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Peikoff: On Pets

Posted: April 11, 2014

Author: Jonathan Hoenig

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Is it Possible to Love an Animal?

By Leonard Peikoff

It is possible to love an animal.  Not like PETA, though, who love animals indiscriminately, but a specific animal.  I would justify on that on the grounds that love, in Ayn Rand’s definition, is a response which is irreplaceable, that nothing else can fill its place.

I’ve had a dog that I’ve felt that emotion for.  She’s dead now, but nothing can replace that.  Now you say “love is supposed to be common values.  What are the common values you share with a dog?”

I’d say, abstractly, we share in common that we’re both striving to achieve life on our own level.  We’re both living it and putting up with the problems and trying to achieve what we want.

Now, on that basis alone I wouldn’t love a human being, but here, with regard to animals, a pet is a substitute friend.

There is an anthropomorphizing element to it.  You are projecting to the dog: he understands, we can communicate, he’s really happy about this, he’s sad, he’s put out or angry, etc.

We can’t say that literally is true, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, because that is the best that we can interpret what we do perceive.

And as long as you know this is not a human being, it is not an error to make that interpretation when there is evidence of some kind of animal equivalent of it.

So I would say, definitely yes, in that sense, you can feel love for a specific animal, a specific that you know, that you’ve come to know, as you can for a human being.  It wouldn’t be as intense or as passionate as for a human being, but it would still quality as love, certainly in my case it did.

Dogs have unique virtues, definite pronounced virtues, that don’t have an exact counterpart in the case of human beings.

Even in (Atlas Shrugged’s) Atlantis, I believe many people would want a pet, a dog, a cat — I certainly would.  It would not be because everybody else there was no good, in my opinion.

You can get distinctive type of thing from an animal. I don’t want to go off into mysticism, but my experience with my dogs has been that they are uninhibitedly capable of love, specifically with me, and vice-versa.

The dogs I’ve had are very, very open.  If they want to be patted, they’ll get up from the middle of the floor, go up, even to another floor, walk over to me and poke me with their head. The meaning is, “OK, now is the time I feel like being patted.”  That’s a common occurrence.

And at the same time, I often feel like coming to them.  It’s like a direct, uninhibited, emotional connection.

One nice side effect is that if you are stroking a dog and suddenly you remember you have to do your homework, you just pick up and go away.  The dog just rolls just over and says, “That’s it, no hard feelings.”  That’s not always the case on the human level.

There are a lot of things you can do with dogs: the games, the play together, the exercise, but that you can do that with humans too.

I think of a dog almost like a 1-year old child.  It’s your child, but you don’t expect full human reaction, but there’s enough of the human, or at least what we can take as the human, to make them a value.

At times I feel as if there’s a special communication, now I don’t mean from God, but between the animal and yourself.

Ayn Rand has said that a pet is a substitute friend and I accept that. But it’s not necessarily a substitute that does not have its own unique, and to me, very important values.

There’s nothing I would not do to keep my dog healthy and happy…nothing.

Excerpted from The Leonard Peikoff Podcast, April 21, 2008 and April 7, 2014.   

1 Comment

  1. John Bolton Galbraith

    In my 60 plus years, I have never been without a dog. Other species come and go, mostly go; cats, snakes, friends, but dogs always stay. Having said this, however, I wonder why Objectivists would need dog – love validated. My dog goes to work with me every day – it seems so natural and I’ve never questioned my need to have it as company and a creature to love. If I didn’t take her, she’d be on the phone to the SPCA!

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