The humans are on a research visit to Edinburgh. Yesterday they took me to see a statue of another dog.
I'm sure this dog, who was called Bobby, was very nice. But he was almost certainly one of those dogs who didn't know how to speak or write (unlike me).
It must have been one of those dogs the human philosopher Wittgenstein was thinking about when we wrote,
When I first read this I found it strange, because although I can speak I have never felt anything called remorse. In fact my humans shouted at me once after I'd stolen some cheese, "do you have no remorse?" Then they told me about the difference between things called necessary conditions and other things called sufficient conditions, that language is a necessary but not sufficient condition for feeling remorse (they mentioned Tony Blair in this context), and explained to me what Wittgenstein was going on about.
Wittgenstein is writing about the relationship between language and thought. There is a temptation for humans to think that when they speak they are somehow making something private from an inner, mental, world. This sits very naturally with the idea that the capacity for speech is dependent on the capacity for thought. In his Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein challenged this picture of the relationship between language and thought.
What if things were the other way around, as Wittgenstein hints in the quote above (which is from his Zettel)? What if thought depended on language? This view has gone out of fashion in recent years, and one reason given for this is that it can't explain the thought of non-linguistic animals, like Bobby and my friend Poppy.
But perhaps this is too quick. Thought, in the sense of being able to believe (or hope, or fear) propositions - the meanings of whole sentences, like 'Lola ought not to have eaten an entire round of stilton' - is not the only type of mental state there is. There are mental states directed not towards propositions but towards objects: Poppy desires the food, Bobby misses his master. In fact, this distinction is exactly what Wittgenstein is drawing our attention to in the passage from Zettel. It might be that language is necessary for propositional states but not for object-directed ones, which are somehow built into our lives as animals. Given how important propositional states are in philosophy, this would still be important.
For Katie and Rachel
A few weeks ago, I was at the outdoor market in my home town, helping my humans buy some cheese. At one point, I managed to steal some cheese – and ran off down the street being chased by three humans! Thankfully they didn’t catch me in time.
Unfortunately there’s no photo, because my humans were too busy trying to catch me.
Later, I told them that I hadn’t eaten the cheese. Outrageously, they didn’t believe me! I’ve been reading a human philosopher called Miranda Fricker, and I think this might be an example of what she calls ‘testimonial injustice’. Testimonial injustice is when someone isn’t believed because of the ‘kind’ of person they are. So I wasn’t believed because I’m a dog, and, much more seriously, especially at various points in history and in certain places today a black person might not be believed by the police because they’re black, or (as biblical texts have often been interpreted as saying) a woman’s testimony might carry less weight than a man’s.
Fricker talks about another kind of injustice we often don’t think enough about too: hermeneutic injustice. If a woman is sexually harassed but the culture doesn’t have the concept of sexual harassment, then that’s a kind of hermeneutic injustice: the woman can’t explain why she’s feeling so upset or is so damaged by being ‘flirted’ with at work, and everyone just thinks she’s overreacting or puts it down to women being ‘highly strung’ or emotional.
You can read more about Fricker’s ideas here.
That’s a really bad case, but I think different species, such as dogs and humans, must experience hermeneutic injustices quite a lot of the time. Humans lack concepts relating to dog behaviour, and vice versa, so sometimes we think the other person is behaving badly when they’re not. A dog might be behaving like a perfect dog – in fact, they might be behaving in the best possible dog way by stealing and eating some food – but because humans lack understanding of canine ethics and what it means to flourish as a dog, they think the dog is being a ‘bad’.
Speaking of which, I did eat the cheese, but that’s not really the point.
Mental walkies with Lola,