Begley, Justin: Pierre Gassendi on Animals: A Case of Exclusion.

The French priest, professor of mathematics, historian, and philosopher, Pierre Gassendi, was one of the most influential thinkers of his day. But the linguistic and conceptual complexity of Gassendi’s Latin tomes excluded him from the philosophical canon for much of the period from the late eighteenth to the end of the twentieth century. While historians have begun to appreciate that Gassendi’s ideas were central to early modern intellectual life, recent studies have consistently bypassed a major facet of his thought: his defence of a vegetarian diet. There are two principal reasons why such a state of affairs is unfortunate, and my paper will seek to play a role in remedying both of them. In regards to the history of vegetarianism, there has been an emphasis on “radical” sectarians such as Thomas Bushnell, Roger Crab, and Thomas Tryon. Gassendi, by contrast, remained thoroughly embedded in the institutions of his day, and he channelled the full range of humanist apparatuses in his endeavour to elevate Epicurus over Aristotle in the schools. By looking at his arguments for vegetarianism, my paper will demonstrate that a plant-based diet was a not simply a peripheral reaction to the intellectual mainstream that can be written off as either a fad or a narrow, sectarian position. In terms of the wider history of philosophy, Gassendi has frequently been deemed an unsystematic or “eclectic” thinker. Because of this, he has been considered less significant than his more methodical contemporaries such as René Descartes. Yet my paper will show that Gassendi’s reflections on abstention from meat-eating underscore the degree to which the ethical, natural philosophical, and theological facets of his thought could unite in his effort to unravel the tightly interwoven structure of the corpus aristotelicum.