The author of Straw Dogs, famous for his provocative critiques of scientific hubris and the delusions of progress and humanism, turns his attention to cats—and what they reveal about humans' torturous relationship to the world and to themselves.
The history of philosophy has been a predictably tragic or comical succession of palliatives for human disquiet. Thinkers from Spinoza to Berdyaev have pursued the perennial questions of how to be happy, how to be good, how to be loved, and how to live in a world of change and loss. But perhaps we can learn more from cats--the animal that has most captured our imagination--than from the great thinkers of the world.
In Feline Philosophy, the philosopher John Gray discovers in cats a way of living that is unburdened by anxiety and self-consciousness, showing how they embody answers to the big questions of love and attachment, mortality, morality, and the Self: Montaigne's house cat, whose un-examined life may have been the one worth living; Meo, the Vietnam War survivor with an unshakable capacity for "fearless joy"; and Colette's Saha, the feline heroine of her subversive short story "The Cat", a parable about the pitfalls of human jealousy.
Exploring the nature of cats, and what we can learn from it, Gray offers a profound, thought-provoking meditation on the follies of human exceptionalism and our fundamentally vulnerable and lonely condition. He charts a path toward a life without illusions and delusions, revealing how we can endure both crisis and transformation, and adapt to a changed scene, as cats have always done.
Former academic Gray (Straw Dogs) takes an unconventional, not entirely successful, feline-focused work to exploring a wide array of philosophical concepts, from morality to death and the afterlife. Gray writes that he believes cats have more to teach humans about life than most modern philosophers (whose work Gray memorably describes as "the practice of elucidating the prejudices of middle-class academics"). This intriguing premise falls flat, though, as Gray spends considerable space on such philosophical heavyweights as Montaigne and Spinoza rather than on elucidating "the nature of cats, and what we can learn from it." Gray does entertain with his anecdotes of cat-inspired thinkers, such as Samuel Johnson, who, tormented by lifelong depression, admired cats' capacity to "spend much of their lives in contented solitude." Elsewhere, Gray describes novelist Patricia Highsmith's great sympathy for animals, which extended to once declaring that "if she could discover who docked the tail of a local black cat she would not hesitate to shoot them and to kill.' " However, this intermittently witty and intriguing work likely won't be enough to keep cat-loving readers from prowling elsewhere for more satisfying insight into their four-legged companions.