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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883

Schopenhauer - extracts

(text from the 1st edition, 1883 )

The chief interpreter of Buddhistic ideas in Europe, and whose bias in this direction is exercising so remarkable an influence upon contemporaneous thought, in Germany in particular,was born at Danzig, the son of a wealthy merchant of that city. His mother, herself distinguished in literature, was often the centre of the most eminent persons of the day at Weimar. At a very early age devoted to the philosophies of Plato and Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer studied at the Universities of Göttingen and Berlin. His course of studies, both scientific and literary, was, even for a German, unusually severe and searching; and his acquirements were encyclopædic in their range. Unlike most German students, it is worth noting, he was addicted neither to beer-drinking nor to duelling.

His most important writings are: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung ("The World as Will and Representation"), 2 vols; Die Grund-probleme der Ethik ("The Ground-Problems of Ethics"); Parerga und Paralipomena ("Incidental and Neglected Subjects"), 2 vols; Das Fundament der Moral ("The Foundation of Morality"), 1840.

The peculiar characteristics of his philosophy are uncompromising opposition to the hollow doctrines of easy-going Optimism - an antagonism which, indeed assumes the form of an exaggerated Pessimism - and (what especially distinguishes him from most systematisers and formularisers of morals) his making Compassion the principal, and, indeed, the exclusive source of moral action; and it is his vindication of the rights of the subject species, in marked contrast with the silence, or even positive depreciation and contempt for them, on the part of ordinary moralists, which will always entitle him to take exceptionally high rank among reformers of Ethical systems, in spite of his exaggerations and short-comings in other respects. Dr. David Strauss (Die Alte und die Neue Glaube) thus write of his claims on these grounds:-

"Criminal history shows us how many torturers of men, and murderers, have first been torturers of the lower animals. The manner in which a nation, in the aggregate, treats other species, is one chief measure of its real civilisation. The Latin races as we know, come forth badly from this examination; we Germans not half well enough. Buddhism has done more, in this direction, than Christianity; and Schopenhauer more than all the ancient and modern philosophers together. The warm sympathy with sentient nature, which pervades all the writings of Schopenhauer, is one of the most pleasing aspects of his thoroughly intellectual, though often unhealthy and unprofitable, philosophy."

This, it is necessary to add, plainly is written in ignorance of the numerous writings of earlier and contemporaneous humanitarian dietists, to whom, of course, is due a higher, because more consistent and more logical, position than even Schopenhauer can claim, who, from ignorance of the physical and moral arguments of anti-kreophagy [anti-meat-eating] (it reasonably may be presumed), at the same time that he established the rights of the subject species on the firmest basis, and included them as an essential part of any moral code, yet with a strange, but too common, inconsistency, did not perceive that to hand over the Cow, the Ox, or the Sheep, &c., to the butcher, is in the most flagrant violation of his own ethical standard [a rather long way of saying that he was not a vegetarian]. While, then, the author of the Foundation of Morality cannot claim the highest place, absolutely; outside the ranks of anti-kreophagistic writers, a high rank may properly be conceded to him as one of the most eminent moralists who, short of entire emancipation, have done most to vindicate the position of the innocent non-human races (1).

Especially has he denounced the horrible outrage upon the commonest principles of justice by the pseudo-scientific torturers of the physiological laboratory. (2) It is thus that he lays the foundation of morality:-

"A pity without limits, which unites us with all living beings - in that we have the most solid, the surest guarantee morality. With that there is no needs of casuistry. Whoso possesses it will be quite incapable of causing harm or loss to any one, of doing violence to any one, of doing ill in any way. But rather he will have for all long-suffering, he will aid the helpless with all his powers, and each one of his actions will marked with the stamp of justice and love. To try to affirm say : 'This man is virtuous, only he knows no pity' ; or rather : 'he is an unjust and wicked man, nevertheless, he is compassionate.' The contradiction is patent to everyone. Each one to his taste : but for myself , I know no more beautiful prayer than that which the Hindus of old used in closing their public spectacles (just as the English of today end with a prayer for their King). They said : 'May all that have life be delivered from suffering!' "

Enforcing his teaching that the principles and mainspring of all moral action must be justice and love, Schopenhauer maintains that the real influence of these first virtues is tested, especially, by the conduct of me to other animals :-

Another proof that the moral motive, here proposed, is, in fact, the true one, is in accordance with it the lower animals themselves are protected. The unpardonable forgetfulness in which they have been iniquitously left by all the [popular] moralists of Europe is well known. It is pretended that the [so-called] beasts have no rights. They persuade themselves that our conduct in regard to them has nothing to do with morals, or, (to speak in the language of their morality) that we have no duties towards 'animals:'. a doctrine revolting, gross and barbarous, peculiar to the West, and which has its roots in Judaism. In philosophy, however, it is made to rest upon a hypothesis, admitted in the face of evidence itself, of an absolute difference between man and 'beast.' It is Descartes who has proclaimed it in the clearest and most decisive manner: and, in fact, it was a necessary consequence of his errors. The Cartesian-Leibnitzian-Wolfian philosophy, with the assistance of entirely abstract notions, had built up the 'rational psychology,' and constructed an immortal anima rationalis ; but, visibly the world of 'beasts', with its very natural claims, stood up against this exclusive monopoly - this brevet of immortality decreed to man alone - and silently, Nature did what she always does in such cases - she protested. Our philosophers, feeling their scientific conscience quite disturbed, were forced to attempt to consolidate their 'rational psychology' by the aid of empiricism. They, therefore, set themselves to work to hollow out between man and 'beast' an enormous abyss of an immeasurable width; by this they wish to prove to us, in contempt of evidence, an impassable difference. It was at all these efforts that Boileau already laughed :-

'Les animaux ont-ils des Universités?
Voit-on fleurir chez eux des Quatre facultés?'

In accordance with this theory, 'beasts' would have finished with no longer knowing how to distinguish themselves from the external world, with having no more consciousness of their own existence than mine. Against these intolerable assertions one remedy only was needed. Cast a single glance at an animal, even the smallest, the lowest in intelligence. See the unbounded egoism of which it is possessed. It is enough to convince you that 'beasts' have thorough consciousness of their ego, and oppose it to the world - the non-ego. If a Cartesian found himself in the claws of a Tiger, he would learn, in the most evident way possible, whether the Tiger can distinguish between the ego and the non-ego. To these sophisms of the philosophers respond the sophisms of the people. Such are certain idiotisms, notably those of the German, who, for eating, drinking, conception, birth, death, corpse (when 'beasts' are in question) has special terms; so much would he fear as for men. He thus succeeds in dissimulating, under this diversity of terms, the perfect identity of things.

The ancient languages knew nothing of this sort of synonymy, and they simply called things which are the same by one and the same name. These artificial ideas, then, must needs have been an invention of the priesthood [prétraille] of Europe, a lot of sacrilegious people who knew not by what means to debase, to vilipend the eternal essence which lives in the substance of every animated being. In this way they have succeeded in establishing in Europe those wicked habits of hardness and cruelty towards 'beasts,' which a native of High Asia could not behold without a just horror. In English we do find this infamous invention ; that is owing, doubtless, to the fact that the Saxons, at the moment of the conquest of England, were not yet Christians. Nevertheless, the pendent of it is found in this particularity of the English language: all the names of animals there are of the neuter gender, and, as a consequence, when the name is to be represented by the pronoun, the use the neuter it, absolutely for inanimate objects. Nothing is more shocking than this idiom, especially when the primates are spoken of - the Dog, for example, the ape, and others. One cannot fail to recognise here a dishonest device (fourberie) of the priests to debase [other] animals to the rank of things. The ancient Egyptians, for whom religion was the unique business of life, deposed in the same tombs human mummies and those of the ibis, &c.; but in Europe it would be an abomination, a crime, to inter the faithful Dog near the place where his master lies; and yet it is upon this tomb sometimes that, more faithful and more devoted than man ever was, he has awaited death.

"If you wish to know how far the identity between 'beast' and man extends, nothing will conduct to such knowledge better than a little Zoology and Anatomy. Yet what are we to say when an anatomical bigot is seen at this day (1839) to be labouring to establish an absolute, radical distinction between man and other animals; proceeding so far in enmity against true Zoologists - those who, without conspiracy with the priesthoods, without platitude, without tartuferie, permit themselves to be conducted by Nature and Truth - as to attack them, to calumniate them!

"Yet this superiority [of man over other mammals of higher species] depends but upon a more ample development, of the brain - upon a difference in one part of the body only; this difference, besides, being but one of quantity, Yes, man and other animals are, both as regards the moral and the physical, identical in kind, without speaking of other points of comparison. Thus one might well recall to them - these Judaising westerns, these menagerie-keepers, these adorers of 'reason' - that if their mother has to give suck to them, Dogs also have theirs to suckle them. Kant fell into this error, which os that of his time and of his country: I have already brought the reproach against him. The morality of Christianity has no regard for 'beasts;' it is therein a vice, and it is better to avow it than to eternise it. We ought to be all the more astonished at it, because this morality is in striking accord with the moral codes of Brahmanism and Buddhism.

Between pity towards 'beasts' and goodness of soul there is a very close connexion. One might say without hesitation, when an individual who is wicked in regard to them, that he cannot be a good man. One might, also, demonstrate that this pity and the social virtues have the same source . . . That [better section of the] English nation, with its greater delicacy of feeling, we see it taking the initiative, and distinguishing itself by it unusual compassion towards other species, giving from time to time new proofs of it - this compassion, triumphing over that 'cold superstition' which in other respects, degrades the nation, has had the strength to force it to fill up the chasm which religion had left in morality. This chasm is, in fact, the reason why in Europe and in N. America, we have a need of societies for the protection of the lower animals. In Asia the religions suffice to assure to 'beasts' aid and protection (?), and there no one thinks of societies of that kind. Nevertheless in Europe, also, from day to day [rather by intervals of decades] is being awakened the feeling of Rights of the lower animals, in proportion as, little by little, disappear, vanish the strange ideas of man's domination over [other] animals, as if they had been placed in the world but for our service and enjoyment, for it is thanks to those ideas that they have been treated as things.

"Such are, certainly, the causes of that gross conduct, of that absolute want of regard, of which Europeans are guilty towards the lower animals; and I have shown the source of those ideas, which is in the Old Testament, in section 177 of the second volume of my Parerga. " (3)


  1. Compare the remarks of Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825), in his treatise on Education, Levana, in which he, too, in scarcely less emphatic language, protests against the general neglect of this department of morals. Among other references to the subject, the celebrated novelist thus writes: "Love is the second hemisphere of moral heaven. Yet is the sacred being love little established. Love is an inborn but differently distributed force and bloodshed of the heart (blütwärme der herzenz). There are cold and warm-blooded souls, as there are animals. As for the child, so for the lower animal, love is, in fact, an essential impulse; and this central fire often, in the form of compassion, pierces its earth-crust, but not in every case. . . . The child (under proper education) learns to regard all animal life as sacred - in brief, they impart to him the feeling of a Hindu in place of the heart of a Cartesian philosopher. There is here a question of something more even than compassion for other animals; but this also is in question. Why is it that it has so long been observed that the cruelty of the child to the lower animals presages cruelty to men, just as the Old-Testament sacrifice of animals preshadowed that of the sacrifice of a man? It is for himself only the undeveloped man can experience pains and sufferings, which speak to him with the native tones of his own experience. Consequently, the air; and yet he sees there life, conscious movement, both which distinguish them from the inanimate substances. Thus he sins against his own life, whilst he sunders it from the rest, as though it were a piece of machinery. Let life be to him [the child] sacred (heilig), even that which may be destitute of reason; and in fact. does the child know any other? Or, because the heart beats under bristles, feathers, or wings, is it, therefore, to be of no account?"
  2. See a pamphlet upon this subject by Dr. V. Gützlaff - Schopenhauer ueber die Thiere und den Thierschutz: Ein Beitrag zur ethischen Seite der Vivisectionsfrage. Berlin 1879.
  3. Le Fondement de la Morale, par rthur Schopenhauer, traduit de l'Allemand par A. Burdeau, Paris, Ballière et Cle, 1879.
  • On the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason, and On the will in nature; two essays. (PDF 29mb) 1 -written 1813, expanded 1847. 2- written 1836. Translated by Mme. Hillebrand, first published in London 1889. This edition 1903. p.115: " no longer recognises animals as his brethren, and falsely believes them to differ fundamentally from him, seeking to confirm this illusion by calling them brutes,"
  • The Basis of Morality (PDF 25mb) Translated with introd. and notes by Arthur B. Bullock. First pub. 1840. This edition 1915 (same original as above, but a very different translation....).
  • Life of Arthur Schopenhauer (PDF 11mb) by William Wallace, 1890
  • Schopenhauer (PDF 3mb) biography by Margrieta Beer, c.1914 p.32: He condemned vivisection, on the ground that animals have rights.


Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index