Love, friendship, and animals

I recently had a very brief exchange regarding love, friendship, music – and how these are exclusively human qualities. Some disagree. I will explain why it is necessarily so that these concepts, amongst others, apply only to humans:

When comparing animals and humans, it’s essential to make sure we define our terms and be explicit about what we mean and what we are talking about. Of course, we should always be this specific if possible, but especially if the debate is emotionally-loaded, which discussions about animals always tend to be.

Let’s briefly look at the nature of humans and animals, metaphysically. Biologically, humans are animals – but we are not just physical lumps anymore than we are disembodied brains. We are fully integrated entities of body and mind; there is no division or dichotomy between the two; there need not be a conflict either, but that is another topic.

When comparing humans to animals from a mental perspective, it’s important to bear in mind how our minds work. All animals receive sensory data directly from their environment. Humans are no different. We perceive. The difference for humans is that we form these percepts into concepts. In the words of Ayn Rand: “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition. By organizing his perceptual material into concepts, and his concepts into wider and still wider concepts, man is able to grasp and retain, to identify and integrate an unlimited amount of knowledge, a knowledge extending beyond the immediate concretes of any given, immediate moment.”

This isn’t how animals think. This is why comparisons between humans and animals shouldn’t be made by the “sliding scale” perspective, with humans much further along than animals. It isn’t the degree of intelligence or comprehension involved, it is the entire order of consciousness that is different. This is because sensory data is organised by concepts in a human mind and integrated into knowledge, either new or additional. The process of identification of sensory data, concept formation, and knowledge integration requires a faculty that only humans possess: reason.

It is the human capacity, nay, need, for reason that makes higher level concepts only applicable to us. This isn’t a denial of the intelligence of some animals, or the apparently affectionate behaviour they display, but it is a reality check that the many concepts we take for granted, like love, and friendship, and music – require a profound intellectual and rational appreciation in order for them to have any meaning.

One might use the words love and friendship casually with regard to their pets or animals in general. They might even use the words interchangeably, as the context alone is enough to clarify the meaning. But when comparing these concepts between humans with animals, let us be absolutely clear what we are talking about.

Love, friendship, respect, admiration are the emotional response of one man to the virtues of another, the spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure which one man derives from the virtues of another man’s character.” When you love another person, either romantically or platonically – you have a profound appreciation for that person’s life – and the place it plays in yours. It requires a deep understanding of WHO they are; WHAT they are like, what they value or don’t, what they themselves love and what they hate; HOW they view the world, how they view you; their morals and their ideals, and WHY. When speaking of a the feelings of a brain-damaged or retarded person, it would be a misuse of the term “love” here compared to a healthy rational individual who says he loves another person. When you are in love with another human being, to even begin to compare the depth of respect, admiration, even worship – one holds for that person, and transpose that concept onto the mind of an unreasoning creature, like a vegetable or animals – is a gross distortion of the real meaning of the word.

Incidentally, this is why love is not blind, nor irrational. Love is the most logical, rational, selfish thing one can ever experience. To deny this is to cheapen it, to make love a string of candy to be passed out to strangers, or a pint to be bought casually for a co-worker you barely know. To retain its real meaning, and beauty – love can be nothing else but the most personal and fair exchange of values – it is a sharing of lives, between equals, both fully cognisant of the character of the other – neither party taking what is unearned nor withholding what is required. A psychopath cannot love. A vegetable cannot love. An insane or demented person cannot love. And neither can an animal.

The same applies to friendship, albeit on not quite the same level of profundity.

I could talk about how animals pattern-recognise to varying degrees, or perform courtship rituals, or how they care for their young, or follow instinctive or acquired behaviour that when performed by a sapient rational being would be considered affection and love – but I won’t. The issue is really a philosophical question, which is why it requires identification and definition.

To say that an animal experiences love and friendship is actually an example of the fallacy of concept stealing. These are human concepts retroactively transposed onto animals who are thus anthropomorphised. As a related example, consider innocence and guilt. To be morally innocent implies the capacity for guilt, but the choice to be morally good. Humans can be innocent or guilty, good or evil. But an animal is never innocent, nor guilty. No animal was ever convicted of a crime – because they don’t understand the concepts of justice or moral responsibility. They are incapable of moral choices, because they are not capable of reason. In the same way, and for the same reason, they cannot experience love and friendship.

To exaggerate the affection an animal demonstrates is understandable, but be aware that to equate such astounding and beautiful concepts as love to non-rational creatures is not to elevate them to our level, rather, it is the lowering of man to the place of a brute – a beast, and take for granted the fact that we are different. We are human, with a unique capacity: reason. Reason is, not only our primary means of survival, but also the basis for everything grand and majestic about our species; from it we choose to hate or love, cry or laugh, kill or protect, steal or produce, destroy or create. And as free beings, we don’t follow these choices out of instinct, nor do we have to obey, sit, roll over, bark, to ensure the next meal arrives on time – we do what we want because we’ve chosen to do it – which makes the good choices all the better, and makes the volitional sharing of values, such as friendship and love, the most important spiritual things in life.

In an age of hate, true love is, in my opinion, the archetypal personal value – and the emotion it can produce, the most rewarding and fulfilling. Don’t do yourself a disservice by lowering your values and your feelings to that of animals. You are so much more than that.

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5 Responses to “Love, friendship, and animals”

  1. Michel Says:

    You state that love, friendship and music are exclusively human qualities. While I can understand the explanation behind this statement I disagree with it. Here’s why:

    When you love another person, either romantically or platonically – you have a profound appreciation for that person’s life – and the place it plays in yours. It requires a deep understanding of WHO they are; WHAT they are like, what they value or don’t, what they themselves love and what they hate; HOW they view the world, how they view you; their morals and their ideals, and WHY.

    So love here is explained as have a profound appreciation for that person’s life and the place it plays in yours. As it is described here is requires self consciousness and awareness. This indeed is something that many animals don’t have. There are animals that do have this. One good example is dolphins. Studies have proven that dolphins are able to recognize themselves in a mirror, something which has been demonstrated in elephants, great apes and humans. This requires self consciousness and awareness. So can these animals love? Since loving someone requires this I don’t see why not. Science however isn’t conclusive on this subject since we cannot take a peek inside a dolphin’s brain.

    To say that an animal experiences love and friendship is actually an example of the fallacy of concept stealing. These are human concepts retroactively transposed onto animals who are thus anthropomorphised. As a related example, consider innocence and guilt. To be morally innocent implies the capacity for guilt, but the choice to be morally good. Humans can be innocent or guilty, good or evil. But an animal is never innocent, nor guilty. No animal was ever convicted of a crime – because they don’t understand the concepts of justice or moral responsibility. They are incapable of moral choices, because they are not capable of reason. In the same way, and for the same reason, they cannot experience love and friendship.

    Love is a human concept yes. It’s an explanation for the tree stages which “love” has, lust, attraction and attachment. This is something that animals with consciousness and awareness are surely capable of. The logic that animals don’t understand the concepts of justice and moral responsibility is flawed; those concepts have been created by the human race. Concepts of good and evil are human concepts. If we could speak the language of the dolphins for example we could teach them these concepts. A dog will never understand it no, a dogs brain is too small for this. The interesting thing however is the definition of understanding the concepts of good and evil for example. Let’s say you could teach a dog that everything that he does which is good earns him a cookie and that which is evil won’t. I know this is not possible, but let’s assume for a minute that it is. The dog wouldn’t understand the concept, but it will act on the concept. If someone points a gun at you then you know you’re in danger because you know what a gun will do if fired pointing towards you. Something you have learned. A dog knows that when he’s pinched in its neck that he’s in trouble, something a dog has learned from his mother. Good vs. evil, a concept which you’ve learned in your life, Justice, a concept which you’ve learned in your life. All these concepts are things which have been taught to you. The only way we know the concept of reason is because it has been taught to us. Humans are capable of understanding reason because our brain is big enough to hold the explanation of it. Recently a tribe has been discovered in the rain forest which has never had any contact with human life as we now it. Do you think they understand the concept of justice, or good and evil? Do they even know the meaning of the words good and evil? They might have their own concepts of justice and good vs. evil. What I’m trying to say here is that there is no ‘real’ meaning of the word love. So it depends on what you think the meaning of love is, you can always explain it in a way that it is purely exclusive to humans. It can also be explained in a way that it is exclusive to animals. I myself don’t think love can be explained in one way only, love isn’t logical at all. Love is something that everyone experiences in a different way; it is based on what you’ve experienced in life and what has been taught to you. So yes, I think animals can love each other. That’s because I think love doesn’t require a deep understanding of who someone is; what that person is like, what they value or don’t, what they themselves love and what they hate; how they view the world, how they view you; their morals and their ideals and why. Love is an emotion, a chemical response in the brain. It is based on our instincts; to reproduce. Humans can experience it and so can many animals. You can of course explain it in a different way, but that would be nothing more then an explanation. Everything can be explained in many different ways. So when someone says that ‘real’ love is X or Y you should question the word real. Reality is subject to different perspectives. There is no basis for reality.

  2. evanescent Says:

    Reality is subject to different perspectives. There is no basis for reality.

    This is an incredibly flawed and contradictory statement to make. You have just conceded all legitimacy in any argument.

    Any position that one takes, actively or passively, in ANY issue or situation, rests on the premise that one thinks one is right and is not wrong. Or, one assumes there is a right and wrong, and hopes to be right. This is an unconscious assumption based on the axiom that existence exists, and A is A. Existence is identity. Consciousness is identification. Now, if there is no basis for reality then there is no reference by which to identify anything. Without identification, logic is impossible and reason has no meaning. Where logic cannot obtain, nothing can; there is no way to determine wrong or right, accurate or flawed. Discussion, debate, existence, ceases. In other words, dogs are cats, apples are oranges, we are living on the sun, the moon is made of cheese, I am Napoleon and also Hitler, I am 29 and 46. If you concede there is no way to tell right from wrong, what makes you think you are right? What does right even mean? How can you know?

    What you’re demonstrating is classic subjectivism, and a symptom of a much larger disease that is the caused by the most prevalent metaphysical notion in the world today: skepticism. If you read back what you wrote, you didn’t make any position, or define anything, or accept anything, or deny anything. You asserted that anything could be anything. How? Somehow…

    So as much as I looked forward to debating concepts and human v animal minds – I cannot. You are conceding that you don’t believe you are right, or wrong, or anything. Which makes everything else you said meaningless.

    To go any further, you must accept the undeniable truth that existence exists. It’s undeniable, because you must assume the truth of this statement in everything you say and do – even to deny it. It’s a metaphysical axiom.

  3. Michel Says:

    There’s a difference between facts and perception of reality. What I’m trying to explain with my statement about reality is that it’s subject to perspectives. My reality is not your reality. I perceive it in a different way then you do. That’s why love can be experienced in different ways by different people. Heaven for Christians is reality, it isn’t for people who don’t believe in God. I was never trying to be right in any way, I’m trying to explain that love for you might be something different then it is for me. So when I say that animals can indeed love, you might say otherwise because you experience love in another way then I do. The way I was raised and what I have experienced in life made me experience it in that way, there is no real definition of love. Having a blog like this is expressing ones view upon things, you express opinions and such here.

    According to Bertrand Russell (The Problems of Philosophy) existence is not a property of objects, there is a distinction between reality and existence.

  4. evanescent Says:

    Bertrand Russel was wrong :p

    You are equating the word “reality” with “a person’s personal beliefs about the world devoid of relation to reality.” It’s like trying to say that faith in jesus or allah or flying spaghetti monsters is the same as belief that the earth orbits the sun. One of these beliefs reduces to reality – the other three don’t.

    The flaw in your thinking, (oh and by the way, I don’t blame you – this is the philosophy of our day), is that you begin with consciousness and go from there. The philosophical term for this is the Primary of Consciousness worldview and it always leads to mysticism and subjectivism (e.g. religion, socialism, humanism etc). The PoC worldview is flawed because being conscious assumes that one exists and that existence is that which one is conscious of. All statements and assumptions must assume a this fundamental axiom: existence exists. This is known as the Primary of Existence worldview and it is the only sound metaphysical foundation. Nothing else can justify knowledge.

    All denials of perception or the invalidity of the human mind to perceive the “real” world (whatever that means) rest upon false premises, premises that we have the likes of Russell and Kant to “thank” for – that because our senses “filter” external stimuli they are inherently flawed. Notice the real meaning behind this: that because all sense experience must be perceived in *some* way, there is no way to obtain a picture of the “real” world. This is in effect saying, you can’t see properly BECAUSE you have eyes. You can’t hear, BECAUSE you have ears. Of course, the logical conclusion of this argument is that the only way to “truly” perceive anything is to NOT have any means of perception, since any means of perception would “dirty” what you are trying to perceive. So…the only way to perceive the “real” world is to have no means of perception or comprehension…in other words…be dead. Sound crazy? Sound like pretentious pseudo-philosophical bullshit dressed up to sound clever? This is exactly what Immanuel Kant meant, and most philosophers since him followed suit.

    That existence exists is a necessary axiom. This leads to another axiom, that you are conscious of existence. A consciousness conscious of nothing doesn’t make sense; before you were conscious of anything you were conscious that there was *something* – and that something was existence.

    So when we get our axioms right (our metaphysics) we don’t need to worry that we’re talking about the same reality or not. We are, because there is only one 🙂

    The point of saying all this is because it’s actually really important to get this common ground in all discussions. It’s not always necessary or possible to go this fundamental, philosophically, but since you brought it up and I know you can handle it, it was a good starting point. (It’s the only starting point actually.)

    If one accepts that existence exists, and consciousness is our way to perceive reality – we can agree that there is an objective reference for all claims and facts – and what might appear to be subjective or a matter or opinion on right or wrong or good or bad depending on where you were born or what day of the week it is – is actually an illusion. There is only one reality – only one identity – and therefore always a right and wrong in any given context.

    Love might be experienced in different ways, as it evokes emotions in varying degrees in people – and emotions are trained by our premises. If one’s premises are faulty one’s emotions will follow suit. But it doesn’t change what love is.

  5. e-dailynews.asia » Love, friendship, and animals « evanescent Says:

    […] Love, friendship, and animals « evanescent […]


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