Today I had lunch with my friends, Florence, Lucy and Suzie, at the Abbey Inn at Kirkstall.
Here are Florence and I at the pub.
Seeing my friends put me in mind of the human philosopher Epicurus, who lived in ancient Greece around 341 – 270 BCE. Epicurus was pretty keen on friendship. While not usually prone to poetic language, Epicurus says that ‘Friendship goes dancing round the world, announcing to all of us to wake up to happiness’. That’s certainly true of my experience of friendship: I’m very, very happy when I see Florence, and like to dance around and bounce at everyone to show it.
Epicurus is perhaps best-known today for his ethical theory, hedonism. Hedonism is the idea that pleasure is the highest good and the proper aim of a good life. When we think of hedonism we often think of sayings like ‘eat, drink and be merry’. We might also think of activities like driving fast cars, going to lots of parties, or taking lots of drugs. But Epicurus’ hedonism was very different – he wouldn’t have thought it a good idea to eat a lot, or take drugs, or go to parties at all. In fact, Epicurus’ hedonism is more likely to involve quite calm activities like catching up with old friends.
Why is this? The pleasures Epicurus most valued were long-term ones: he thought it was better to cultivate strong, loyal friendships and to spend time with one’s friends than to experience short-term pleasures but have the pain of regret later. He also thought that a lot of the things we desire are in fact unnecessary. The best thing to do with these unnecessary desires is to train oneself to stop desiring them. That way, thought Epicurus, we can have a greater degree of self-sufficiency, which leads to freedom from want and pain. So Epicurus would approve of me seeing my friends, but he probably wouldn’t approve of me desiring to eat a delicious kebab that someone had dropped on the pavement on the way home.
Lots of people have thought happiness is the highest good, but Epicurus is slightly unusual in identifying the highest good with pleasure. Given that he wasn’t a hedonist in the usual sense, what was behind Epicurus’ high evaluation of pleasure? Epicurus observed that everything we do, from puppyhood onwards, involves seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Even acts that seem altruistic, thinks Epicurus, are ultimately things we do for our pleasure. For example, we might give to charity or recycle bottles or go on a protest ultimately because these give us a certain kind of pleasure. This observation, he thinks, shows that this is what it’s natural and good to seek. In arguing this, Epicurus moves from a descriptive claim (about what people do) to a normative claim (a claim about what they should do, or what it’s good for them to do).
I agree with Epicurus that pleasures such as seeing friends (and, I would add, sharing their lunch) are good. I also agree that, all things being equal, we should try to avoid pain. But are these really the only or highest goods? I’m not convinced about this. I’m not even convinced by his descriptive claim that everything people do does come down to seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. What are we to make of cases where people give up their lives for a cause they believe in? Or even give up their lives for their friends? If someone gives up their life they die, so they’re not around to get pleasure from having given up their life in the first place.
Interestingly, Epicurus does talk about these kinds of cases: he says a wise person would die for their friend rather than betray them. How does he square this with the claim that one’s own pleasure is the highest good? It’s not totally clear, though some people have pointed to a few things he does say that might be relevant to the question. He says that if a wise person betrayed their friend rather than dying for them, they ‘would be confounded’. He also says that friendship begins with utility or usefulness, but is a virtue ‘for its own sake’. Perhaps Epicurus felt that the good of friendships is so great that even if I initially make friends for my own sake, ultimately I come to value my friends for their sakes or for the sake of the friendship instead. I’m not sure this is really consistent with Epicurus’ hedonism, but I like him the better for thinking it.
On the way back from the pub we had a walk in Bramley Fall Woods and along the canal. Here I am running across the Locks and playing with a very squeaky ball. I wonder what Epicurus would have made of pleasures like these.
I've been busy recently (there are so many good walks near where I live, and the smells are good at this time of year). But some, um, feline acquaintances of mine offered to write a post for my blog. So here it is.
Fritz: Today we’re going to discuss feline distinctiveness, by which we mean in particular, the distinction between cats and animals.
Erwin: Non-feline animals.
Fritz: If you insist.
Erwin: I think it’s important to keep reminding ourselves that we are animals too. We’re trying to challenge gatocentricism here.
Fritz: You are. I still think it’s important to hang on to a sense of the distinction between cats and – other animals, if you like. Otherwise centuries of feline thought and practice will cease to make sense.
Erwin: Well, I disagree. But I know that my questioning of the cat-animal boundary sometimes bothers you.
Fritz: You wash humans.
Erwin: I acknowledge humans as fellow creatures and I accord them the basic respect of washing. It’s become increasingly clear to me that all the special qualities we used to attribute to cats are present, in some way, in many other animals. I don’t think we can maintain that strong distinction any more. Take reposefulness, for example, which is traditionally seen as a feline distinctive, and which I know you’re particularly attached to.
Fritz: I am as it happens. It’s an important part of my spiritual life. And I do think repose is at the heart of what makes us feline. It’s a core characteristic of cats. As far as we know, cats in all geographical and cultural contexts attain repose. As kittens develop, we watch them grow into reposefulness. Cats are most truly feline when they are in repose.
Erwin: Well, some of that you might be able to find evidence for, and some of it’s mere assertion – I know you will say, common sense.
Fritz: Theology as well. In repose we are united with ‘the ineffable effable / effanineffable / deep and inscrutable singular NAME’.1 It’s very deep in feline tradition, you have to acknowledge that.
Erwin: But that doesn’t change the fact that we can see something like reposefulness in at least some other animals.
Fritz: Not in most animals. I mean, mice, birds, dogs…
Erwin: Well indeed, though to be fair the conditions under which cats observe them might have something to do with that. But humans. I’d argue that humans appear to experience reposefulness. For example when they sit in armchairs and look at books or screens. Some cats report quite impressive success in training humans to be reposeful, under certain conditions.
Fritz: But it’s secondary, derivative reposefulness. Nobody’s saying that feline distinctiveness means we are nothing like animals. But you can’t possibly argue that the human sitting in a chair staring at a screen is just the same as a reposeful cat.
Erwin: Now, this is the problem I always have with you feline-distinctiveness cats. False dichotomies. Straw cats, even. Of course I’m not saying that humans are just the same as cats. I’m saying that this dividing line between cats and other animals, in which you seem to have so much invested, is much fuzzier than you think. If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you wanted to keep that dividing line in place so that you could continue exploiting humans and other animals for your own ends. I mean, you mentioned kittens; now if you compare a well-domesticated adult human and a young kitten, can you reasonably claim that the kitten is more reposeful than the human? And yet presumably you would want to say that the kitten is truly feline…
Fritz: Well of course. The kitten has the inherent potential to become reposeful. It is naturally oriented to reposefulness. I really don’t think that argument’s going to work for you. But I admit I have my doubts about reposefulness as the key marker of feline distinctiveness. It doesn’t seem to me to say enough about our distinctive feline embodiment. I’m interested in some recent research…
Erwin: You’re keeping up with the research? You’re not as reposeful as I thought.
Fritz:…that focuses on cats’ distinctive embodied relationship with our environment – our in-place-ness, the way we instantaneously perceive and orient ourselves to a space. It’s even linked to something as basic, as obviously distinctively feline, as upsidedness2 – I mean I assume even you wouldn’t deny that upsidedness is a feline distinctive…
Erwin: I’m assuming you include large wild felines? Although I don’t think anyone has tried dropping a lion from a height of several metres.
Fritz: I’m happy to take “feline” broadly for this purpose, though I know that’s a matter for debate. Upsidedness, anyway – that’s an ordinary everyday physical characteristic of cats – but you could argue that it’s one of the features that shapes our distinctive way of knowing and relating to the world. We fall on our feet, so we are always already instantly oriented in our surroundings…and that is the root of our special feline in-place-ness that sets us apart from animals that habitually fall out of place.
Erwin: It’s an interesting idea. But I’m still worried about the underlying gatocentric assumptions of the whole project. Why are we, or why are you, so concerned about the feline distinctives? I mean, suppose that humans could have this discussion, they’d presumably be talking about human distinctives and how they made humans obviously special and how wonderful it was that humans had evolved them…
Fritz: Human distinctives like what?
Erwin: Like, I don’t know, opening packets of cat food. It doesn’t matter. My point is, all animals have evolved distinctive features that might be seen as perfections. Possibly even as reflections of the Ineffable Effable, if you want to put it that way. Why spend so much time thinking about the feline ones? Unless, as I said, our real aim is to justify continuing to exploit humans and other nonfeline animals.
Fritz: You do realise that you’re never going to persuade me to start washing humans? But I’ll go as far as to agree to put this dialogue on a dog’s philosophy blog. And you have to admit that that’s a big gesture.
Highlighting the importance of language for the way we think, the human philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein asked: ‘A dog can look forward to seeing his master. But can he look forward to seeing his master next Wednesday?’. My humans – who think I’m merely an ordinary dog – seem to spend a long time wondering what my mental life - my thoughts, emotions, and so on – are like. ‘What does it mean for Lola to ‘think’ rolling in fox poo will make her a better hunter?’, they ask in vexed tones. I also wonder: even if most dogs did speak a language, given that dogs’ lives are so different from humans’ lives, would anything dogs say make sense to their humans? Wittgenstein seems to have something similar in mind when he says, ‘If a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand him’. Perhaps, in spite of our shared lives, the same is true in relation to humans and dogs.
Language is of course essential to narrative and to story-telling, and so telling a story from a dog’s perspective is particularly challenging. Can justice be done to the otherness of dogs in relation to humans through a story? Or should a dog’s mental life be translated into human thoughts and emotions, so that humans – whose imaginations are rather limited – can understand dogs’ lives by analogy to their own?
With these questions in mind, I greatly enjoyed reading a new novel by the human philosopher David Cooper - Street Dog: A Sri Lankan Story. Cooper adopts the latter, more analogical, approach, while drawing attention to specifically canine ways of experiencing the world – ‘the world was, above all else, a great lattice of smells’ – and while highlighting things of value and importance to dogs – food and security, but also companionship and affection, especially the companionship and affection of humans. This way of conveying a dog’s mental life is of course less demanding for the reader, and so allows other elements of the story to come through – life as a street dog in a Sri Lankan city; in remote countryside; in a monastery; in a domestic setting. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka and I’ve never been a street dog, but it seemed quite natural to imagine myself there and to understand the excitement and the dangers faced. I also liked Street Dog because in it we see the profound effects of human fear, neglect and cruelty – but also of human kindness, warmth and generosity – on dogs’ lives. Although I love reading philosophy, this is something stories can do in a way academic philosophy cannot – rather than telling us a fact (such as: ‘human kindness affects dogs’ lives profoundly’), stories instead show us the fact. Stories can do what academic philosophy often can’t because stories can show us that the effects of human kindness, or cruelty, or generosity, or whatever, are ‘like this’.
Street Dog is Cooper’s first novel, but he’s well qualified to write on the topic. He’s lived and spent time in Sri Lanka and continues to visit there, taking part in humanitarian projects. The story brings together a broad range of philosophical topics he’s written on, including humans’ relationships with non-human animals, ethics, and Buddhist aesthetics and attitudes to nature. And importantly, he’s known and lived with various dogs over the course of his life. As is characteristic of Cooper’s philosophical work, Street Dog is wise and humane. Being a great philosopher doesn’t necessarily make someone a great story-teller, but Cooper is adept at both. I found myself sad to reach the end of the story – but happy to learn that a sequel is afoot.
If you want to get your paws on a copy, you can find the Kindle edition here. Alternatively, if you don't mind paying for the postage from Sri Lanka, you can buy the paperback edition here.
Here’s a picture of me over Christmas, pondering the insurmountable gulf between dogs and their humans while looking down into the Yorkshire village of Staithes:
And here I am again, with some humans, examining Rievaulx Abbey and pondering the passing of time and the frailty of creaturely existence while the humans posed for a photo:
Later I was given a squeaky armadillo, and was less ponderous after that.
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.
I like to dip into my humans’ research interests, so recently I’ve been reading Johann Hari’s new book, Lost Connections: Understanding the Real Causes of Depression. Hari mentions lots of points already noted by other people, arguing that depression is caused by social factors (such as poverty or forced migration) rather than biological factors (such as genes or differences in people’s brains). For example, following Richard Bentall and many others, he notes studies that suggest that for a lot of people anti-depressants are only as effective as placebos, and so probably function as placebos, and that the ‘brain chemistry imbalance’ theory of depression has not in fact been proved, and yet is still perpetuated by pharmaceutical companies, doctors and others.
Hari’s position has been put forward by quite a few people, usually towards the left of the UK and US political spectrum. And being on the left of this spectrum you might think I’d be inclined to agree with Hari. He and others are reacting to a significant problem with mental health treatments in our society: that the ‘bio-psycho-social’ model of mental illness has become, in some medical and other contexts, the ‘bio-bio-bio’ model. As a result of this, antidepressants are seen as ‘the’ solution, to the exclusion of psychological (e.g. talking) therapies, and to the detriment of addressing the social problems (e.g. poverty, breakdown of communities, casualisation of work contracts, sexist treatment of women, homophobic treatment of gay people, and so on) that play a large part in mental illnesses such as depression.
I agree wholeheartedly we need to address these social problems, and that they play a significant role in depression and other forms of mental illness. So, why am I not a fan of Hari’s? One reason is that he continues the polarisation of ‘biological’ and ‘social’ factors already present in the ‘bio-bio-bio’ model. Either mental illness is purely biological, or else it is purely social. But people aren’t like that: they’re both biological and social. One of my humans loves cheese – that’s probably a biologically-based love of salty things, and being brought up and living in a culture where cheese is regarded as delicious thing.
Another reason I’m not a fan is that people arguing for this position tend to over-state the evidence. There is evidence for a significant role of placebo in anti-depressants. But there is also evidence that the role of placebo is less than originally thought by the researchers (so there’s now evidence pointing in both directions - though it's agreed that at least some of the effects of anti-depressants are placebo) – and evidence that anti-depressants are genuinely effective for people with severe rather than only mild or moderate depression. So a ‘social-social-social’ model such as Hari’s is as dangerous as the ‘bio-bio-bio’ model it’s reacting against. While the ‘bio-bio-bio’ model deflects our attention away from social problems, the ‘social-social-social’ model overstates some evidence, and discourages people from taking tablets that, while ineffective for some, may be effective, life-transforming and even life-saving for others.
There are other problems with the ‘social-social-social’ model too. One is that it assumes that a treatment for something must correspond to the cause of the illness or problem – and so, for example, anti-depressant tablets won’t work unless the cause of depression is biological but not social. But that’s something that needs arguing for, and is not obviously the case. Perhaps someone's bad experience in their workplace causes them to have low serotonin levels, which drugs then correct.
Another is that the social-social-social model suggests that humans are social (they are!), but at the expense of their biological natures. Humans are different to dogs, say, but both are animals – they are both social and biological creatures. Denying this fact (something humans try to do quite a lot) puts people under significant stress and pressure to somehow transcend or deny both biological and social aspects of their nature.
My humans have written something on this for Labour Briefing. You can read it here.
On another note, I’m providing a link to a page to donate to Whitby Dog Rescue, who looked after me and found a home for me when I was very little and again when I was a year old. They have a lot of dogs they’re looking to rehome – including another Lola (it is the best name, after all). They’re run on a shoe-string, so if you’re able to give them anything to help them feed the dogs while they’re there, whatever you can give would be much appreciated and made good use of.
Although I'm a professor of dogic, I've not had much to say about it so far on this blog. This is partly because I've been busy helping the humans with their strike, and partly because I've been pre-occupied chasing squirrels.
Now that the leaves are returning to the trees, the squirrels are finding it easier to hide, so I have more time to think about my subject. Here I am being thoughtful:
I've been thinking about one of my favourite arguments:
But there's a problem. Imagine a sceptical cat came along (cats tend to be sceptical). The cat says to you "how do you know that it's time for your dinner?" I go through my argument using modus ponens. But the cat says, "fine: but how do you know that the conclusion is true if the premises are true?" I woof that modus ponens is valid. "But how do you know that?" I insist that if the premises are true the conclusion must be true, and that if this holds that form of argument is valid. This does hold, so the form of argument is valid.
"Aha", says the cat, "you've used modus ponens to justify modus ponens: if the conclusion is true when the premises are the argument is valid; the conclusion is true when the premises are, so the argument is valid. But I wanted to know whether modus ponens is an OK form of argument to use, so your justification does nothing to persuade me."
Lewis Carroll, who wrote the Alice books, once told a story about a tortoise which is quite similar to mine about the cat. You can read it here. Myself, I don't think I can answer the cat, and I don't think that I need to. Using modus ponens to reason is just part of what it is to follow the rules for using the word 'if', accepting modus ponens goes hand in hand with understanding 'if'. And as I've said before, I don't think we need to provide a philosophical account of rule-following, for cats or for anything else.
Since moving in with my humans in the Aire Valley, I’ve often been asked about my history – as a rescue dog, it’s often assumed I was taken away from abusive or neglectful owners. Sadly in many cases this is true. In my own case, the situation was a bit different. I was originally bred as a hunting dog, and then given as a present to the breeder’s girlfriend. She thought I was a bit of a
handful, and sent me to the rescue centre. All this happened before I was 5 weeks old.
Since living with my current humans and working in Leeds, they’ve become more aware of the relationship between dogs, health, and other aspects of well-being. As well as improving my humans’ wellbeing, generally and with respect to specific mental health issues such as depression, bipolar and autism, I’m training to become a therapy dog so that I can join the other University therapy dogs in offering mental health support to students and staff. My humans have also volunteered with other local rescue centres, which both look after homeless dogs and cats, and also provide food-banks for people unable to feed themselves and their pets – often humans choose to feed their pets rather than themselves, so dog food donations help both dogs and humans. And I’ve also made friends with a few people in Leeds who are homeless, who say how much they’d like a dog for companionship and safety, but who are unable to afford the adoption fee or cost of feeding and keeping a dog.
Dogs in rescue centres can be there for a number of reasons, including that their owners are ill, mentally or physically, or else can no longer afford to keep a dog. Being unable to keep your dog is also likely to contribute to mental health problems, since it removes a buffer for mental health problems, and increases alienation and loneliness. Homelessness offers one example of the way in which poverty and mental health problems can go hand-in-hand, and also of how these things both affect and are affected by things like an ability to have a dog, even though we don’t normally associate these things with dog ownership.
On 7th July, my humans and I are doing the Muddy Dog Challenge in aid of Battersea Dogs’ Home. Battersea takes in over 7,000 dogs and cats a year, and accepts all dogs and cats, even old or ill ones who are less likely to be adopted. It helps to find new homes for dogs who can't live with their original humans, and reunites dogs to humans who have got lost. If you’re able, it’d be brilliant if you can sponsor us. You can find a link here.
Last week, I was interviewed by the Beeb about the strikes. Here I am, with the TV cameras making some pretty persuasive points. When the Six O’clock News came on though, they’d cut me out, and only included one of the humans saying that she thought that if there was a pensions deficit, it should be redressed with the Vice Chancellors’ enormous salaries. Cutting me out was a missed opportunity, in my opinion.
In contrast, the Guardian got it right, and put a picture of my friend Rosie on the front page.
Who could refuse Rosie pension biscuits?
One of the things the BBC cut out from my human's interview was that the deficit only needs to be redressed in this way if we accept that there is a deficit. That this point wasn’t made is part of a wider trend for the media to represent the pensions dispute in the following way:
As Tom Stern and Luke Fenton-Glynn point out, the sensible response to this situation would be to say to the workers: “Well, of course you don’t want to lose £10,000 per year in retirement. Who does? But, if the money’s not there, the money’s not there.”
But the fact that there’s a deficit is far from obvious or certain – deficits are not just like overdrafts, where you can quickly check whether you’re overdrawn or not. Instead, that there is a deficit is based on speculation about the future, and of course the future is really hard to gauge. The alleged deficit in the pensions dispute is based on some really unlikely speculations – for example, that a number of major universities will simultaneously go bust.
Stern and Fenton-Glynn draw an analogy here to the possibility that there might be a ‘food deficit’ in your cupboard. If the shops maintain usual opening hours, or there are people who will deliver, there’s probably no reason to worry about your supplies. But if there’s a big emergency – say a nuclear war – then it’d turn out you had a food deficit because you didn’t have enough cans to tide you over till crops could be regrown or aid supplies sent. But you probably haven’t invested all your money in building a nuclear bunker and filling it with cans – in fact, someone who had might be considered ‘recklessly cautious’, or just plain silly.
On the subject of silliness, I like pretending there’s an imminent crisis, and burying my bones so that I’d have a good supply. But I think this is probably an example of a useful or fun fiction or pretence. Human philosophers have sometimes understood all sorts of things as a bit like this: from mathematics to religion, possibilities, talk about morality, and even dogs writing blogposts. Whether or not they're right (silly humans - as though it's not true that 2+2=4, or that I write this blog) it's an interesting position. Perhaps I’ll it about that another time.
In the meantime, you can find Stern and Fenton-Glynn’s great piece about the pensions dispute here.
The humans have been on strike. This means that I have been spending even more time with them. The more I do this, the more I realise how odd they are.
One of the ways in which they are odd is that they don't understand that I'm a highly intelligent dog. So they try to talk about me without me noticing. They say things like "shall we give the dog another biscuit?" rather than "shall we give Lola another biscuit?" They even sometimes use different names for me. Sometimes they call me 'Patch'. You can see why if you look at this photo of me as a puppy.
So I have two names: 'Lola' and 'Patch'. Now here's a puzzle. Do these two names mean the same thing?
You might think that they do. They are both names for me. Their use in human language is simply to refer to me; it's as though each of these names points at me verbally. And that is all they do. They don't give you any information about me. They just refer to me. 'Lola' is a name for me, so is 'Patch', so they mean the same thing. This is how the human philosopher John Stuart Mill thought
You might think this is silly. After all, doesn't the name 'Patch' give you some information about me, that I have beautiful patches around my eyes? It's important not to get confused here. The patches around my eyes might explain why the humans called me 'Patch' in the first place. But it doesn't seem obvious that it is part of what the name means that I have patches around my eyes. After all, somebody could call a dog with no patches 'Patch', perhaps as a joke (think about 'Little John' from the Robin Hood stories). Or perhaps I will lose my patches as I grow older; I'd still be Patch, because Patch is who I am.
So maybe 'Lola' and 'Patch' do mean the same. Now, here's the puzzle: if two words mean the same thing, I ought to be able to swap them over in a sentence without changing what that sentence says. But look at this sentence:
If you accept this line of reasoning, it would be a good idea to come up with some account of how 'Lola' and 'Patch' mean different things. Frege tried to do this with his theory of Sense and Reference. Myself, I'm not so sure. I often find myself thinking that humans just aren't very good at knowing what their words mean. Some humans just don't realise that the words 'Lola' and 'Patch' mean the same thing, just like other humans don't realise that my feeding bowl is empty.
There is nothing I like more than spending time with other dogs, playing and discussing the problems of philosophy. Here I am this morning:
Dogs are pack animals. We do not like to be alone. I don't think that humans really like to be alone either, but they sometimes give the impression that they do. I've written about this before. The sad fact that humans can so easily become fragmented and isolated from each other can be seen very clearly in the way they organise their work.
The human philosopher Marx wrote about alienated labour, about the fact that the way humans work in capitalist society separates them from things in a way that is damagaing to them. Marx thought that workers under capitalism are alienated from the objects of their work, from their human nature, from the natural environment, and crucially from each other.
Think about it like this. I am a dog philosopher - I don't really think of this as a job. It's more who I am. I philosophise with other dogs and with my humans; I pour out my thoughts on this blog, and it comes as naturally to me as woofing or chasing a ball. Philosophy, for me, is like play. If I was a human philosopher, I would do my philosophy in exchange for money for a university run - as they are these days - like a business. This would set me against other humans. I would compete with other human philosophers for scarce jobs, and however magnanimous I tried to appear, this would affect the way I interacted with them. I think this competition can make human philosophers aggressive (you should see some of the referee reports my humans get from journals) and always out to prove themselves. It would give me a strange relationship to students - unlike the excellent relationship I have with readers of this blog, I would have a kind of supervisory, sometimes even disciplinary, role towards students who, because of the fees they are paying, would be tempted to regard themselves as consumers: they would be constantly anxious about exam results, debt, their future..., I would be anxious about their feedback, the prospects of complaint... Then, of course, I would be set against my employer who, whatever the rhetoric may be, have an interest in spending as little money on me as possible. So, for example, Universities UK are plundering the pensions of the human philosophers they employ. Which is why they, along with other human academics and academic related staff are on strike tomorrow.
Strikes, I think, make humans more sensibly dog-like. They bring people together. On a picket line, students can stand alongside their lecturers. Those who teach students have to appeal to them for solidarity, engaging as equals. Strikers learn from each other. People support one another: workers, students, supporters. At events like teach outs - I'm appearing in one at Leeds - education becomes something done for its own sake, not for exams, not for money, simply for the joy of it: it becomes like philosophy done my way. The silly divisions humans make around sex, sexuality, race, and religion seem not to matter when they are all fighting together for their rights. For all the sacrifices they involve, strikes are exhilirating experiences, they show us a way of doing things differently (as a character in the film Made in Dagenham puts it, they "show us how things could be"). And, of course, they are an excellent way of standing together against injustice: in this case the plundering of pensions by those penny-pinching Vice-Chancellors.
However I worry about humans. I spend a lot of time with human academics. The way they work is isolating and individualistic, very un-doglike (and, in actual fact, very unlike how human philosophy was done classically, in academies, market places, and debating chambers). It will be all too easy for them over the coming weeks to shut themselves away and get despondent, to think they have no prospect of changing things, to convince themselves they are damaging their students (which is of course, what university managers want them to believe: students meanwhile are themselves incredibly supportive of the strike), and generally to talk themselves into defeat.
The solution to loneliness - and all of this is just a sophisticated, politicised, form of loneliness - is, as dogs have long realised, coming together. So I think that human philosophers should join in strike activities: come to picket lines, take part in teach outs, organise benefit gigs and so on. And I think other humans should support the strikers. You can find out how to do that here. In doing this, you'll not only be helping future elderly philosophers (this raises interesting questions about the metaphysics of future humans: I might write about this some time), you'll also be protesting against a society that turns everything, including education, into a commodity. Just remember, for dogs philosophy is like a game.
Mental walkies with Lola,