Friday, January 21, 2022

Of cats and humans

We acquired a cat around Christmas. Never having had a pet before in my life (except for a puppy for a few days decades ago), what have I learned philosophically? Maybe this:

All cats by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight they take in their senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when they are not going to do anything, they prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes one know and brings to light many differences between things.

This is, of course, what Aristotle says in the first paragraph of the Metaphysics, except he says it about humans. We tend to think of the pleasures of the mind as distinctively human. But a focus on pleasures of the mind is not distinctively human. Observing and exploring are our cat’s most driving pleasures.

The difference between humans and other animals may lie in the type of intellectual pleasure. Aquinas distinguishes the rightly ordered pursuit of understanding from the vice of curiositas. The main difference is that in the virtuous pursuit, one seeks an understanding of how the world explanatorily fits together, rather than a mere listing of facts of the sort one gets from mere seeing (here’s a tree, here’s a squirrel, etc.).


swaggerswaggmann said...

Nice assumptions that the cat doesn't understand nor try to... but since you, ever so slightly, removed the special pleading Aristotle and religious alike make upon humans, I will let it slip.

Perhaps one day you will notice that there is nothing fundamental at all that separate us from the animals we are, Allah willing.

SMatthewStolte said...

I get the impression that animals are also interested in how the world fits together, but the ‘fitting’ they are interested in is less a matter of explanation and more like a map.

Malik said...

Anti human Utilitarian vegan heretic moment

Malik said...

I’m arguing for an Augustinian Brand of Divine Command theory and am writing a short paper on it.
How do you think this sounds generally(don’t mind the numbering you’re smart enough to get the gist)?

1. Humans are made to desire God and be in relationships with God (this is our Telos/purpose and St. Augustine said this quite often as is this said in scripture hence it is apart of our identity/is meaning that our identity entails a goal)
2. Humans ought to desire God (as it is their proper function/goal for which they are made)
2a. How humans reach this end is through following the divine law (John 14:15)
3. Humans ought to follow the Divine Law

I am fusing such a view with the idea that the Divine Law comes from God’s nature hence I’m attempting to bury the euthyphro dilemma and the ‘is-ought’ problems in one long paper.
Please tell me what ya think about this idea.
God bless

Malik said...

Note: If a person is understood as having a particular purpose, then behaviour can be evaluated as good or bad in reference to that purpose. In plainer words, a person is acting good when that person fulfills that person's purpose. For example, if there is an established understanding of what a desirable student is akin to the idea that a desirable student is one who listens to the teacher then a student can be called good insofar as he listens to his teacher.

Malik said...

Actually allow me to fix this analogy

If a person is understood as having a particular purpose, then behaviour can be evaluated as good or bad in reference to that purpose. In plainer words, a person is acting good when that person fulfills that person's purpose. For example, if there is an established understanding of what a student is supposed to do by the very nature of being a student like listen to the teacher then a student can be called ‘good’ insofar as he or she listens to the teacher.

swaggerswaggmann said...

Isn't that funny that every time a theist make a testable assumptions here, he is wrong ?

Grim for their untestable assumptions...

Malik said...

Considering that you’re likely a western atheist you’re either of the liberal or nihilist brand. There’s literally nothing else in the West.

Malik said...
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Alexander R Pruss said...

1. There is some research that cats--unlike some other non-human mammals--aren't good at cause-and-effect reasoning.

2. I think in some non-human animals we have something intermediate between a map and and the kind of search for explanatory understanding that we engage in. For Thomas, a crucial aspect of our search for explanatory understanding is that we strive to see the explanatory structure of the world as a whole, going all the way back to the answers of the ultimate explanatory questions. I doubt that any non-human animals on earth are engaged in trying to figure out if there is a first cause or what the fundamental laws of physics are.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I am not convinced. We can still raise this question: Hypothetically, suppose a divine law were such that it didn't help me to union with God, should I follow it?

I think we can at least imagine situations where following divine law does not help one to union with God. Divine law, for instance, requires one to provide for one's children materially if one can. Suppose that the only way one can provide materially for one's children is by taking a job such that (a) the job is not morally wrong, but (b) there is empirical data that people who do that job tend to become more callous or in some other way become less apt for union with God?

Malik said...

‘Hypothetically, suppose a divine law were such that it didn't help me to union with God, should I follow it?’

Answering this would have to do with the question of how we know the Divine Law actually leads to God which would deal with epistemology, revelation, possible questions on the nature of sanctification and sin, and the general purpose of the Divine Law itself. As a Catholic, I believe that the normative relationship with God comes through faith and following God’s commandments which come from his church which is the ground of truth hence it at least has something to do with this.

To the latter question, this is a clear dilemma ethically as while the first thing is a moral duty that is apparent to us as Christian then in fulfilling that duty under these circumstances (assuming b’s truth) there are negative effects on the ‘heart’ hence they may cancel one another out in regards to sanctification. While I wonder what kind of non-sinful work could cause such a thing by it’s very nature it would be best to advocate that ‘good work’ is also a thing (as the church does), and if possible, refrain from bad work. Work was decreed as good by God and was made for man but man was not made for work in itself.
The Catechism says:
“2428 In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work.
Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.”

This is an ideal however but I would say that we would need further studies of the ‘heart’ and contemplation upon how it actually relates to our relationship to God. Let’s now assume that (b) is being something like a soldier where you are slaying men in defense of the state(as is my current job while getting my degree in philosophy), then it may be best for us as men to become peace advocates.
While pacifism is upheld as a positive view by the church a standard reading of Romans 13 tells you that the state via the nature of the institution has the right to the sword for the protection of the citizenry. We should note that this authority is likely not a good in itself as preferably the law would never be broken and states would never wage wars. The Divine law also traditionally comes before all laws of men.

We do apparently live in a ‘fallen world’ however so stuff happens.

I would say however that it is best to follow the law still as it’s seemingly good in many respects but bad in one. You can feed yourself, feed your family, and care for them which is good for the human person while the downside is the hardening of the heart that happens. On a consequentialist view I see that this may be overall a good or at least preferable to the possible evils.

Just my thoughts on the matter, not fully put together yet however.

Unknown said...

Don't forget your pet caterpillar. It counts. It might even be in heaven for all we know