Of Philosophy and Dogs


Apparently today is International Dog Day. This means we have an excuse to talk about dogs.

My dog, Cosmo

So… let’s hear about references to dogs in philosophical works, philosophical examples featuring dogs, philosophical work on dogs, and so on.

Also, for-a-limited-time-only-please-don’t-make-me-regret-this, I’ve enabled the photo feature on the comments here, so if you are a teacher or student of philosophy who has a dog (or dogs), you can share a picture and tell us all about them, if you’re so inclined.

The day was initiated to support the adoption of dogs. If you’re in the U.S., you can learn about shelters, rescue groups and other animal welfare organizations near you here.

Happy International Dog day, everyone!

click to learn more

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Nathan Bauer
22 days ago

How about Socrates on the philosophical nature of dogs (Republic, 375e-376b):
SOCRATES: Now, don’t you think that our future guardian, besides being spirited, must also be, by nature, philosophical?
GLAUCON: How do you mean? I don’t understand.
SOCRATES: It too is something you see in dogs, and it should make us wonder at the merit of the beast.
GLAUCON: In what way?
SOCRATES: In that when a dog sees someone it does not know, it gets angry even before anything bad happens to it. But when it knows someone, it welcomes him, even if it has never received anything good from him. Have you never wondered at that?
GLAUCON: I have never paid it any mind until now. But it is clear that a dog does do that sort of thing.
SOCRATES: Well, that seems to be a naturally refined quality, and one that is truly philosophical.
GLAUCON: In what way?
SOCRATES: In that it judges anything it sees to be either a friend or an enemy on no other basis than that it knows the one and does not know the other. And how could it be anything besides a lover of learning if it defines what is its own and what is alien to it in terms of knowledge and ignorance?Report

Nicholas Denyer
22 days ago

“Cynic” means doggy. The school founded by Diogenes is, I believe, the only school in the whole history of philosophy to model itself upon an animal.Report

Michael
Michael
Reply to  Nicholas Denyer
22 days ago

And Thomas Aquinas’ order — the Dominicans — became known as the “hounds of the lord” as a play on words.Report

Ben B
Ben B
Reply to  Nicholas Denyer
22 days ago

Well, one might say of Diogenes himself: “There but for the grace of ‘I’ go ‘Dog’!”Report

Kevin Powell
22 days ago

Dogs learn through operant conditioning. Does this provide evidence that they possess instrumental rationality?

My work here is done, bye. 😀Report

Kevin DeLapp
22 days ago

Confucius is described (and he himself agrees with the description) as having the appearance of a “tired, homeless dog” (Kongzi Jiayu 22.8).Report

Marc Bobro
22 days ago

A painting of Anne Conway, supposedly, and her dog by Samual van Hoogstraten, c. 1662-1667. Well, wasn’t able to attach the image…Report

Last edited 22 days ago by Marc Bobro
Marc Bobro
Reply to  Marc Bobro
22 days ago

Here it is:Report

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Mark Herman
22 days ago

Justin: The photo feature isn’t working. Clicking the Picture icon opens a File Explorer window, which lets you select a photo but then nothing happens. Thanks!Report

Kristien Hens
22 days ago

Donna Haraway wrote two excellent books on dogs. Iris Murdoch wrote dogs in all of her novel! Mary Midgley talks about dogs.Report

Mark Herman
22 days ago

Reviewer #3: “Glaring omission of squirrels.”Report

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Travis Timmerman
22 days ago

This is Fry, who was born in 2007 and is named after Philip J. Fry of the show Futurama. He might appear to be a dapper gentlemen, but in actuality is a filthy street rat who enjoys eating garbage on walks the second you look away from him.Report

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Jeremy Pober
Jeremy Pober
Reply to  Travis Timmerman
22 days ago

The Futurama episode where they introduce Frye’s dog was written by Eric Kaplan, who is a philosophy PhD.

Coincidence? (Yes, almost certainly)Report

Travis Timmerman
Reply to  Jeremy Pober
20 days ago

Jurassic Bark is the saddest episode of any television series I’ve ever seen.Report

Travis Timmerman
22 days ago

This is Leela, who was born in 2008 and named after Turanga Leela of the show Futurama. She might appear to be a happy and sweet dog (and usually is), though she is also filled with murderous rage and dreams of world domination.Report

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Tyler
Tyler
Reply to  Travis Timmerman
21 days ago

Is Turanga Leela of the show Futurama named after the Messiaen symphony?Report

Travis Timmerman
Reply to  Tyler
20 days ago
Tyler
Tyler
Reply to  Travis Timmerman
20 days ago

Very neat! I remember that show from its (original?) run when I was a kid, but I don’t think I ever knew Leela had a first name; for that matter, I guess I also didn’t know anything about Messiaen at the time either 😛Report

Last edited 20 days ago by Tyler
Sean McAleer
22 days ago

Here’s a snippet from Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit” which suggests that, whatever his views on the problem of other (dogs’) minds, Wittgenstein had a terrible bedside manner:

“Wittgenstein devoted his philosophical energies largely to identifying and combating what he regarded as insidiously disruptive forms of ‘non-sense.’ He was apparently like that in his personal life as well. This comes out in an anecdote related by Fania Pascal, who knew him in Cambridge in the 1930s:

I had my tonsils out and was in the Evelyn Nursing Home feeling sorry for myself. Wittgenstein called. I croaked: ‘I feel just like a dog that has been run over.’ He was disgusted: ‘You don’t know what a dog that has been run over feels like.’

Now who knows what really happened? It seems extraordinary, almost unbelievable, that anyone could object seriously to what Pascal reports herself as having said. That characterization of her feelings — so innocently close to the utterly commonplace ‘sick as a dog’ — is simply not provocative enough to arouse any response as lively or intense as disgust. If Pascal’s simile is offensive, then what figurative or allusive uses of language would not be? So perhaps it did not really happen quite as Pascal says. Perhaps Wittgenstein was trying to make a small joke, and it misfired. He was only pretending to bawl Pascal out, just for the fun of a little hyperbole; and she got the tone and the intention wrong. She thought he was disgusted by her remark, when in fact he was only trying to cheer her up with some playfully exaggerated mock criticism or joshing. In that case the incident is not incredible or bizarre after all.”Report

Lindsay Brainard
22 days ago

This is Frisbee. He lives with me and Keshav Singh. Here he is considering the lobster. He is also very helpful as a teaching assistant. He gives my students reminders and tips on Instagram (@ProfessorFrisbee).Report

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Kevin Timpe
Kevin Timpe
Reply to  Lindsay Brainard
22 days ago

Frisbee is the best.Report

Travis Timmerman
22 days ago

On this day, it’s worth remembering the greatest philosophy book cover of all time.Report

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Deborah Alame- Jones
22 days ago

“To anyone who needs lively entertainment for the purposes of banishing the dreariness of solitude, I recommend a dog, in whose moral and intellectual qualities he will almost always experience delight and satisfaction.” Schopenhauer.
This is Frankie.Report

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Marc Bobro
Reply to  Deborah Alame- Jones
21 days ago

Good quote. Do you know where Schopenhauer wrote it?Report

Duncan Richter
Duncan Richter
Reply to  Marc Bobro
17 days ago

“Ideas Concerning the Intellect Generally and In All Respects,” in Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume II (translated by E. F. J. Payne), page 82. (h/t http://firstknownwhenlost.blogspot.com/2010/05/schopenhauer-dogs-are-preferable-to.html)Report

Jan Arreman
22 days ago

Mark Alizart wrote “Dogs: A Philosophical Guide to Our Best Friends“Report

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Joel Walmsley
22 days ago

This is Myles na gCopaleen; he’s a rescue greyhound who found his forever home here in Cork, Ireland. He heard that philosophers like to ask lots of questions, so this is his best attempt to look inquisitive.Report

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Daniel Whiting
22 days ago

“There is (what I definitely want to call) a game we used to play with my mother’s dog Sophie, in which we would run around a small pond. My aim was to catch her; hers was to avoid being caught […] One day while we were playing this game I slipped as I tried to change direction too quickly on damp grass. Almost immediately Sophie ran up to me. I was unhurt, but she licked my face anyway.
I do not see why this cannot be counted as a case of ‘mutual intelligibility’. The dog could see my distress and I could see her sympathy.” (Simon Glendinning, On Being With Others, p. 42.)Report

Anca Gheaus
22 days ago

I love this book.Report

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Mark Herman
22 days ago

Shoutout to Philosophy of Doggy Cog Sci and Michele Merritt (Arkansas State University):

Minding Dogs
https://ugapress.org/book/9780820359533/minding-dogs/

“Dances with dogs: Interspecies play and a case for sympoietic enactivism”
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10071-020-01468-yReport

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Michele
Michele
Reply to  Mark Herman
22 days ago

Thanks for the shout out Mark! Here is another book I recommend, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5590168-the-philosopher-and-the-wolf (not so much serious philosophy of dogs, but it inspired me nonetheless and is a great memoir of a great philosopher)

Also, I have this article from a few years ago: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10539-015-9501-3Report

Justin E. H. Smith
22 days ago

In 1680 Leibniz wrote a satirical “Request of the Dogs” to the Duke of Hannover, asking him to remove the new pressure cooker recently invented by Denis Papin from the ducal kitchen, as it dissolved the bones that would otherwise have been given to them.

I transcribed it and translated it here:

https://www.jehsmith.com/1/2021/08/leibnizs-request-of-the-dogs.htmlReport

Ian Cruise
22 days ago

This is Gumbo. She is the Form of the Dog. “Love in animals, has not for its only object animals of the same species, but extends itself farther, and comprehends almost every sensible and thinking being. A dog naturally loves a man above his own species, and very commonly meets with a return of affection.” – Hume, T 2.2.12.2Report

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Aaron V Garrett
22 days ago

Creampuff is on the right, here being used to illustrate Kendall Walton’s argument about the transparency of photography versus the opacity of painting in my Philosophy of Film class. Since Creampuff is sadly no longer with us he is also used to illustrate Walton’s idea of photographs as time telescopes allowing us to access the past.Report

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Jason Aleksander
21 days ago

Long before the thought experiment came to be known as Buridan’s ass, there were other ways to play it out. In Dante’s Paradiso 4.1-9, there’s a version that imagines/invokes three examples to explain a fourth example: one man and two foods; one lamb and the hunger of two wolves; and one dog desiring to chase two does. (My dog, whose name is Dante, would have more trouble with figuring out how to chase two squirrels, but that other Dante, for whom my dog is named, needed something that rhymed with fame and brame).

Intra due cibi, distanti e moventi
d’un modo, prima si morria di fame
che liber’ omo l’un recasse ai denti;
sì si starebbe un agno intra due brame
di fieri lupi, igualmente temendo,
sì si starebbe un cane intra due dame:
per che, s’ i’ mi tacea, me non riprendo,
da li miei dubbi d’un modo sospinto,
poi ch’ era necessario, né commendo.

[ Between two foods, equally distant and attractive, a free man would die of hunger before he brought either to his teeth;
so a lamb would stand between two hungers of fierce wolves, fearing both equally, so a hound between two does:
therefore if I was silent, urged in equal measure by my two doubts, I do not reproach myself, since it was necessary, nor do I commend myself. (Trans. Richard Durling) ]Report

Ian James Kidd
21 days ago

David E Cooper, emeritus professor of Philosophy at Durham, recently reviewed some philosophical books on dogs for the TLS:

https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/dogs-joyousness-book-review/

He’s also written a couple of novels whose main character is a Sri Lankan street dog.Report

Last edited 21 days ago by Ian James Kidd
Simone
20 days ago

This is Geist, she has monstrous proclivities, and announced her name by eating a copy of the Phenomenology.Report

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Graham
20 days ago

Don’t forget Chrysippus’ proof that dogs are logical animals!

From Sextus Empericus: “[Chrysippus] declares that the dog makes use of the fifth complex indemonstrable syllogism when, on arriving at a spot where three ways meet, after smelling at the two roads by which the quarry did not pass, he rushes off at once by the third without stopping to smell. For, says the old writer, the dog implicitly reasons thus: ‘The animal went either by this road, or by that, or by the other: but it did not go by this or that, therefore he went the other way'”Report