Greyt Inspirations Life

A little about our life, our business and our pets.

Do Animals Have Feelings?

bewitched1I’ve been working on some articles today and I’ve noticed a recurring theme.  I’ve twice had the assignment to write on the subject of whether or not dogs have feelings.  Now, believe it or not, this is something that people have not always agreed upon.  In fact, even today there is disagreement.  I’ll give you an example.

When you go home at night and your dog greets you at the door looking guilty as sin, if you’re a smart dog owner you know right away that something has happened, something that your dog thinks you’re not going to like.  How do you know this guilty look?  Well, your dog may hang his head.  He may not want to look at you directly.  He may slink.  He may try to rub against you to get in your good graces.  He may lick your hand.  Or he may do the total opposite. Your dog may be nowhere to be seen.  He may decide that he’s better off not being there when you come in the house.  Some dogs will even bring you a toy or some favorite object to try to be friends again.

Wouldn’t you say that this is evidence that your dog has feelings?  Your dog knows that you’re not going to like what’s happened and he’s feeling regret about it?  Maybe…or maybe not.  It depends who you ask.  As dog owners we usually put a human interpretation on these actions and say that the dog is feeling guilty for what he’s done.  But is it possible that the dog is just covering his bases?  Maybe he does associate some destruction in the house with your negative reaction and he’s trying to appease you.  But is that the same as feeling guilty?  Not necessarily.  He could be just trying to avoid some negative consequences (yelling, spending time in his crate, a lecture, your bad mood).  So, even though we interpret a dog’s look as “guilt” doesn’t mean that’s what he’s feeling in human terms.

In ancient times philosophers were convinced that dogs did not have human feelings or emotions.  A philosopher such as Aristotle, for instance, believed that dogs, like other animals, could feel sensations — if you hurt them they could feel pain — but didn’t believe that they had the same kind of feelings that humans had.  Remember, though, that in the ancient world emotions were not held in the same regard that we hold them today.  People were encouraged to be much more stoic in general.  For animals to have human feelings or for people to have feelings in common with animals would have been very insulting.  Animals were literally and figuratively considered beast-like and humans were discouraged from sharing any of those traits in common.  Instead, reason and more spiritual qualities were highly regarded — traits that philosophers believed animals did not and could not share.

It wasn’t until about the 18th century that philosophers began to consider the possibility that animals had feelings of the same kind that humans had.  Even then, humans were urged to be considerate of an animal’s feelings and welfare only because to be cruel to animals was believed to foster cruelty to other humans in general.  It became a mark of refinement to be kinder to animals, not necessarily an indication that the person believed the animals had feelings or human emotions.

I think most of us today do believe that our animals have feelings that are very close to our own.  Animals today are raised in a much kinder way than they once were.  It’s normal now for cats and dogs to be raised in people’s homes and socialized with people from the time they’re born.  They’re shown a degree of kindness and affection that’s probably beyond what they were shown in times past.  I think it’s possible that animals today are responding by being more affectionate and by showing more emotions than they formerly showed.  That wouldn’t be surprising since they live their lives more closely involved with people that ever before.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting topic.

What are your thoughts?  Do animals have feelings?  Are they like ours or are they an animal version of human feelings?


July 8, 2009 - Posted by | dogs, Pets | , , , ,

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