A Matter of Opinion

How would Plato and Aristotle have explained the possibility of animal souls?


For the past six months, I’ve been working on a book about whether animals have souls or not. Though I wasn’t exactly sure what the book’s specific argument was going to be (and in fact I’m still working the details of it out) the conclusion I intended to arrive at (YES, they do) was set before I typed a single word.

Starting a book with an attitude like this does not, I know, make me a terribly good investigative journalist. After all, when you’re writing a non-fiction book, you’re supposed to start out with a totally open mind and let the facts lead you where they will. If, after thoroughly exploring a question, a reporter finds that the facts lead him to a different conclusion than expected, then the book he produces should reflect this.


But I knew from the minute I got started that, poor investigative journalism marks or not, nothing like that was going to happen with me. I wasn’t about to let my researches convince me that animals don’t have souls.


Of course, there were aspects of the subject that I


open to learning about. Animal souls might, for example, turn out to be different from the souls that people have (I was actually pretty sure they were before I got started). But when it came to the question of whether or not those souls


, there wasn’t the slightest question in my mind of what the answer was going to be.

Though it hasn’t rocked my basic views about animals and souls, or magically transformed me from a spiritually opinionated to a spiritually un-opinionated person, one thing writing this book



taught me is how far from unusual this basic stubbornness of mine is. Ask a person whether animals have souls or not, and I can virtually guarantee that you’ll hear one of the following two responses.

1) “Of course they do! How could you ask such a ridiculous question?”

2) “Of course not. How could you ask such a ridiculous question?”

And one answer I can virtually guarantee you


hear is:

“Hmm…What an interesting question. I don’t really know. Perhaps the do, but then again perhaps they don’t.”

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Ptolemy Tompkins
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