Porphyry's Rational Animals: Why Barnes' Appeal to Non-Specific Predication is a Non-Starter

In Book 3 of 'On Abstinence from Animal Food', Porphyry is traditionally taken to be arguing in favour of the belief that animals are rational. However, elsewhere in his corpus, he endorses the opposite view, declaring that man differs from other mortal animals because he is rational and they are irrational. Jonathan Barnes offers a way of understanding Porphyry’s logical theory which is intended to make it consistent with the traditional interpretation of 'On Abstinence'. He suggests that the same predicate can be related to different subjects in different ways. Porphyry’s claim that man differs from other mortal animals with respect to the predicate ‘rational’, is best understood to mean that whereas ‘rational’ is specifically predicated of man, it is non-specifically predicated of animals. This explains how they differ from man with respect to this predicate, without failing to be rational. This paper argues that there are reasons for rejecting Barnes’ interpretation. Barnes must maintain, for example, that animals possess the apparently incompatible properties of being specifically irrational and non-specifically rational simultaneously. Since Barnes fails to resolve the conflict, Porphyry’s claims that animals are irrational in his logical works pose a significant problem for the traditional interpretation of 'On Abstinence'.
Keywords Porphyry  Ancient Logic  Ancient Philosophy  Animal Rationality  On Abstinence
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