Richard Sorabji claims that the ancient debate concerning the proper treatment of animals “came to turn on whether animals were rational.” Only the Stoics seem be a case in point, since they say that justice “should extend only to beings like us and therefore rule out irrational animals” (De Abts. III.1.187). Yet by Sorabji’s own admission, he does not succeed in identifying a faculty of mind such that the Stoics could have reasonably inferred, from the absence of that faculty in animals, that animals were without a claim to be treated justly. One begins to wonder what the Stoics’ position on the animals question was. We cannot understand under what circumstances the Stoics think they are beholden to accord others justice—and why they think we are not beholden to accord animals justice—without understanding the circumstances under which, according to them, humans have an inclination to treat others with justice. This is because, for them, there can be no moral imperative to treat another justly where a natural inclination to do so is lacking. What inclines us to justice is the real possibility of creating and maintaining community, since “the good of a rational being is community.” Hence, the purpose of this essay: to show that the Stoics’ position on the animal question is shaped more by their conception of community (koinonia, communitas), than by their belief that animals suffer a defect of reason serious enough to automatically disbar them from being the proper recipients of justice.
Meeting of the Society of Ancient Greek Philosophy