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Animals and Society Class - Discussion 3

Q: Prompt: How are animals biologically classified? What are the categories? How were animals classified by Aristotle? How is the

medieval bestiary or the Physiologus an example of a sociozoologic scale?


A: The system for biological classification created by Linnaeus in 1735 was a way of grouping animals together based on observed physical traits. Groupings were formed based on things like the way an animal was constructed (e.g. vertebrates/invertebrates), reproduction was accomplished (e.g. mammals/various non-mammals), or what it ate (e.g. carnivore/herbivore). The categories are: phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, species.


Aristotle believed strongly that all animals, and all other life for that matter, were inferior to humans. He constructed a “scala naturae” or “Great Chain of Being” which was a hierarchical invention of fixed categories; placing human beings at the pinnacle of his ever ‘ascending’ scale, which started with insects. His opinion became the authoritative source on the topic for centuries, and still holds sway today. He held that animals were only concerned with procreation and food, yet he also assigned them a certain amount of intelligence in pursuit of those things. While Aristotle asserted that the main difference between humans and animals was in the quantitative amount of a given attribute, especially intelligence, he seemed to consider all similarities to be fundamentally insignificant. Aristotle allowed no space to consider an animal equal to a human – he seems to have been a firm believer in biological determinism and human exceptionalism.


A sociozoologic scale defines animals in relation to their value/benefit to people. The medieval bestiary does something similar, if more esoteric, in relation to the human soul. Within the bestiary is a Western Christian hierarchy of animals based less on the actual physical benefits the animals provide, and more on belief. A lion, for example, is not a particularly useful animal to the daily life of a medieval European, who will most certainly never see one in real life. However, as a symbol of Christ, Christianity, religious mythos, and governance of one’s daily behavior, it is invaluable. The bestiary’s sociozoologic scale is based on a religious worldview more than anything, but it still creating a hierarchy of good/bad animals for the perceived benefit of the eternal souls of humans. It attempted to tell people: lions are good animals; hyenas are bad animals. Be like a lion, not a hyena.



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