5/12/2019 0 Comments
On species and persons
From time to time Jan Morris writes about her Norwegian cat, Ibsen, now deceased but often remembered. Thought 8 in her Thought Diary compares the true friendship she has with Ibsen with the inscrutability of other cats, who purr for whatever wild reason it is that they purr, unlike Ibsen who purrs to express friendship. “All other cats may be just cats, but my cat Ibsen was a friend and a colleague. My cat Ibsen was different…just like all other cats.” I know that difference very well, the way other people’s cats, however nice, are just cats. I grew up with cats, who were persons to me, but the strangest thing was when I got a cat as an adult, with children of my own, and for a long time it remained a cat to me, like other people’s cats. It is hard to describe the strangeness of this. Eventually Rufy did in fact become a person to me, by imperceptible degrees so I can’t remember when, though I don’t think it was ever quite like the relationship I had with our childhood cats. I read an article once about children’s concepts of family, which revealed that for children there is often no distinction for them between the human and animal members of their family. Pets are closer family members to them than their extended family. Prompted by the researchers to think past the immediate family, asked whether their grandparents for instance are family, they will enthusiastically agree and include the grandparents’ own pets as well. But what I think now is, this must also be how it is for the pets themselves. Our cat is shy of people she doesn’t know and it occurs to me that to her, other people probably aren’t persons at all, but human beings, just as other cats aren’t persons to me but cats. I like cats, she doesn’t on the whole like human beings, but we relate to each other as persons, not in terms of species.
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These are paragraphs without essays or books to go in.