Charles Darwin suggested that all animals are shaped by the need to compete with other species in order to find an ecological niche in which they can succeed. Kind of like a chair, which you shape exactly to fit. It’s an odd idea, since it suggests I fit exactly the same chair as the unspeakable poodle that stole my ball but let’s run with it for the sake of the metaphor.
Some species, sitting in their special chairs, entered into survival pacts with others. Humans sat in the chair for things with cars and cupboards and cheese custodianship. Dogs sat in the chair for things with leads and noses and cheese desire. There was obvious mutual synergy in a pact.
This can surely not mean that, as the Owner put it in Le Pain Quotidien this morning (in a rather shouty voice), humans nevertheless have one plate, dogs another. Surely the evolutionary pact between dogs and people not only creates one newer, larger chair, a kind of two-seater sofa on which acquisition, storage and consumption of cheese can all proceed in a joint and mutually beneficial manner, but also replaces that ‘one plate each’ idea with one, mutually satisfying plate.
I had merely attempted to demonstrate this to the small human onto whose knee I climbed during breakfast this morning, the chair being rather too small to otherwise share. In my further defence, the human was far too small to eat all the cheese it had been presented with.
The resulting explosion of shouting and criticism was hardly merited. I retired beneath a table to contemplate my injured moral feelings and their moral failings. Darwin suggested that morality evolved as a survival advantage. He said ‘those communities which included the greatest numbers of the most sympathetic members would flourish best and raise the greatest number of offspring.’ I would like to point out to Darwin that dogs are still here, and that my mother had eleven puppies. Eleven.
Who wanted to share? Who’s the moral one now?
Peter Singer, the vegetarian philosopher, suggested that to value some species morally over others only because of the way Charles Darwin designed them is to be speciesist. Being speciesist is WRONG. I like Peter Singer somewhat since he suggested that some dogs are more intelligent than some people, and are therefore just as morally important. However, in my view most dogs are more intelligent than most people – but this depends what you mean by intelligence. Humans base their idea of intelligence on the things they want to do with it, like driving cars, building cold cupboards and hiding cheese, none of which (I would like to add) would have been much good in the Mesozoic Jungle Swamp. Dogs, on the other hand, could outrun a T Rex and also have both both True Philosophy and a nose with the thinking capacity of a University Maths Faculty. I may not be able to tell you the length of the hypotenuse even if you give me the angles, but I can see it and smell it and whilst you are still working it out I’ll have caught a rabbit at the far end of it.
I bet Peter Singer has a dog.
Immanuel Kant, who clearly did not have a dog, claimed that having the capacity for reason was the defining feature of moral agency. This would suggest that not only am I a moral agent (obviously), but so too is the small screaming human. Yet only one of us has the ability to determine multiple aspects of personality through one single sniff at the bottom. The other of us screamed as if he would starve to death just because I ate his excess of cheese. It was clear there were no evolutionary two-seater sofas and shared plates in that cafe, for all the survival pacts in London.
I am trying not to be speciesist. But it’s really hard.
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.