Ordinary Language Philosophy and your dog (pets III)

A couple of people wrote to share their pet experiences.

Jane told me she went househunting recently. She took her dog. And talked to her dog. “We always tell her what’s going on so she’s in the loop.”

This is consistent with the theme of yesterday’s post: that we are endowing our pets with new rights, responsibilities, and personhood. Not only is Gizmo part of this family. She is part of the loop, i.e., a sentient, informed, fully current participant in the household. This is transformational: a dumb animal has become a conversational partner with a “need to know.”

Now there are lots of oddities here.

First, In what sense can we tell a dog “what’s going on?” It puts one in mind of that Larson cartoon. What we say to our dog:

“Gizmo, we’re changing houses because we’re running out of room and Jeff really needs a bigger office.”

What Gizmo hears:

“Gizmo, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Second, if Gizmo really is capable of grasping what we tell her when we make her part of ‘the loop,” surely she’s capable of working things out for herself. But this implausibility condition does not prevent us from having conversations with Gizmo or from believing that she has heard us. It is a fiction but it’s a useful, compelling, persuasive fiction.

And the next line of the email tells the larger story, “she’s helped me through some very rough times.”

We are transforming our pets to make them useful companions as we struggle to live in a culture that is newly unpredictable, demanding, disequilibriating.

In a manner of speaking, all of our pets are now “seeing eye.”

[sorry this is rushed. I just checked into my hotel in Chicago and I am out the door.]

(Thanks to Steve Portigal for correcting my Booth, now Larson reference. This is what happens when you blog on the run, on the road.)

10 thoughts on “Ordinary Language Philosophy and your dog (pets III)

  1. Steve Portigal

    It’d be fascinating to get in a time machine and see what robot pets look like in 20 years. Do they exist? Will they be animal-like (btw, what is the equivalent word for anthropomorphic if we’re talking about animal-like instead of human-like?) or abstract or more human? Would we want a pet with full speech recognition?

    If you believe that technology and market forces will work to fill a need that nature is not fulfilling (although it could be price or poop or barking or whatever), then the robot thing is fascinating for that reason.

    Of course, technology being what it is, who’s to say that the developments will be electronic? Maybe pets are the killer app for genetic research – forget all this playing God with your child, how’s about getting a dog that eats newspaper and poops smell-free pellets that go in the garden and understands 300 pre-selected words in your voice only and that has a homing instinct to your house? We’ve got glow-in-the-dark pets right now, so that vector exists, too…

  2. Puck

    Brilliant: “all of our pets are now seeing eye.” And disheartening, actually. If we have indeed transformed our pets to make them useful companions, is this because we are no longer able to successfully create, accept, nurture and sustain relationships of the human variety? Are we willing to invest time, energy and emotion only into animals who won’t refuse us and who will most assuredly provide us with unconditional love? When did we become chickens?

  3. Grant

    Puck, thanks for the comment. If we are transformational, changing often and a lot in the course of a lifetime, what are the chances we are going to find another person who is changing in the same ways, at the same rate, with the same frequency. The romantic model is under challenge, possibly. And come to think of it, maybe this is why pets matter so much. First, they accept our transformation, but then they “fix in place.” They don’t change, unless and until we change them. Thoughts only.

    Steve, thanks for the comment and the correction. I recently bought an Aibo, the Japanese pet surrogate. I hope to post on this soon.

  4. leora


    I know, I know, Rico the border collie. 200 words seems like a lot but its not enough for Rico to understand the sentence “Gizmo, we’re changing houses because we’re running out of room and Jeff really needs a bigger office.”

    Thank you for the Gekko quote. It’s perfect here.

  5. David Tufte

    Thought I’d share my observations on moving across a breezeway with two 6 month old dogs.

    We blocked both sides of the breezeway so the dogs couldn’t run down to their play area in the courtyard. We then opened both doors and proceeded to carry everything from one apartment to its mirror image (other than the view). The dogs ran back and forth and “helped”, but clearly maintained a preference for the old apartment.

    Then, before we were half done, we moved our bed. The dogs followed it and refused to return to the old apartment. They had not done this when we moved the guest bed.

    What do you make about this?

  6. Pingback: Pets Dogs

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