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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.


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Published: Random House Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780307541949
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To gain some idea of what this book is like, I suggest reading the two epigraphs. One is a somewhat turgid paragraph by Cora Diamond saying, well, I'm not sure what she is saying. The other is a charming line from the Kato Indian creation story: “God went forth to create the world, and he took his dog with him.” Gaita himself says that he is trying to combine philosophy, without making it popular, and storytelling. He anticipates that the reader will find some of the philosophy difficult; that is certainly true in my case. I generally don't have a great deal of use for philosophy, and I don't know if I would have checked this out if I had read the introduction first. He seems to assume a certain basic level of knowledge of philosophy. He has deliberately ignored empirical studies.The pages in which he discusses Wittgenstein (pp. 60-64) could have been blank for all I got out of them after three readings. I have no idea why the passage that Gaita quotes is so revolutionary. It would have helped if it had been clear whether Wittgenstein and Gaita are discussing people. animals, or both. Four readings have not enabled me to make any sense of the sentence; “Think of us as inflected, so to speak, in interacting responses to the forms of the living body's expressiveness.” Perhaps it means that we are naturally inclined to read and respond to body language, but I wouldn't count on it.His method of argument is to assert what he believes, insist that all right-thinking people agree, and denigrate anyone who disagrees, as in this example (p.205): “People can argue about where to draw the line in a situation like that, but I know of no one whose dog would be treated as the equal to a seriously sick infant. If someone did treat their dog like that I would not think of them as a pioneer of ethical thought, but as someone whose sentimentality made them wicked.” Not just wrong, but wicked. He doesn't bother to make a logical case for his idiosyncratic preferences and I can't see any overarching, guiding principles. As a result, even when I agree with him, I don't think that he has offered some profound insight or some persuasive language that reinforces the point of view.One of my problems with philosophy is that it is so often divorced from reality. Gaita writes at some length about the rituals surrounding death, who they are for, and if they are appropriate at the death of an animal. He seems to utterly miss the the point that probably most human beings who ever lived have believed in an afterlife, and that the obsequies can affect that afterlife, or placate the now dangerous spirit of the dead, or persuade them to shower benefits upon the living. This is in addition to their value as displays of wealth and laudable piety. These sorts of things are illustrated at the end of Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood. Nnu Ego's son, who has been in America for a number of years and has neglected his mother, goes into debt to give her a lavish funeral that wins him the praise of the friends and family. They, in turn, expect that Nnu Ego, pleased with such a pious son (for what could one want more than a lavish funeral?) will grant children to her living relatives. In addition, ritual can tell people what is appropriate at a time when they are stressed and confused, and helps them through the mourning process. Some people do give their pets funerals, although not usually as elaborate as human funerals, out of a need for ritual to help them let go. The reader who doesn't enjoy the philosophy may enjoy the animal stories, but frankly, there are plenty of those other places, so I don't think that those alone make the book worth readingmore
While Raimond Gaita has an engaging enough style of writing, this book was a bit of a disappointment to me. I only got a C+ in Intro to Philosophy in college 40-some years ago, so a lot of his references to Descarte, Wittgenstein and Sorenson were just way over my head. I mean I could sorta follow his reasoning when he went off on these tangents, but I didn't really find it all that interesting, so I skimmed over those parts. And I'm glad I did, because when he did talk about his dogs and other pets, or about other books featuring dogs, I found his text very interesting. Was most pleased to see him cite J.M. Coetzee and his novel, Disgrace, which is a favorite of mine. And when he writes about his father, it gets even more interesting. Wish I could snag a copy of Gaita's memoir about his dad: Romulus, My Father. Unfortunately it seems to be out of print and only available used from Australia. I was made aware of The Philosopher's Dog by a brief reference to Gaita in Ted Kerasote's bestseller, Merle's Door. Although there's some rather tough slogging from the philosopher's end of things here, this is a book worth reading. - Tim Bazzett, author of the ReedCityBoy trilogymore

Reviews

To gain some idea of what this book is like, I suggest reading the two epigraphs. One is a somewhat turgid paragraph by Cora Diamond saying, well, I'm not sure what she is saying. The other is a charming line from the Kato Indian creation story: “God went forth to create the world, and he took his dog with him.” Gaita himself says that he is trying to combine philosophy, without making it popular, and storytelling. He anticipates that the reader will find some of the philosophy difficult; that is certainly true in my case. I generally don't have a great deal of use for philosophy, and I don't know if I would have checked this out if I had read the introduction first. He seems to assume a certain basic level of knowledge of philosophy. He has deliberately ignored empirical studies.The pages in which he discusses Wittgenstein (pp. 60-64) could have been blank for all I got out of them after three readings. I have no idea why the passage that Gaita quotes is so revolutionary. It would have helped if it had been clear whether Wittgenstein and Gaita are discussing people. animals, or both. Four readings have not enabled me to make any sense of the sentence; “Think of us as inflected, so to speak, in interacting responses to the forms of the living body's expressiveness.” Perhaps it means that we are naturally inclined to read and respond to body language, but I wouldn't count on it.His method of argument is to assert what he believes, insist that all right-thinking people agree, and denigrate anyone who disagrees, as in this example (p.205): “People can argue about where to draw the line in a situation like that, but I know of no one whose dog would be treated as the equal to a seriously sick infant. If someone did treat their dog like that I would not think of them as a pioneer of ethical thought, but as someone whose sentimentality made them wicked.” Not just wrong, but wicked. He doesn't bother to make a logical case for his idiosyncratic preferences and I can't see any overarching, guiding principles. As a result, even when I agree with him, I don't think that he has offered some profound insight or some persuasive language that reinforces the point of view.One of my problems with philosophy is that it is so often divorced from reality. Gaita writes at some length about the rituals surrounding death, who they are for, and if they are appropriate at the death of an animal. He seems to utterly miss the the point that probably most human beings who ever lived have believed in an afterlife, and that the obsequies can affect that afterlife, or placate the now dangerous spirit of the dead, or persuade them to shower benefits upon the living. This is in addition to their value as displays of wealth and laudable piety. These sorts of things are illustrated at the end of Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood. Nnu Ego's son, who has been in America for a number of years and has neglected his mother, goes into debt to give her a lavish funeral that wins him the praise of the friends and family. They, in turn, expect that Nnu Ego, pleased with such a pious son (for what could one want more than a lavish funeral?) will grant children to her living relatives. In addition, ritual can tell people what is appropriate at a time when they are stressed and confused, and helps them through the mourning process. Some people do give their pets funerals, although not usually as elaborate as human funerals, out of a need for ritual to help them let go. The reader who doesn't enjoy the philosophy may enjoy the animal stories, but frankly, there are plenty of those other places, so I don't think that those alone make the book worth readingmore
While Raimond Gaita has an engaging enough style of writing, this book was a bit of a disappointment to me. I only got a C+ in Intro to Philosophy in college 40-some years ago, so a lot of his references to Descarte, Wittgenstein and Sorenson were just way over my head. I mean I could sorta follow his reasoning when he went off on these tangents, but I didn't really find it all that interesting, so I skimmed over those parts. And I'm glad I did, because when he did talk about his dogs and other pets, or about other books featuring dogs, I found his text very interesting. Was most pleased to see him cite J.M. Coetzee and his novel, Disgrace, which is a favorite of mine. And when he writes about his father, it gets even more interesting. Wish I could snag a copy of Gaita's memoir about his dad: Romulus, My Father. Unfortunately it seems to be out of print and only available used from Australia. I was made aware of The Philosopher's Dog by a brief reference to Gaita in Ted Kerasote's bestseller, Merle's Door. Although there's some rather tough slogging from the philosopher's end of things here, this is a book worth reading. - Tim Bazzett, author of the ReedCityBoy trilogymore
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