Socrates’ Reasoning on Veganism

Athenian philosopher, whose beliefs are known only through the writings of his pupils Plato and Xenophon, Socrates taught that virtue was based on knowledge, which was attained by a dialectical process that took into account many aspects of a stated hypothesis. He was indicted for impiety and corruption of youth (399) and was condemned to death. He refused to flee and died by drinking hemlock.  Book II of The Republic [see pp. 50-51 below].

Socrates: Would this habit of eating animals not require that we slaughter animals that we knew as individuals, and in whose eyes we could gaze and see ourselves reflected, only a few hours before our meal?

Glaucon: This habit would require that of us.

Socrates: Wouldn’t this [knowledge of our role in turning a being into a thing] hinder us in achieving happiness?

Glaucon: It could so hinder us in our quest for happiness.

Socrates: And, if we pursue this way of living, will we not have need to visit the doctor more often?

Glaucon: We would have such need.

Socrates: If we pursue our habit of eating animals, and if our neighbor follows a similar path, will we not have need to go to war against our neighbor to secure greater pasturage, because ours will not be enough to sustain us, and our neighbor will have a similar need to wage war on us for the same reason?

Glaucon: We would be so compelled.

Socrates: Would not these facts prevent us from achieving happiness, and therefore the conditions necessary to the building of a just society, if we pursue a desire to eat animals?

Glaucon: Yes, they would so prevent us.

Today, the resources that are required to sustain this wasteful way of living (“diet” is Greek for “way of living”) include large amounts of energy (read “oil”) for fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, refrigeration, water pumping, etc. So today we go to war to maintain our access to oil supplies, but the point Socrates made 2500 years ago is still relevant today. We do not hear about these concerns he raised so many years ago. Why not?

  • The Republic of Plato (link to archive.org) trans. Thomas Taylor c.1800. This edition: London, c.1894. In Books II & III Plato (428-347 BC) develops the dietary ideas of Pythagoras.
  • Plato’s Republic (link to archive.org) commentary by Lewis Campbell M.A., Ll.D., London, 1902.
    See also Socrates’ pupils:
  • Antisthenes
  • Plato

 

 

 

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