“And so it is likewise clear…that plants exist for the sake of animals, and other animals for the sake of human beings. Domestic animals are for both the use and the food they provide, and most but not all wild animals are for the sake of food and other uses… Therefore, nature, if it produces nothing incomplete or in vain, necessarily has done all these things for the sake of human beings.”
Aristotle, Politics

That animals are ‘for the sake of human beings’ could seem to be a ticket to take them for granted, or even abuse them.

In Aristotle’s mind nothing could be further from the truth. What does Aristotle see when he observes the natural order? He sees an economy, as it were, that bespeaks bounty and generosity. All is interconnected, everything has a purpose. And man is the prime beneficiary of this order.

And so we should be grateful. But surely being grateful includes acting like we’re grateful, by doing our best to honor the natural order that has been given us.

At times we can overlook that eating animals requires that they die. Gratitude, it seems to me, requires that we not lose sight of the fact that the raising and killing of animals is part and parcel of our eating. There are proper ways for animals to be cared for, and to be killed–and these should be of a piece with one another. The care and the killing, when done well, are themselves an exercise in gratitude; and also something to be grateful for.

Not all of us can do the physical acts of caring and killing. But we all can take reasonable steps to try to assure that these acts are done well, even if at some cost to ourselves.

When we sit down to our Thanksgiving meal, surveying the bounty of the earth before our eyes, it is a wonderful time to be remember that nature does nothing in vain, and that we belong to a natural order that both gives and demands much of us.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Politics is a major ethical and political work.

Image: Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), ‘Freedom from Want’


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