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.