Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Caninology: The Wonderful, Philosophical Dog

One question more concerning the questionability of Plato's Republic: In what way is this text a caninology? That is, how does the dog serve as a model or image for the guardian?

In Book II at 375a Socrates begins to list the characteristics needed in those charged with guarding the city. He asks, “Do you think that, when it comes to guarding, there is any difference between the nature of a pedigree young dog and that of a well-born youth?” Both needs keen senses, speed to catch what it see, and strength in case it has to fight it out with what it captures. Also, both need courage. What is it that produces courage in the dog? Spirit. The spirit is invincible and unbeatable; its presence makes the whole soul fearless and unconquerable (375b). Socrates continues: the best dog like the one best suited to be guardian is to be gentle to its own people and savage to it enemy. The dog and the guardian will have a bipolar nature with a proper measure of both gentleness and high-spiritedness. And then at 376a Socrates gives dogs the highest praise possible: in addition to being spirited, the guardian must be philosophical like the dog. Even more importantly, the dog elicits wonder from the philosopher.

Now wonder is not a throwaway term in Greek thought. In another dialogue by Plato, Socrates tells Theaetetus at 155d, “For this feeling of wonder shows that you are a philosopher, since wonder is the only beginning of philosophy.” In the Metaphysics, Aristotle will repeat this claim. Aristotle says, “It is through wonder that men now begin and originally began to philosophize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raising questions about the greater matters too, e.g. about the changes of the moon and of the sun, about the stars and about the origin of the universe. Now he who wonders and is perplexed feels that he is ignorant … therefore if it was to escape ignorance that men studied philosophy, it is obvious that they pursued science for the sake of knowledge...” (982b1).

Because it judges anything it sees to be either friend or enemy based purely on whether or not it knows that thing or person, the pedigree dog will serve as analogy to the guardian. The wonderful, philosophical dog, Socrates declares, is indeed a lover of learning, a lover of wisdom. The dog, then, is the model, the image, the paragon, the ideal philosopher. We merely need to pattern the education of the guardian on the model of how we train our dogs (376c). In Book III at 404b (1041), Socrates concludes that the “warriors need a more sophisticated kind of training [than the kind of regimen prescribed for male athletes. The athletes seem to sleep their lives away, never daring to deviate from their regimen. The warriors, however,] must be like sleepless hounds, able to see and hear as keenly as possible and to endure frequent changes of water and food, as well as summer and winter weather on their campaigns, without faltering in health.”

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