Understanding Animals

Philosophy for Dog and Cat Lovers

Lars Svendsen

Understanding Animals

Lars Svendsen

Distributed for Reaktion Books

208 pages | 1 halftone | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Cloth $22.50 ISBN: 9781789141597 Published September 2019 For sale in North and South America only
How do animals perceive the world? What does it really feel like to be a cat or a dog? In Understanding Animals, Lars Svendsen investigates how humans can attempt to understand the lives of other animals. The book delves into animal communication, intelligence, self-awareness, loneliness, and grief, but most fundamentally how humans and animals can cohabit and build a form of friendship. Svendsen provides examples from many different animal species—from chimpanzees to octopus—but his main focus is on cats and dogs: the animals that many of us are closest to in our daily lives.

Drawing upon both philosophical analysis and the latest scientific discoveries, Svendsen argues that the knowledge we glean from our relationships with our pets is as valid and insightful as any scientific study of human-animal relations. With this entertaining and thought-provoking book, animal lovers and pet owners will gain a deeper understanding of what it is like to be an animal—and in turn, a human.
Review Quotes
Frans de Waal, author of "Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves"
"It is funny how often philosophers have been right about other animals, and how often they have been wrong. In this enlightening book, Svendsen takes us through a history of Western philosophical musings, from Wittgenstein’s lion to Descartes’s automatons, comparing them with current knowledge."
Jeffrey Kosky, author of "Arts of Wonder: Enchanting Secularity"
“As knowledge about life, human and otherwise, grows greater and greater, we need a lucid guide through a thicket of questions that emerge when we try to understand animals, including the ones we are. Svendsen is that guide. . . . Clear as always and with a dose of characteristic humor thrown in, Svendsen draws on contributions from all the participant disciplines—philosophy, biology, and zoology, for instance, but also cognitive science and even literature—to address the many questions that arise when we take seriously the importance of understanding animals.”
Scott McLemee | Inside Higher Ed
"Svendsen gives full credit to what he calls 'the amateur's view of the animal' while engaging with, for example, Descartes's notion of the animal as a sort of machine—capable of responding to stimuli but not possessing consciousness as such, which requires language. (No cogito, ergo no cogitation.) A less extreme formulation would insist that we only have certain access to animal behavior; whatever mental phenomena (e.g., emotion, memory, intellect) we may attribute to that behavior can only be an anthropomorphic projection on our part. It is possible to advance such ideas in a public discussion but difficult to maintain them upon returning home to a pet. 'The amateur is, as the word quite literally means, one who loves,' Svendsen writes, 'and that loving view in itself can reveal something that the distanced [view] cannot grasp.'" 
Sarah Murdoch | Toronto Star
"Combines scientific research with the teachings of the great philosophers, particularly Wittgenstein, Kant, and Heidegger, to probe the consciousness of animals, especially the ones closest to us (as well as, unexpectedly, octopuses). Chapters address animal morality, grief, loneliness and more. Readers will emerge knowing more about themselves than animals, and that’s precisely Svendsen’s goal."
For more information, or to order this book, please visit https://www.press.uchicago.edu
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