The philosopher Raimond Gaita has always been fascinated by animals– their obvious intelligence and disturbing brutality, their uncanny responsiveness to our moods and needs, the deep feelings they elicit from us and seem to return. In this marvelous, luminous book, Gaita trains the lens of philosophy on the mystery and beauty of the animals he has known and loved best. The Philosopher’s Dog is one of those rare works that engage the heart from the very first paragraph and haunt the mind long after one has finished reading.
What does Gaita’s dog, Gypsy, think about while she sits on her mat gazing out to sea for hours on end? Why did the irascible cockatoo Jack greet Gaita’s father with kisses each morning but bite everyone else? How can we acknowledge that animals are sentient and yet deny that they have consciousness? Is it possible to love animals and still eat meat? In contemplating questions like these, Gaita weaves together personal stories–inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking accounts about the animals he and his family members have sheltered–with the reflections and analysis of a professional philosopher.
A graceful, engaging stylist, Gaita is perfectly lucid as he grapples with great thinkers through the ages–from Socrates to Wittgenstein, Descartes to Hannah Arendt. And yet, as important as formal philosophy has been to him, Gaita frankly acknowledges that he has learned much about the nature of life from Gypsy and Jack and his courageously arrogant cat Tosca. In the end, he argues that love should be the essence of our bond with animals, the critical factor that guides how we treat them and think about their place in our world.
In pondering the meaning and morality of his relationships with animals, and with the natural world more generally, Raimond Gaita has created a surprising masterpiece, a book of startling insights, spellbinding stories, meticulous observations, and wise reflection. At once engrossing and thought-provoking, The Philosopher’s Dog is a supremely enjoyable book.
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."