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Sept 17th. Tails and happiness.

The Owner says she can tell that I am a Happy Dog since happiness correlates with many intuitively relevant dog variables, particularly tail wagging. It is true that I was, for example, extremely happy when I saw the Owner this morning, as I am a Dog of small bladder and although I bear it nobly there comes a point when simply being released onto the gravel is pure joy. It is also true that my tail was wagging at the time. But a Dog is a complex creature. The mere movement of my tail cannot possibly convey the depths of my emotional state.

She says that her prior knowledge of Other Dogs suggests otherwise. I find this somewhat insulting, since it implies I am merely one amongst Other Dogs. Is my happiness to be determined from some kind of anecdotal Dog Average? Is one dog nothing more than a small cog in a collective dog entity, lacking individual thoughts, needs, aspirations or moral personhood? Does she subscribe to some sort of Marxist-utilitarian approach to interpreting the feelings of dogs? And what’s it all for anyway? George Orwell said that we can only be happy when we do not assume that the object of life is happiness. And we know what he thought of Marx.

She says she doesn’t have to be George Orwell to know a Happy Dog when she see one. She can get a broad idea of my happiness from looking at my tail, and she says that’s a fact.

What good is a broad idea? You can get a broad idea of the weather forecast from looking at the sky but it can still rain. If your dog was, for example, fluffy, then standing on two legs and waving the other two endearingly might appear to be a sign of happiness. Yet Another Dog, one of Deeper Thought and Less Fluff, might wave his legs simply to indicate a wish for cheese. Measures of happiness may tell you which groups of dogs are happy, while being completely wrong about the individual dog. And what is happiness anyway? Does she mean relative happiness or absolute happiness? I may be relatively happy when I empty my bladder but only absolutely happy when subjecting Caspar to (mild) chewing. And even that rush of joy may be as transient as the morning dew.

It seems to me, either way, that it is for me to determine what happiness is. Besides, an Owner really interested in her dog’s happiness would spend rather more time in the compost heap and rather less in the coffee shop petting Dogs who are Fluffy.

It is odd, though, that when I happen to be happy the tail will not stop wagging.

Categories: dignity dog dog philosophy

Hergest the Hound

I am a dog of many thoughts.

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