Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Fishing with Plutarch

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Fishing with Plutarch

Article excerpt

Dr Culum Brown of Macquarie University, Australia, has been doing some research on fish, and concludes that they are intelligent, live in social communities (etc) and generally display 'behavioural and cognitive sophistication'. Dr Brown's research would seem to have consisted of reading the 2nd Century AD essayist Plutarch.

In a treatise on the cleverness of animals, Plutarch stages a debate between the pro-animal and pro-fish lobby. Aristotimus, for the animal lobby, states that all living creatures have many human qualities. They demonstrate capacity for purpose, planning for the future, memory, perception, emotion, care for their young, gratitude, courage, sociability, continence, self-control and bigheartedness. He proceeds to prove this with reference to animals.

Phaedimus, for the fish lobby, argues that, since fish have no contact with humans, they cannot learn their behaviour from them. It must be innate. Their superiority is shown in a number of ways. They deliberately make themselves extremely difficult to capture; the sea bass actually throws off the hook by swinging its mouth from side to side to widen the wound. …

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