduced that it must have gone the third way. He thus proved that the dog
knew reason according to the principles of logic.

Another fundamental text is “de sollertia animalium” by
Plutarch, in which it is admitted that animal rationality is less
perfect than human reason, but also notes that diverse grades of
perfection are also found amongst human beings (an elegant way of
insinuating that we are beings who reason like the animals.). In
another text, “Bruta animalia ratioe uti”, to those who objected
that one could not attribute reason to beings that did not have an
innate notion of the divine, Plutarch responds by recalling that
Sisyphus, too, was an atheist. It is on that basis that he rejects a carnivorous diet, albeit with many exceptions,

We have a radical vegeterian thesis in the “De abstinentia” of
Porphyry. For Porphyry, the animals express the ideal interior state
and the fact that they don’t understand us is no more embarrassing to
them than the fact that we don’t understand the language or the
thought of the Indians or the Scythians.

It is too bad that the Einaudian account ends with Porphyry, although
the volume has more than 500 pages as it is. It would have been interesting to
have an anthology series in multiple volumes that contained the
succeeding discussions, from the beautiful pages of Montaigne
refuting Cartesian mechanics to the long and protracted polemics
involving Leibniz, Locke, Cudworth, More, Shaftesbury, Cordemoy,
Fontenelle, Bayle, Buffon, Rousseau, Condillac and others.

I don’t know if all dogs go to Heaven or not. But frankly, it is very, very difficult to imagine a place that could be reasonably called Heaven, or be considered anything even remotely akin to a paradise, without them.