Shortlisted, NSW Premier's Literary Awards and Age Book of the Year.
How do animals think and feel? Is it mistaken to attribute to them the concepts of love, devotion, grief; even dignity? How can we understand our conception of such things, and what do our relations with animals say about our own humanity?
In this much-loved book, Raimond Gaita investigates such questions through stories of animals he has known and loved, and through the reflections of others. The Philospher’s Dog is moving, sometimes funny and always thought provoking.
‘A fine, intelligent investigation of our relationship to animals and nature in which the analysis of ideas is seamlessly integrated with the poignant evocation of personal experience. Gaita’s writing is deep without being difficult; sincere without being naïve—rare and valuable achievements for a philosopher.’ Age
Offering entertaining animal stories and delicate philosophical reflections on them, University of London philosopher Gaita (Romulus, My Father) begins with stories of animals from his rural childhood (Jack the cockatoo, Orloff the greyhound) and his adult life (Gypsy the German shepherd, Tosca the cat). As the book progresses, the stories become less dominant as serious philosophy takes the fore. On whether dogs feel sensations, for example, Gaita argues (on Wittgensteinian grounds) that "there is no room for serious doubt" that they do. Why we should pay respect to dead animals or care about butterflies and bees; the common "creatureliness" of people and animals; and how someone who loves animals can kill and eat them all are issues that are raised at a leisurely pace. Throughout, Gaita develops the concept of a "realm of meaning" rooted in "the understanding of the heart." Literature, including stories, he argues, affords special access to this realm (and thus provides a rationale for the plan of the book). The premise and pace may lose some readers, and others may be alarmed by Gaita's dismissal of the doctrine of animal rights in preference for "ttachment to animals and a disinterested love of nature." But what comes through most clearly is Gaita's appreciation for "the generosity with which animals give themselves to us... and the grace they bring to our lives."