René Descartes: from the letters of 1646 and 1649

Linda Kalof - The Animals Reader: The Essential Classic and Contemporary Readings Date of publication: 01/01/2007


This extended text extract includes an explanatory introduction from editor Linda Kalof to the letters that follow, written by the famous French philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes in 1646 and 1649. Descartes argues animals lack the ability to reason, and therefore have “mechanical” souls (unlike the thinking souls of man). For Descartes, this lack of a thinking soul in animals absolves man “from the suspicion of crime when they eat or kill animals”. This concept of animals as mechanistic entities has had a profoundly negative impact on ethics of animal treatment over the following centuries.