"Dangerous Discipline: The Medieval and Renaissance Debate on Religious Vegetarianism"

July 8, 2016

Philosophisches Seminar, Université de Freiburg

KG I, Hörsaal 1224, Platz der Universität 3, 79098 Freiburg

Before the term ‘vegetarianism’ was coined in the 1840s, the diet that excludes meat was often referred to as ‘abstinence’. This paper explores the intersection of medicine, philosophy and religion in the rejection of meat, highlighting in particular the religious connotation of vegetarianism as abstinence (abstinentia). First, I will consider one of the main debates on religious vegetarianism, stretching from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance, namely the one on the vegetarian, or semi vegetarian diet of the Carthusian monks. This is a debate that involved doctors, such as Arnau de Vilanova, but also philosophers, humanists and theologians (such as Jean Gerson and Erasmus) and focused on the question whether by eating a vegetable diet the Carthusian monks would endanger their health for lack of nourishment. In the second part of the talk I will turn to the question whether vegetarianism, or at least a reduction in meat consumption might in fact have a beneficial effect not only on those engaged in religious activities, but on all who engage in speculation, including the philosophers. I will here consider the approaches of two main Renaissance philosophers who reflected on vegetarianism: Marsilio Ficino, who first translated sections of Porphyry’s On Abstinence into Latin; and Girolamo Cardano, whose dialogue Theonoston features as protagonist a hermit with strong vegetarian sympathies.