Animal theology

Paolo De Benedetti's death

The news of the death of Paolo De Benedetti reached me while I was reading a short book of him (E l’asina disse…).

Paolo De Benedetti is well-known especially for his studies on Hebraism, but here I would rather like to remember him for his articles and books on animals’ and plants’ theology. This is a problem which is much less evident in South Asian religions, given the general acceptance of a (hierarchical) continuity between animal and human lives. Yet, as already discussed here, the same continuity is not generally accepted in the case of plants.
De Benedetti used Singer’s arguments about suffering as the distinctive character shared by all living beings and keeping them alike. Unlike Singer, however, De Benedetti saw the commonality of animals, human beings and plants in a theological perspective: They are all created, not natural beings and their being alive is what God has donated to them.

Why does the inference about the self and nature in the Sāṅkhyakārikā not hold?

Veṅkaṭanātha/Vedānta Deśika claims that the well-known inference found in SK 17 about the separation from self and nature (prakṛti) does not work. First the inference:

saṃhataparārthatvāt triguṇādiviparyayād adhiṣṭhānāt |
puruṣo ‘sti bhoktṛbhāvāt kaivalyārthapravṛtteś ca ||

Since the assemblage of sensible objects is for another’s use; since the converse of that which has the three qualities with other properties (before mentioned) must exist; since there must be superintendencel since there must be one to enjoy, since there is a tendency to abstraction; therefore soul is. (Colebrook’s edition and translation)

Position in “Religion, Nature, and Culture in South Asia” at the University of Virginia

The position may be filled at the assistant (tenure-track) or associate (tenured) rank.

Note also that the Search Committee particularly welcomes applicants with expertise in Hinduism, though the search leaves open the successful candidate’s area of research focus as regards religious tradition, language expertise, and historical period of study.

Human beings as animals

Humans are not animals according to Descartes’ distinction of res cogitans and res extensa. They are also not animals according to many Christian theologians (Jesus came to save humans, not animals). Perhaps humans are not (only) animals also according to the Aristotelian definition of human beings as “rational animals”, which attributes to humans alone a distinctive character. Humans are also quite different than animals when it comes to their respective rights. But here starts a moot point:


Ontology is a moot point if you are a theist

A philosopher might end up having a double affiliation, to the philosophical standpoints shared by one’s fellow philosophers, and to the religious program of one’s faith.
This can lead to difficult reinterpretations (such as that of Christ with the Neoplatonic Nous, or that of God with the Aristotelic primum movens immobile), or just to juxtapositions (the addition of angels to the list of possible living beings).

A Vaiṣṇava who starts doing philosophy after centuries of religious texts speaking of Viṣṇu’s manifestations (vibhūti), of His qualities and His spouse Lakṣmī (or Śrī or other names), is in a similar difficult situation.

What is a body? Veṅkaṭanātha on plants, rocks, and deities

In general, classical Indian philosophers tend to define śarīra ‘body’ as a tool for experience (bhogasādhana). Thus, most philosophers state that plants only seem to have bodies because of our anthropomorphic tendencies, which make us believe that they function like us, whereas in fact plants cannot experience. By contrast, Veṅkaṭanātha in the Nyāyasiddhāñjana defines śarīra in the following way: