Can We Really Be Friends With Dogs?

Reviewing Gary Borjesson’s Willing Dogs and Reluctant Masters, Diana Schaub suggests it’s possible. Reaching back to ancient philosophy, she points to one reason why – the “spiritedness of dogs”:

This spiritedness, which the Greeks called thumos, is the key to their higher capacities. According to Plato, spiritedness figures in our souls as well, situated between appetite and reason. In the well-ordered human soul, spiritedness allies itself with reason in order to govern desire (as when you muster your willpower to keep to your wise New Year’s resolutions). Aristotle says that spiritedness “is the capacity of soul by which we feel affection,” and also anger, for spiritedness is quick to defend what it loves against attack or injustice. Spiritedness can lift the self out of its narrow confines, expanding the boundaries of “one’s own.”

Thumotic individuals will risk their self-preservation for the sake of larger goods:

one’s property or territory, one’s family, one’s fellows, even intangibles like dignity and honor that have become integral to one’s self-conception. Spiritedness is precisely the dog-like part of the soul: loving, loyal, and fiercely protective. Because spiritedness is only fully itself when “it stands in a twofold relation, above appetite and below reason,” Borjesson concludes that wolves and higher primates are at best “proto-spirited.” Of the brute creation, only dogs — by virtue of their alliance with us — can experience the spiritedness that listens to reason and rises above the promptings of pleasure and pain. Dogs become ethical beings through their capacity to pay attention, to care about praise and blame, and to obey. While not themselves rational, they are willing to follow our lead. Man and dog together instantiate the tripartite soul.

Recent Dish on friendship here, here, and here.