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Philosophy and the Brutes

Throughout the history of philosophy many of the great minds have pondered the possibility of consciousness among those animals we mostly think the lesser of. I am certain that if you took a census, almost every well known classical philosopher has pondered the question. One of the most famous of these was Descartes where he spent much time concluding that anything other than humans were mindless automata. Check out this and other opinions at the link below.

For our April Thinker meeting I would like to have us consider the status of animals, often referred to as the brutes in philosophy.

Last month I rediscovered this amazing short essay by Arthur Schopenhauer titled On the Sufferings of the World. You can read this in full at the link below:

Or listen to it read to you at this Youtube link:

The latter is quite a nice, comforting half hour.

This essay is stated to be in a group of musings studying pessimism. Now we all acknowledge that poor Schopenhauer certainly could be called a downer but I find this essay to be totally invigorating. As you go through this travail and that travail Arthur desires us to consider, all of a sudden the essay turns on a dime and considers how man in his suffering fares much worse than the brutes. I really want to use this portion of the essay to guide our conversation. He starts off talking about the likely pleasure of living purely in the moment, something many people aspire to, but then it turns into a consideration that there is much more going on here than the philosophers have wondered previously. Consider this paragraph.

It is just this characteristic way in which the brute gives itself up entirely to the present moment that contributes so much to the delight we take in our domestic pets. They are the present moment personified, and in some respects they make us feel the value of every hour that is free from trouble and annoyance, which we, with our thoughts and preoccupations, mostly disregard. But man, that selfish and heartless creature, misuses this quality of the brute to be more content than we are with mere existence, and often works it to such an extent that he allows the brute absolutely nothing more than mere, bare life. The bird which was made so that it might rove over half of the world, he shuts up into the space of a cubic foot, there to die a slow death in longing and crying for freedom; for in a cage it does not sing for the pleasure of it. And when I see how man misuses the dog, his best friend; how he ties up this intelligent animal with a chain, I feel the deepest sympathy with the brute and burning indignation against its master.

I assume Schopenhauer hopes that we might want face some sort of empathy for those we have always thought the lesser of. And should we not also consider that in considering our brutes, we are truly facing a consciousness that is not known or understandable to us but there nonetheless and deserving of more thought. Let us think about this and see where it goes.

As we walk through this, we must think about the modern animal rights crowd that state we simply miss the reality of the worlds these other creatures live in and within that context, what are we to say they are the brutes and we are not. Poor Schopenhauer almost seems to pine for moments where he could live as the brute and enjoy its potentially joyous simplicity.

Of course I write this watching my brutes, two adorable free range house bunnies, run around and play so I am more than prepared to accede that I have really missed the point of it all and maybe we all have. Please come since this topic was chosen by the group at our March meet up. Hopefully we can take it somewhere fun.

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  • deidra

    i tried all kind of ways to rearrange my work schedule, but couldn't make-hope to make a discussion soon

    April 16, 2013

  • bob h.

    Very lively. Everyone shared.

    April 16, 2013

  • Ponce G.

    The meeting was good,I enjoy exchanging point of view in an openminded environment,there is no right or wrong, we just look at the same thing in the different angle.

    April 15, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I work till 815pm would have otherwise made it there

    April 15, 2013

  • Roy V P.

    If we fixed as many problems as we could with our thinking, and we could fix many, we would have less suffering. Roy V

    April 15, 2013

  • Roy V P.

    i see annimals as having as much mind and spirit as humans. They simply leave off everything except the NOW. An angus hefer that couldnt be gotten near to in the field, allowed me to come right up to her when she was having trouble birthing.
    another time, I was sitting with friends on the front porch of a farm house with cows grazing across the field. When one of the cows came across the field to the fence near the house leaving the herd, The farmer jumped up and and ran down and removed an orange stuck in the cow's throat. She would not have come and he would not have been able to get close to her in the field. But she knew that now was the time to surrender and he knew she was in trouble else she would not have sur

    Fifty years ago.
    I watched my little boy who was still crawling, reach out and gently stroke a puppy's face. More amazing, the puppy reached up with its paw and gently stroked the baby's face. It was pure essence on both sides. From my NOT finished bookESSAYS ON LIFE

    April 15, 2013

  • helen d.

    I am so sorry,I work till 7;30 on mondays

    April 14, 2013

  • Ponce G.

    This will be my first meeting with your group,I always consider myself a thinker and this topic sounds very interesting. I'm looking forward to join in the conversation.

    April 7, 2013

    • Brent

      You'll have at least one familiar face to welcome you, <G>

      April 7, 2013

    • Ponce G.

      That's a great comfort, thanks.

      April 8, 2013

  • Pauhl

    I'm looking forward to my first meetup with Tampa Bay Thinkers. It looks like it should be an interesting discussion!

    April 3, 2013

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