thinking lumps of meat

Rarely can a change of two words in a political agreement have had such an effect. In the European Union’s Treaty of Amsterdam, which came into force in 1999, animals were designated “sentient beings” instead of mere agricultural products. Member states are now required to pay “full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”. No big shakes, you might think. But given the history of western thought, that idea is nothing short of astonishing. Animals have long been regarded as little more than lumps of meat. Aristotle said that animals, like slaves, existed for our use. Aquinas regarded them as mere instruments to whom moral considerations did not apply. Descartes thought they were automata. “There is no prejudice to which we are more accustomed,” he declared, “than the belief that dumb animals think.”

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