ERC Project on Animals in Philosophy of the Islamic World
Are animals conscious? Can they think or feel emotions? What makes them different from humans on the one hand and plants on the other? And how should we treat them?
This five year project (2018-2023) funded by the European Research Council will bring to light a rich body of texts written in the Islamic world, which address just such questions about the value and nature of animals. Contrary to common assumptions, such questions were taken seriously in pre-modern thought. Scholars have explored ancient Greek and Indian discussions of animals, but little attention has been paid to the contribution of Islamic culture, which produced for instance philosophical and scientific works on animals, moralizing fables featuring animal characters, and treatises on veterinary medicine and on the types and uses of animals.
The project will uncover the changing conceptions of animals revealed in such works, taking an innovative approach which explores the interaction between descriptive and normative accounts of animals. We seek to understand, for instance, how developments in ideas about animal souls impacted ideas about the ethical treatment of animals. We will also investigate the historical genesis of this corpus of texts on animals, by exploring the influence of three literary traditions: Aristotelian zoology, medicine, and the founding religious texts of Islam.
Research projects being carried out under the aegis of the project include two general monographs on animal cognition and on the ethical status of animals. Other topics for research include the zoological treatises of philosophers like Avicenna and Ibn Bajja, as well as other authors of the zoological tradition like Ibn Abi Ashʾath; the Book of Animals by the theologian and litterateur al-Jahiz; post-Avicennan theology and its reaction to Avicenna's views of animals; the reception of Galen's "On Usefulness of the Parts," and much more.