Cats and the incorrigible species

An actionable manifesto to build a better future
February 17, 2021

Cats and the incorrigible species

Feline Philosophy: Cats and the… by John Gray, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, US $24.00, Pp 122, November 2020, ISBN 9780374154110

Our struggle to be happy usually brings about little joy to us. We continuously struggle to understand how to be happy, how to live a good life, how to be loved and how to live in a chaotic world. Our constant struggle leads us nowhere. An overwhelming majority of humans lead sad lives. On the other hand, most animals live happy lives. Perhaps, cats are the happiest among animals. In Feline Philosophy, Professor John Gray argues that we can learn how to be happy more from cats than from the philosophers.

Prof Gray says that cats have no use for philosophy. Obeying their nature, they are content with the lives they have. In humans, on the other hand, discontent with their nature seems to be natural. With periodically tragic and farcical results, the human animal never ceases striving to be something that it is not. Cats make no such efforts. Much of human life is a struggle for happiness. Among cats, on the other hand, happiness is the state to which they default when practical threats to their well-being are removed. That may be the chief reasons many of us love cats.

Prof Gray says that the source of philosophy is anxiety, and cats do not suffer from anxiety unless they are threatened or find themselves in a strange place. For humans, the world itself is a threatening and strange place. Religions are attempts to make an inhuman universe humanly inhabitable. Philosophers have often dismissed this faith as being far beneath their own metaphysical speculations, but religion and philosophy serve the same need. Both try to fend off the abiding disquiet that goes with being human. Some people will argue that cats do not practice philosophy is that they lack the capacity for abstract thought. Instead of being a sign of their inferiority, Prof Gray argues, the lack of abstract thinking among cats is a mark of their freedom of mind.

Prof Gray says that when people say their goal in life is to be happy, they are telling you they are miserable. Thinking of happiness as a project, they look for fulfillment at some future time. They present slips by, and anxiety creeps in. Posing as a cure, philosophy is a symptom of the disorder it pretends to remedy. Other animals do not need to divert themselves from their condition. Whereas happiness in humans is an artificial state, for cats it is their natural condition. Unless they are confined within environments that are unnatural for them, cats are never bored. Boredom is fear of being alone with yourself. Cats are happy being themselves, while humans try to be happy by escaping themselves.

This is here that cats are most different from humans. As Sigmund Freud understood, an uncanny sort of misery is normal for being human beings. Prof Gray says that therapists may equip people to live less uncomfortably with their human beings, but they cannot rid them of the unrest that goes with being human. This is why so many humans love being with cats. Ailurophiles are often accused of anthropomorphism – the practice of attributing human emotions to other animals that lack them. But cat lovers do not love cats because they recognize themselves in them. They love cats because cats are so different from them. They interact with us and may in their own way come to love us, but they are other than us in the deepest levels of their being. Having entered the human world, they allow us to look beyond it. No longer trapped within our own thoughts, we can learn from them why our nervous pursuit of happiness is bound to fail.

Cats have been part of human life since always, but Prof John Gray tells us how little we know about our centuries-old companion. Gray argues that cats can teach us how to live good life, but the reader is likely to wonder if humans are ready to learn from cats. Many readers may conclude that the mirage of good life is actually not achievable. Prof Gray has been talking about what good life means to him, but he elaborates the concept in detail in this volume. This is an amazing book on cats and what they can teach us about life even if we do not want to learn from them. More than cats, it will teach you about human nature. It is a very enjoyable and exciting read – particularly for animal lovers. You may dislike cats, but you will surely like Feline Philosophy.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *