Renaissance Vegetarianism: The Philosophical Afterlives of Porphyry’s On Abstinence

By Cecilia Muratori

Author: MURATORI, Cecilia (Research Fellow, Queen Mary University, London / Tutor of Philosophy, Institute of Continued Education, University of Cambridge)

Reference: Renaissance Vegetarianism: The Philosophical Afterlives of Porphyry’s On Abstinence. Cambridge: Legenda, 2020, 276pp, ISBN: 978-1-781883-38-9 (hardback), ISBN: 978-1-781883-41-9 (paperback, 2021), ISBN: 978-1-781883-44-0 (JSTOR ebook)

Should a philosopher be vegetarian? This question had been famously answered in the affirmative in a classic work on philosophical vegetarianism: On Abstinence from Eating Animals, written by the Neoplatonist Porphyry in the third century AD. This study traces the rekindling of interest in On Abstinence in the Renaissance. It shows that long before the term ‘vegetarianism’ emerged, philosophers, physicians and religious figures discussed the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a meat-free diet. As On Abstinence circulated, via editions and translations, the key questions posed by Porphyry stimulated new debates: is vegetarianism compatible with religious piety? Does a vegetable diet promote or endanger health and longevity? What can be learnt from observing the diets of other, geographically distant populations, such as the vegetarian Brahmans of India, or the cannibals in America? And finally, is it ethically justifiable to eat beings to which sentience and rationality may be attributed?