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.
Here's me having just chased some ducks along the canal in Saltaire:
Looks fun, doesn’t it? Fun for me, anyway. I’m not so sure about the ducks: they swim away quacking, so maybe they don’t like it as much. Sometimes one of my humans worries about this. One day she mentioned this worry to another dog-walker, who said, ‘It’s not like it’s doing the ducks any real harm, it doesn’t physically hurt them’ and they both agreed. But I wonder if this is the wrong way of looking at things. Why doesn’t it ‘physically’ hurt the ducks if it makes them frightened? The fear involves (physical) adrenaline and causes them (physically) to fly away.
I think part of the problem here is that humans tend to separate everything into ‘mental’ and ‘physical’. The human philosopher Rene Descartes argued reality is actually like this. Although my humans say they don’t believe this, one of them has a shower gel bottle that says that it’s ‘good for your body and mind’, and the other one said of me ‘she has the body of an adult dog but the mind of a puppy’.
I’ve been thinking about how wrong-headed that separation between mind and body is. When I think about bones (which is supposedly ‘mental’), physical things happen in my brain. If I hurt my paw (which gets classed as ‘physical’), I definitely experience suffering or mental displeasure as part and parcel of the pain. So the mental and physical can’t be that separate.
I’ve recently been doing some research into what gets called ‘embodied cognition’, which is influenced by the human philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Among other things, it suggests that actually we develop the kind of intelligence we develop precisely because of the sorts of bodies we have. If I had opposable thumbs but couldn’t run very fast or smell very well, would I think more like you humans? I think it’s telling that our metaphors often seem to reflect our bodily engagement with the world – so people will often talk about ‘growing apart’ from a friend, or ‘getting side-tracked’ from a task.
You can read more about embodied cognition here.
Mental walkies with Lola,