Commune Ius Animantium (Clem. 1.18.2): Seneca's Naturalism and the Problem of Animal Rights

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The present paper focuses on an intriguing passage of Seneca's treatise 'On Clemency' (De Clementia) dealing with the topic of human and animal rights (1.18.1-2). This is the only passage in which the Latin philosopher employs the juridically and philosophically significant expression 'commune ius animantium', thus referring to a form of nature-based 'animal right'. In Seneca's words, there would be a common right of living beings forbidding to perpetrate certain acts of violence. On the whole, however, the passage seems to aim at maintaining the inviolability of human rights, paying special attention to the pitiful condition of slaves. Given the presence of such a man-centered context, scholars have often overlooked the writer's explicit reference to the moral status of animals, although other meaningful details than the simple mention of a 'ius animantium' point out the importance of this matter to our passage. As I try to show in this paper, Seneca's paraenetic argument succeeds in combining a peculiarly Stoic concern for the respect of human dignity with a more general defense of the natural order. This second aspect of the author's discourse includes an original consideration of the role of animals which appears to echo Sextian-Pythagorean views, but is organically integrated into the framework of Stoic cosmology.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)511-550
Numero di pagine40
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2013


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