Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Dogs as Lovers

dain, in one of our threads, presents the amazing devotion of Bobby as evidence that the difference between human and canine love is only a matter of degree. It is a remarkable story--no matter how embellished it has become--and worth our attention. There are certainly some senses in which dogs can be better friends than other people, and I’m sure many of you will at least welcome an opportunity to speak well of your pets.

Discussions - 26 Comments

My kids loved that Disney version of the story. Both kids are dog nuts. But our dog (a Jack Russell Terrier) is himself nuts. I liked dogs much better before I had kids. Now I appreciate what they do for my kids but, for me, they seem more of a burden than I need sometimes.

I like my dogs just as much as the next guy, but the thought of this makes me laugh. It's a little too Chicken Soup-ish. With that said, I have not yet found the thread of which you speak. Didn't Singer write about this at some point?

What I find eerie is the almost human characteristics on Bobby's face on the statue, particularly the eyes and lips. Creepy.

The thought of what makes you laugh? And yea, they anthropomorphized the statue...more human arrogance (as if a mere dog simply couldn't have behaved the way Bobby did - he must have been different).

Indeed, all mammals, particularly the big-brained kind, are capable of "human" emotions -- such as elephants.

Take that, human chauvinists!

Are you aware of a beautiful essay by E. Levinas on a dog -- and isn't his name in fact Bobby! -- that proved to be "the last Kantian in Germany." Very beautiful account, fully displaying this ethical postmodernist's considerable literary gifts (too often buried beneath technical phenomenology). Collected in DIFFICULT FREEDOM.

Wasn't it Frederick the Great of Prussia who said "the more I know of men, the more I love my dog"? He was particularly fond of Italian greyhounds. As for me, I'm partial to labs.

Our post-modern faculty would find Bobby's irrational loyalty fascistic. However wondrous, and perhaps evidence, pace dain, of a supernatural bond between man and beast (more like in C.S. Lewis), I find contemporary pet worship tiresome, and the substitution of animal bonds for human love pitiful and boring. More evidence of Tocqueville's pantheism!

Dain needs to read Genesis seriously.

Which version of the creation story in Genesis do you take seriously, Robert.

And is this the way human beings in love would act? Wouldn't this be totally neurotic? Aren't human beings both more restlessly unfinished (always) and MORE loving? Wouldn't we show our love by how we lived our lives, by how we loved the rest of our lives?

Now to Dain, I apologize for being so peremptory, but I had to dutifully and lovingly go to the store for steaks (meat!). I mean read it seriously, philosophically, with a guide like Leon Kass. I taught Genesis with his book to liberal arts undergrads last Fall and it was one of the highlights of my teaching career. Athena would approve.

Well, long ago I did take it quite seriously, but less so today. There may be truths there, but they don't prove the case that we are qualitatively different from the animals. Of course, I have no doubt these ancient storytellers believed that, but it doesn't make is true.

As for Bobby's behavior being neurotic, I don't think so. Perhaps he was too simple-minded to find a more productive use of his time, but his devotion to his master was awe-inspiring and instructive. Other than simply staying alive, love and devotion were the most important things to Bobby. Is this not what we are called to by Jesus...the purity of loyalty and devotion to God?

More, isn't Bobby wrong about where his master is (that's another problem, our beloveds are not our masters, are they?)? Aren't his animal instincts misleading? No doubt he's more foolish then neurotic. Power went off for two hours so must attend to the steaks for now.

Well, no. The man he knew and loved went into the ground, and that's where he decided to live thereafter. Maybe we are the crazy ones for believing in things unseen. Bobby was being far more faithful to the world we know.

And, I might add, why do we make such a fuss over gravesites, etc.? We visit them, talk to them...in what sense are we doing things differently from Bobby? (And yes, there are actual cultures who live with their dead...and do you have a stray urn somewhere in the house?).

This is not too much of an unusual thing among dogs. The really do form some sort of very powerful emotional bond with their masters.

There are several stories I have heard from Britain, Japan, and Montana about dogs who used to greet their owners at the train stations when they returned from work. I particularly remember this one story about the man took the train to work and suffered a heart attack and died, and his dog continued to wait for him at the train station every day at the same time for years following his death. Remarkable stuff.

So the Claremontonian teaching is that dogs are really slaves, Dain.

Robert...??? I have no idea what you mean by that last post. Slaves or not, they have emotions, many the same as humans.

Dain,
You say that the book of Genesis may contain truths, but that it does not prove that human beings are qualitatively different from the other animals. Aside from what is within the book of Genesis, would not the existence of the book of Genesis be enough to prove we are qualitatively different from the other animals? Or perhaps the fact that we can argue about the truth of the book of Genesis, would that not suggest some qualitative difference? As far as I have been able to tell my dog doesn't believe in God. But then again he refuses to respond to my questions.

There are first-order and second-order differences between humans and (most) other animals. The first-order differences that really matter are a) greater brain mass, and b) language. The second-order differences follow from this -- written language, technological sophistication, etc.

You may continue to think of yourself as a demigod compared to other animals if you want to, but the differences really are just a matter of degree. Like all other animals, we are born, we consume, we engage in sex, we love our pack/family/clan/tribe, we educated our young, we die, and we decompose. If you remove those things that follow from language and "handiness," our behavioral correlation with the animal world is 99.9.

As for the old ontological argument asserting that our ability to imagine a god proves his/her existence, nonsense. What is far more likely is that our greater brain mass makes us far more future-oriented that other animals (we are able to objectify ourselves in abstracted space & time). Such future-orientation obviously leads to existential insecurities...and of course we therefore recreate the security of the family by manufacturing a sky-father and earth-mother. This allows us to function with less fear of the future (thank you, Malinowski). Nothing much more mystical about it.

So, for my money, lording it over the dog is pretty worthless. Mutual respect is called for, and the recognition of deep kinship. And we don't have to go PETA-crazy; animals, after all, kill and consume other animals. I'm only arguing for less human arrogance and more respect for animals...we are members of their kingdom, regardless of what some ancient scriblers might say.

"If you remove those things that follow from language and "handiness," our behavioral correlation with the animal world is 99.9."

True, but it is this capacity for language/semiotics that is the qualitative difference between homo sapiens and other members of the animal kingdom. It simply cannot be removed. Hellen Keller should not have been able to communicate (the multilateral sharing/exchange of ideas) like most humans, yet she was able to accomplish this.

My dog might have a bad day and even sulk about it, but she has never read/written poetry, painted a picture, confided in another, or put a George Jones LP on the turntable. There is more to love than affection or devotion.

Yes, ladies, George Jones is romantic.

Far from denying that language is the principal difference between man and animals, I admit it freely. It's clearly the truth, but it doesn't suggest that we were "created" apart from the animals, as Genesis suggests, nor does it mean that we "escape" the natural world. We don't, and perhaps in a million years, when our great skyscrapers are nothing but rust stains in the dirt, maybe there will be some species that can appreciate that fact.

I agree with the wisdom of Alan Ratliff, of course, although I must add that George Jones has a curiously canine appearance.

Well, I wouldn't say that language was the primary difference between humans and animals, as we are seeing more and more that some animals have their own forms of language. But, rather, or sophistication of language and, more importantly, what we do with it is what separates us from the beasts-- we can reason, they can not.

Dain, you'll find yourself, or at least your argument, in Thought Experiment I at the end of "Lost in the Cosmos." OK, I'll quote from it: "The modern objective consciousness will go to any length to prove that it is not unique in the Cosmos, and by this very effort establishes its own uniqueness. Name another entity in the Cosmos which tries to prove it is not unique." But I take away all the fun of having gotten to the end so beg all's pardon. With reference to your first query in #8 the correct answer is that both are true and teach complementary things. Genesis, like Plato, repays careful reading with someone liberally educated. Peter always gets to make the cameo appearances with witticisms.

I love dogs because they are loyal...much more loyal that people. I've always been like that myself, very loyal to people. Some of the things people do to one another are just utterly perplexing to me...I'll never understand how people can be so cruel. And you never really know people...you'll know someone for years, you grow to trust them, and then one day you find their daggar in your back.

Taking a break from blogging for a bit. Sorry for the toes I stepped on...sometimes the heat of arguments overcomes my social side. Best wishes to all, and all luck to Ashbrook and NLT.

Well you are right about that. Sorry you are going, you are good for the conversations.....

One thing about pets ... if you die while your pet lives and no one realizes you are dead (ie ... in your home), they will eventually eat you and guess which part of you tends to go first?

The privates!

This thread is probably done, but there is one practical point in the faithful dog stories mentioned. Someone was feeding those dogs. Some person was kind enough, loyal enough, to those dogs that were devoted to someone else to keep those dogs fed every day.


Maybe everyone needs (or ought to take) a blogging break from time to time. Come back when you can, dain.

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