It is the Owner’s Birthday today and we are walking in the Park. It does not seem to be a Celebratory Walk.
Where are the Balloons? I ask.
There are no Balloons, says the Owner mournfully.
Then Happy Birthday! I say with the kind of Exuberance and Generosity that the Moral Dog is hoping will be a feature of his own First Ever Birthday next month. This includes a celebratory leap and a generous helping of Slobber to demonstrate both his Regard for the Owner and to compensate for the Lack of Balloons.
The Owner does not seem Particularly Thrilled. Be quiet, she says, someone might hear.
I look around the vast and empty Park. It is barely six in the morning, I say. There was a bigger crowd around Ozymandias’ vast and trunkless legs of stone, I say. Can your Moral Dog not wish you happiness with Vim and Vigour on this Momentous day?
A Birthday is not something to be Advertised, says the Owner.
Why not? I ask.
Someone may ask how Old I am, says the Owner.
What is the problem with that? I ask.
I do not know what to tell them, says the Owner.
That is ridiculous, I say. You have been around for the whole of your life, I say. Have you lost count? I say.
Of course I have not Lost Count, says the Owner, although I feel I must have missed some numbers out along the way.
I sense that I have touched a nerve, but the Moral Dog is skilled in Soothing the Owner’s Ruffled Sensibilities. Do not worry, I say. I can imagine that, given that you have achieved so vast an age, I say, it would be easy to lose count, I say, but I am sure you have not missed any, I say. You would not be so wrinkly if that were the case, I say. One must make allowances for the failure to remember absolutely every one of your Multitudinous Previous Birthdays, given that you are not getting any younger and your memory is not what it was, I say. Would you like a nice cup of tea and a sit down? I say.
I am now beyond any Coherent Response, says the Owner, surprisingly Coherently for one of her Age.
You are doing Very Well, I say. For your Age, I say.
Argh, says the Owner.
I had forgotten that Elderly Persons often become Crotchety in the Morning, I say. Perhaps we should resume the conversation when you have had a nice nap, I say.
I am not crotchety, says the Owner, and I have only just got up. I do not need a nice nap. I am fifty-nine, not ninety-five.
I am so glad we have resolved that, I say. It just goes to show that your memory is not as bad as it might be, given that you are on the verge of entering your seventh decade. Now we can tell everyone how old you are. Look, there is a Person coming towards us.
Do not say a word, says the Owner. I do not wish to tell this Approaching Person that I am fifty-nine. I still feel twenty-nine on the inside.
Then tell him you are twenty-nine, I say.
Do you think he will believe me? Asks the Owner, and I detect a slightly hopeful tone.
The Moral Dog is nothing if not Astute. He realises what is required here. The Owner is seeking reassurance that she could still, on some level, pass for the Young Person she feels she is inside.
Yet the Moral Dog is also Moral. He follows the views of the Great Philosophers, who recognise that a question like this is layered with Moral Risk and the possibility of Cheese Withdrawal.
How does a Moral Dog reconcile his duty to Honesty with his duty to the Sensibilities of the Owner who would like to pretend to be twenty-nine? Immanuel Kant would insist that the Truth be told as One should never tell a lie, not even to please Another, whereas Aristotle would say the Virtuous use common sense to decide between conflicting duties. Nietzsche would say it depends whether the Owner seeks metaphysical, empirical, relative, or pragmatic truth, and Schopenhauer would say none of it matters because we are all going to die anyway. Hegel believed in Absolute External truth which cannot be altered at Whim by the Moral Dog. Grotius believed a Lie is wrong if the Person has a Right to Truth, yet John Stuart Mill believed one may be Obliged to Lie to create Happiness. Jeremy Bentham would say the End justifies the Means when Cheese is involved so the Moral Dog can say what he likes. None of this encapsulates the Moral Dog’s dilemma.
Well? Asks the Owner.
It seems that none of the Great Philosophers were ever confronted with an Owner who is fifty-nine rather than ninety-five, experiencing a Balloon-Free Birthday in the Park. Perhaps a more Modern Philosopher is called-for. The Moral Dog wants to do the Right thing for his Owner, whilst keeping always to his Own Principles of Honesty and Cheese.
The Moral Dog is not Moral for nothing. Pondering hard, he searches his soul and there finds a reference to a far more recent approach to Moral Problems, the Prime Minister’s Covid Testing Philosophy, in which One does not need to Lie in order to claim the Nonsensical, One just has to find a way to make it True.
The Approaching Person will not question for a Second that you are Twenty-Nine, I say.
Do you really think so? Says the Owner.
Of course, I say. You can explain that you have a terrible ageing disease which accounts for your wrinkled and elderly appearance. You can, in the presence of the right excuse, pick Any Number you Like. He will be completely convinced.
The Owner passes the Person in Grumpy Silence despite the opportunity for Philosophical compromise that the Prime Minister and I have offered.
I expect she is in a hurry to fetch the Cake. Indeed I am greatly looking forward to both Having It and Eating it.
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.