I've told you before about my favourite ball, which came with me from the rescue home. The other week something sad happened: I lost my favourite ball whilst I was out playing with my friend. Luckily, the humans bought me another ball, which is my new favourite ball. Here I am with it:
What I like doing most of all with my ball is play The Lola Game with my humans. I tug and pull on the ball, sometimes I make my "raaaa" noise; other times I drop the ball down the stairs and make a human fetch it for me, and then there are those occasions when we simply kick the ball around. Each move follows smoothly from the next; it makes sense to me and I wouldn't have it any other way. Even though I could never satisfactorily woof them at you, I'm quite sure I'm playing by the rules. In spite of that, I sometimes hear the humans complaining to each other that they don't get the rules of my game. "What does she want us to do?" one of them complains. "I have no idea", says the other.
Humans, it seems to me, are not in a good position to criticise me over the rules of my game. You get up to all sorts of things which involve following rules. The languages you use, lacking the noble simplicity of woofing, involve you in all kinds of grammatical and inferential rule-following. Then think about mathematics (I like mathematics: the humans use it to count out my food for the day). Suppose you're counting treats before taking a lurcher on a walk. '2, 4, 6, 8...' What comes next? I suppose you'll probably answer '10', thinking that you're applying the rule 'add 2'. But what would be different up until that point if you were following the rule 'add 2, unless the number to which you're adding it is eight, in which case multiply by a thousand?' How could an observer tell which rule you were following, so as to be able to state it explicity? You see, the things you get up to are no better off than the Lola game.
Of course, you know how to count. There is a certain human practice, adding, that helps you make sense of the world, and you all just get on with it. It's much the same with the Lola game. The human philosopher Wittgenstein raised the difficulty in the previous paragraph, not to make us sceptical about our ability to follow rules, but rather to bring us to realise that we neither need nor have available to us a certain kind of knowledge (a basis for our practices - like counting and the Lola Game - which transcends those practices themselves and the role they play in our lives).
Some human philosophers, like Kripke, have misunderstood this point. I think it's because humans worry too much. They should relax more, stop worrying, and play ball with me.
First thing in the morning, I like to do some stretches. Two of these stretches are known by my yoga-practising human as ‘upward dog’ and ‘downward dog’. Sometimes she does them too, so I do them back to mirror her, as it seems polite.
She wants me to end up doing this with her. But that’s not happening any time soon. Humans!
Using dog stretches in yoga seems like a kind of appropriation – humans are using dog stretches and adapting or appropriating them to their own human ends, such as getting a particular kind of exercise. I’m totally fine with that, and glad that the humans do at least give us credit for the stretches by giving them such good names.
Having lots of friends who’re either Religious Studies scholars or religious practitoners, I’m aware that not all appropriation is that uncontroversial. In fact, yoga is one of the appropriated practices that’s most debated. That’s to do with the difference between historical yoga in the East, and how yoga is represented and used today. Yoga has its origins in very diverse ancient Hindu practices, much of those unrecognisable as what we call yoga today, which were aimed at the reshaping of human consciousness towards some higher goal. But what we now know as 'yoga' in the West came out of nineteenth century attempts to adapt Indian practices to American and European healing movements. So the postural yoga we know today took ancient practices and continued the idea that humans can control and train the mind-body complex, but gave these practices a new purpose: health, beauty and wellbeing.
Today, postural yoga is practised in the West as a health and fitness routine independent of any religious worldview – in fact many people are keen to emphasise that, for them, it’s a physical exercise rather than related to spirituality. That said, other yoga practitioners do see it as spiritual – for example, by regarding it as a universal, eastern-inspired form of spirituality. Some people even adapt it to their own religious tradition, as in the case of Christian yoga, where the yoga is adapted to include exercises designed to strengthen the person’s relationship with Jesus. So people in the West relate yoga to religion and spirituality in different ways: by severing its link to religion or spirituality altogether; by seeing it as a form of spirituality but not religion; by adapting it to a religion other than the one it developed in.
Why would anyone be upset about any of this?
Part of the issue is simply the fact that yoga is misrepresented when people point to common practices in the West and attribute them to ancient India, as though the repurposing for health and fitness and other alterations hadn’t taken place or aren’t important. Much the same is true of other appropriated practices: Native American spirituality, mindfulness, Shamanism, reiki and so on. This misrepresentation seems particularly problematic when the leaders from the cultures doing the appropriating and the misrepresenting are the ones who in the past have harmed the people who are being appropriated – for example, through colonialism – and who continue to hold a dominant position over them. A related problem concerns the fact that these appropriated practices bring in big bucks – and it’s the appropriators, rather than the appropriated, who are getting the lion’s share. Seen in this light, we can begin to see why a Hindu or a Native American might be less than thrilled when presented with a barely-recognisable form of yoga repurposed for fitness and sold at an expensive gym by Europeans, or Native American dreamcatchers sold on high street markets by and to the white people whose society has systematically disadvantaged Native Americans. A final point of contention is that these misrepresentations are often infused with ‘noble savage’ racism: the idea that people in India or Native Americans are set apart from civilisation and so impart particular spiritual insight. This of course is a kind of racism it’s particularly hard to see, because it *looks* like one’s saying something nice about the people – that they’re especially spiritual and uncorrupted or whatever.
Is there a good way to do yoga in the West?
It’s worth saying at this point that there are lots of positive things about contemporary Western yoga. It undoubtedly contributes to many peoples' wellbeing. Many of the people who teach it do so because they want to pass something that’s helped them onto others. Many people are also motivated by ideas that, whether authentically ancient Indian or not, are reacting against unsatisfactory aspects of dominant Western thought. For example, the emphasis on being ‘holistic’ provides an alternative to the ideas that people are purely physical and mechanistic, or else that they can be carved into ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ components. So I don’t think we should lose yoga altogether. But we might want to think about how we can practice it in a more humble, respectful, and religiously or culturally informed way.
The human thinker Edward Said has had good things to say about the social and political issues surrounding how people in the West relate to 'Eastern' culture. You can read him here: Said.
One of my humans works as an equality and inclusion co-ordinator. She says that my blog is neither equal nor inclusive because I don't say much about non-humans. I think this is unfair. I say a lot about squirrels, ducks, and human philosophers. She says yes, but I talk about them, I don't allow them to speak for themselves. The male human is a bit of a lefty and says that I have a typical liberal colonialist attitude. I don't know what this is, but I don't think that I can eat it.
Anyway, they want me to put things right by hosting a guest post by some cats. Cats! This post is by Fritz and Erwin and has been sent across by Rachel.
We are Erwin and Fritz. We are a bonded feline pair, which is not quite the same as an entangled pair, but does mean that we’re not always sure where one of us ends and the other begins. Our humans reckon Erwin does most of the thinking, but it’s possible that they don’t understand how the connection between us works. Like one of our humans, we know a lot about quantum physics – in fact, we have two famous physicists named after us (Erwin and Fritz) – but that’s off topic for this blog.
Anyway, our physicist human doesn’t appreciate feline company while he works, so we spend more time with a theologian. We appreciate her company, and she seems to appreciate ours. She chases the things that she’s interested in (which appear to include footnotes, meanings and arguments); and we chase the things we’re interested in. There’s an old poem about this kind of feline-human working relationship, called ‘Pangur Ban’.
We like this poem because it points out something humans often seem to forget: that not every problem, or prey, matters equally to everybody. And it’s often interesting to ask why this particular problem (or prey) matters now, and to whom it matters.
It’s obvious to us that it’s really important to find, catch and destroy our toy mice. And real mice too, of course. Our humans seem to think our pursuit of toy mice (as well as moths, leaves, shadows, curtains, etc) is a silly game, and our pursuit of real mice is a very bad idea. But our theologian human also seems to think that some of the arguments other theologians pursue are like silly games (to be fair to her, she doesn’t say that much herself, because she gets tired of people making jokes about angels on pinheads) – and some are very bad ideas (you should hear her on the subject of premillennial dispensationalism, or dispensational premillenialism, whichever way round the pair goes).
Cats don’t find the variety of different human pursuits surprising, because we are creatures of habit and place. We suspect that habit and place – call it “context”, if you like – make a big difference to what problems matter to which humans. But humans tend not to notice this. Perhaps they should lift their heads from their own pursuits more often and take time to understand what other people, or even other species, are bothered about, and why. We cats stop and do this frequently – usually after the prey has got away, and while washing our faces.
We even have some thoughts about the “problem of evil”, which some humans are fond of pursuing, and which looks to us like a silly game. We’ve heard that at least one of Lola’s humans agrees with us.
Earlier this week I was talking to my friend Christoph on my Facebook group. We agreed that there was a need for more dogs in human philosophy.
I don't believe in grumbling without doing something about it, so this week I went to the Leeds Centre for Philosophy of Religion seminar. Both of my humans came along too. In fact one of them gave a talk about the human philosopher and theologian Herbert McCabe. Apparently it was based on this paper. (I've encountered a copy of this paper before. It tasted nice).
I was in the slides:
This was the best bit of the talk.
The reason I was in the slides is that McCabe explains his approach to the question whether God exists by talking about a dog called Fido. Many philosophers think that the question whether God exists is a bit like asking whether squirrels exist. You weigh up bits of evidence in favour (you can smell squirrels in the woods) and against (if there were squirrels, I would have caught them), and you make up your mind one way or another.
McCabe thinks that asking whether God exists is different to this. He thinks the question is best understood as being about whether it is sensible to ask why there is something rather than nothing at all. The word 'God' picks out whatever answers this question (assuming it is a good question to ask) and, according to McCabe, we cannot know what that is. The nature of God is hidden from us in this life. I like hiding too.
Whatever you make of this, I expect you'll like the way he introduces the idea:
Supposing you ask 'How come Fido?' You may be asking whether his father is Rover or whether it was that promiscuous mongrel down the lane. In such a case the answer is satisfactorily given by naming Fido's parents. At this level no more need be said; the question is fully answered at this level....
And we can go on from the level of biochemistry, to that of physics and all the time we are asking more penetrating questions concerning Fido and each time we go further in our questioning we are seeing Fido in a wider and wider context...
Now our ultimate radical question is not how come Fido exists as this dog instead of that, or how come Fido exists as a dog rather than a giraffe, or exists as living instead of inanimate, but how come Fido exists instead of nothing" (God Matters, pp. 3-5)
I think I'd like to meet this Fido. But I'd prefer to meet some squirrels even more.
When one of my human friends comes through the front door, I like to greet them with a ritual.
Basically, the ritual involves walking in-between and all the way through the human’s legs three or four times, stopping to have my back patted on the way, and wagging my tail to tell them I’m pleased to see them. I do much the same first thing in the morning, when they come into my kitchen to make coffee.
Does performing a ritual mean I’m religious, or at least doing religion when I do this?
Perhaps an observer would say ‘no’, since there’s no evidence of belief in God here (I have no intention of telling you whether I actually believe in God).
But I think this presupposes religion is a certain kind of thing – and this is a presupposition that emerged from a very particular Protestant Christian, early modern, and colonial, context. Because of the Protestant reaction against Catholic ritual, interiority (an individual’s relationship to God) got prioritised over the more communal and practical aspects of Christianity. Because of the early modern nation states, Christian religion was relegated to the private sphere – allowed primarily as a sort of holy hobby – so that being Protestant or Catholic wouldn’t get in the way of political affiliations and relationships. And because of colonialism, this privatised, individualised and belief-centred view of Christianity was imposed on other examples of what looked like similar kinds of thing – in other words, on to other religions. And so, religions became associated with things to do with what an individual believes – someone belongs to religion x if they believe a certain set of things, usually though not always about supernatural entities.
The problem with this is that not all religions seem to be this kind of thing at all. Buddhism is often cited as example of a religion without belief in God (Buddhists are regarded as religious as they have other beliefs instead). But many religions seem to be much more about practices than beliefs. Judaism is one example of a religion that’s more like this. I’ve recently read a book by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg about his dog, where he discusses another human-and-dog ritual – one that involves a game of hide and seek and hunting for bits of food. As Rabbi Wittenberg relates, his dog Mitzpah:
‘knows when it’s Passover, the festival towards which, in accordance with the biblical injunction to eat no leavened foods, we rigorously remove all bread, biscuits, cereals, pasta and flour-based products from the house. He especially enjoys the ritual of ‘searching for the leaven’, the ancient custom of checking that the house is truly free of all proscribed products. The practice is to search the home by the light of a candle at dusk on the night before Passover for any remaining undiscovered crusts and crumbs. To ensure that the activity is taken seriously, a small bit of bread is consumed in each room prior to the search. In our family, the women generally do the hiding and the men the looking; Mitzpah, who counts among the latter, offers his team a considerable advantage since he frequently sniffs out the hidden pieces well before his humans find them.’
I like the sound of that ritual – and I want to know why doing a ritual like that should count less in terms of making one religious than having a particular set of beliefs.
The idea that non-human animals might be religious has support among some human scholars. For example, James Harrrod gives a ‘non-anthropocentric, trans-species definition of religion’, arguing that chimps experience and express things we would define as religion and spirituality if we saw them among humans – for example, celebratory actions indicative of awe, wonder or fascination when seeing sunsets, waterfalls or fires, and announcements of births and deaths.
Awe and wonder are not the only contenders for a definition of religion that would include non-human animals. As Volker Sommer points out, some groups of chimps eat ants but not termites, while other groups of chimps eat termites and not ants. Both have equal nutritional value – so why don’t both groups eat both? Perhaps eating ants (or termites) for each group is just ‘something that isn’t done here’, a bit like a food taboo in a human society. Might something like a food taboo be what it means to be religious, or to do religion?
I’ve really enjoyed talking to the human Religious Studies scholar Graham Harvey about these things, and some of the really good ideas here are his. You can find out more about them here.
I also loved Rabbi Wittenberg’s stories about his dogs, which you can find in his book Things my dog has taught me about being a better human (2017).
Sometimes, being a good-looking dog, humans say of me ‘he’s handsome’. Then they realise that I’m female, apologise, and say I’m ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’ instead.
These conversations seem to me to be examples of the human confusion between sex (having certain biological characteristics, such as being male or female) and gender (character traits that get associated with sex, such as being handsome, pretty, demure, ladylike, boisterous or brave). Gender is different to sex: it’s socially constructed rather than ‘carving nature at the joints’, and different societies might end up with different expectations to do with gender.
Gender and sex get closely related in most human societies. Human languages are often gendered – so for example in German ‘cat’ is feminine, whereas ‘dog’ is masculine – one of the reasons people often assume I’m a boy. Within some languages some words are not ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ but ‘neutral’, neither one nor the other. People refer to me as having been ‘neutered’, which actually means that I’m female but can’t have puppies. And so, I am female (sex) yet gendered as both feminine (‘pretty’) and also ‘neuter’ – a strange place to be.
I’ve been thinking about whether dogs have gender, outside of human interaction. I don’t think we do – we’re just dogs, some of whom are male and some of whom are female, which leads to differences in our behaviour – but only as far as these relate to our different reproductive systems. That said, it’s possible we do get affected, in our behaviour, by the gendered expectations of our humans. Gender is like that: even though it’s socially constructed, it’s not as easy to get away from or opt out of as one might think. And, although dogs and humans are different species, we share our lives in complex ways. Furthermore, if we dogs do have gender expectations, we might not notice that we do. It’s the sort of thing that can get embedded in our cultures and become part of our day-to-day lives, in such a way that it’s difficult to see it from the inside.
One of the human philosophers I like best on these issues is Iris Marion Young, who wrote a paper about humans called ‘Throwing Like a Girl’. What I love about it, apart from it being about throwing balls (I love throwing and catching my favourite ball), is that Young makes some previously-invisible gender expectations visible, and shows some of the ways they affect us. In ‘Throwing Like a Girl’, she talks about an earlier writer, Straus, who had argued for intrinsic character differences between boys and girls by observing that five year old boys and girls he studied have different throwing styles. While the boys would make use of all the space they had available, stretch sideways and backwards, use their entire bodies, and so throw the ball with force, the girls would remain immobile apart from their arms, make no use of the space available to them, and so release the ball without force, speed or accurate aim. Straus thought this couldn’t be a biological difference because the children were pre-pubescent, and so couldn’t be affected by the presence of things like breasts in the way that they threw. So he thought they must be character differences instead. What’s more, he thought the character differences were intrinsic (a ‘mysterious feminine essence’) rather than taught or acquired, again because of the children’s young age. So, Straus wanted to identify sexual characteristics (being male or female) with gender characteristics (throwing the ball in a ‘boyish’ or ‘more ladylike’ way).
You might think that Young would take issue with Straus’ claim that the boys and girls have different throwing styles, but she doesn’t – she agrees with him. But she disagrees with Straus about the reason why – she wants to pull sex and gender apart, and say that these differences are acquired as a result of social expectations about feminine comportment and motility. In other words, about being expected to move one’s body in a ‘ladylike’ way, and the sense that the world is not as fully one’s own to make use of the surrounding space. Drawing on Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Young says that these and other differences are due to the sense of bodily possibilities our society imposes on us.
I could tell you much more about Iris Marion Young’s article, but I’m being called for a game of ball, so I’ll just leave a link to it here.
There’s no such thing as an individual, just a pack member and her bones. So claimed a famous dog in the recent past.
Both my house and my workplace have four storeys. I think this is rather a lot – in particular, it means that in my house there’s two empty storeys between where the humans sleep and where I do. I much prefer it when we all bundle onto a sofa together. And I think they do too, even if they do claim they get trampled on from time to time.
Unlike dogs, humans often have a curious habit of seeing being separate and self-reliant as a really good thing, even when it’s not even necessary. It’s seen as a sign of strength to be self-sufficient and independent, and competitiveness is seen as a character strength. On the other hand, being reliant on others is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness – often something to be tolerated in others but not really allowed in oneself. Calling someone 'needy' is an insult, and one that is usually applied to females, who get the worst of these kinds of things. Humans often also construe people in a way that assumes this separateness is how people are – so for example they will speak of humans as ‘individuals’ – so that people aspire to self-sufficiency, without even thinking about it.
Actually, not all humans think separateness is a good thing, and the idea hasn't even always been popular. The word ‘idiot’ comes from the Greek word ‘idios’ which means ‘self’ or ‘belonging to the private world’. So somewhere along the line some people must have recognised that being a self-sufficient individual, or trying to be, is not really that a great a virtue.
One of the areas of philosophy that interests me is philosophy of emotion. Because humans tend to be individualistic, human philosophers often look at an individual's’ emotions – what it’s like for one person to be in love, or feel angry, or be jealous. But some philosophy also looks at collective emotion. What’s the difference between an emotion when it’s felt by several people, rather than merely one person? And mightn’t this actually happen rather a lot? Perhaps the emotion feels different if it’s shared – for example, the feeling of grief may be different if it’s not just felt by one person, but shared by a couple, or close family members, or a close-knit community of friends. And that different feeling wouldn’t be just an ‘add-on’ to individual feelings of grief: it would make the grief totally different in the way it feels, through and through. This might be a kind of ‘off-loading’: in the context of grief, the mourners might share the work of grieving with trusted others.
I’ve been very influenced by the work of Joel Krueger on collective emotion (being a human, I’m not sure whether he shares my dislike of individualism). You can find out more about Joel’s philosophy here.
I’m a fan of collective emotion, and also of critiquing individualism (see my earlier post on the human Marx), at certain times - like when it comes to piling on to a sofa with lots of people to watch an emotional film together. All of that said, I’m quite an individualist when it comes to bones.
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.
Sometimes, when I do certain things, such as sit down and offer a human my paw, I get told I’m a ‘good dog’. And other times, when I do other things – like here, where I’m chewing a tasty slipper - I get told I’m a ‘bad dog’.
What do ‘good’ and ‘bad’ mean? They get used in lots of different contexts: the weather’s good when it’s sunny and bad when it rains; an artist or an athlete or a novelist can be good if they paint or run or write things in a skilful way; an action may be called ‘good’ if it’s moral and ‘bad’ if it’s immoral or unethical instead.
Calling me ‘good’ when I give my paw but ‘bad’ when I eat a slipper seems to be an example of the ‘moral’ meaning of ‘good’ and ‘bad’: I’m being praised for one and blamed or told off for the other, which seems like a moral kind of thing. But what do people actually mean when they say someone is being (morally) good or (morally) bad? And what makes something morally good or morally bad?
My humans seem to call me ‘good’ when I do something they want me to, and ‘bad’ when I don’t. This made me attracted to what human philosophers call ‘expressivism’ – the idea that when we use moral language like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ we are only expressing our likes and dislikes. ‘Good’ means ‘hurray!’ and ‘bad’ means ‘boo!’, and that’s the end of the matter. That’s quite different from how other people think of moral language – for example, some people think that if we say ‘stealing bones is wrong’, we’re expressing a belief rather than a dislike, and that that belief might be just as true or false as ‘there’s a jam sandwich on the table’, even if it’s more difficult to tell whether it’s true or not, because we can’t just eat it to find out.
I’ve been wondering whether expressivism is true of all moral language though, and I’m not convinced it is. That’s partly because it makes sense with statements like ‘stealing bones is wrong’, but it doesn’t make sense with some other sentences, such as ‘it is true that stealing bones is wrong’ or ‘Murphy believes that stealing bones is wrong’ or ‘Is stealing bones wrong?’. So, if expressivists think humans who use moral language are being expressivists when they use it, that doesn’t make sense of the way humans speak at least some of the time. So I think I might be an expressivist in relation to being called a ‘good dog’ for sitting when told or a ‘bad dog’ for chewing a slipper – but I’m not convinced I want to be an expressivist about everything.
You can read more about expressivism and that sort of thing here.
I love my humans, but sometimes I get a bit annoyed that they have more things than me. Just now the male one was chopping tomatoes. He gave me one tomato, and all the others - there were more than I could count on my paws - are going to be eaten by the humans. Then look at when we go out for walks:
He has a nice warm coat, thick walking trousers and hiking boots, and I only have my little coat. He says that this is OK because I have fur and he doesn't, but I think that's just an excuse.
The thing that really gets me is this blog. I put in all the hard work, and the humans get the credit. They get lots of likes on their Facebook pages. The other day I heard them talking about something called 'impact', which sounds important. I don't think that it has anything to do with me getting more biscuits though.
Interestingly the human philosopher Marx thought not only do humans exploit dogs (actually he didn't say anything about that, although he did at one point say that in a better society "the beasts too will be free") but that in the current type of human society, called capitalism, humans exploit other humans. It is only by working that humans can add value to things. But by getting other people to work for them, and paying them less than the value of what they produce, a small number of humans can profit at the expense of others. You can find out about this here.
Most humans have to work for others. This means that they - probably you, reading this - are just like me, slaving away at this blog, only for the credit to go to my humans. It's a dog's life.
Mental walkies with Lola,