Sir Isaac Newton – Animal Lover and Vegetarian in Later Life
Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe, England in 1642 and died in London, England in 1727. Newton is considered to be the father of physics and one the greatest scientists to live since the 17th Century. His ideas have become the foundation of modern physics where he is best known for the laws of gravity and the concepts of universal gravitation, centrifugal force, centripetal force and the effects of bodies in motion. He is also considered one of the greatest mathematicians that ever lived and he wrote the book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica that was published in 1687. Newton went on to become an inventor—inventing calculus, the reflecting lenses for telescopes, the anti-counterfeiting measure for coins, the orbital cannon designed to shoot a cannonball, and later wrote his seminal work called the Principia in 1687, considered by many one of the greatest books on science ever written.
Newton was considered to be vegetarian, mainly in the last years of his life. He also expressed deep compassion for animals and was alleged to be a fervent animal lover. He was credited with the invention of cat doors—the special doors or flaps that allow cats to enter and leave a house (Ryder, 1998, p. 15).
A contemporary of Newton’s, the French Enlightenment writer Voltaire, wrote about Newton’s compassion for animals:
“There is in man a disposition to compassion as generally diffused as his other instincts. Newton had cultivated this sentiment of humanity, and he extended it to lower animals. With Locke he was strongly convinced that God has given to them a proportion of ideas, and the same feelings which he has to us. He could not believe that God, who has made nothing in vain, would have given to them organs of feeling in order that they might have no feeling.
He thought it a very frightful inconsistency to believe that animals feel and at the same time to cause them to suffer. On this point his morality was in accord with is philosophy. He yielded but only with repugnance to the barbarous custom of supporting ourselves upon the blood and flesh of beings like ourselves, whom we caress, and he never permitted in his own house the putting them to death by slow and exquisite modes of killing for the sake of making the food more delicious. This compassion, which he felt for no other animals, culminated in true charity for men. In truth, without humanity, a virtue which comprehends all virtues, the name of philosopher would be little deserved.” (Voltaire, Elements de la Philosophie de Newton, 1741, V., quoted in Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet, University of Illinois Press, 2003, p. 145).
Dr. William A. Alcott in his book Vegetable Diet: As Sanctioned by Medical Men and by Experience in All Ages (1869), writes about Newton:
“This distinguished philosopher and mathematician is said to have abstained rigorously, at times, from all but purely vegetable food, and from all drinks but water; and it is also stated that some of his important labors were performed at these seasons of strict temperance. While writing his treatise on Optics, it is said he confined himself entirely to bread, with a little sack and water; and I have no doubt that his remarkable equanimity of temper, and that government of his animal appetites, though, for which he was so distinguished to the last hour of his life, were owing, in no small degree, to his habits of rigid temperance (p. 191).”
Isaac Newton said in his book, Opticks:
“How came the bodies of animals to be contrived with so much art, and for what ends were their several parts? Was the eye contrived without skill in Opticks, and the ear without knowledge of sounds?… and these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent …?” ~ Isaac Newton