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216 × 138 × 25 mm
208 pages
1 illustration
12 Aug 2019

Understanding Animals Philosophy for Dog and Cat Lovers Lars Svendsen

How do animals perceive the world? What does it really feel like to be a cat, or a dog? In Understanding Animals, Lars Svendsen investigates how humans can attempt to understand the lives of other animals. The book delves into animal communication, intelligence, self-awareness, loneliness and grief, but most fundamentally how humans and animals can cohabit and build a form of friendship. Svendsen provides examples from many different animal species, from chimpanzees to octopus, but his main focus is on cats and dogs – the animals that many of us are close to in our daily lives.

Using both philosophical analysis and the latest scientific discoveries, Svendsen argues that an owner’s relationship with their pet is as equally valid and insightful as the scientific study of human-animal relations. With this entertaining and thought-provoking book, animal-lovers and pet owners will gain a deeper understanding of what it is like to be an animal, and in turn, a human.

‘It has been a wonderful reading year for innovative, intelligent and passionate nonfiction. Four books in particular were outstanding . . . [including] Lars Svendsen’s Understanding Animals.’ — Simon Caterson, The Australian 'Books of the Year'

‘Combines scientific research with the teachings of the great philosophers, particularly Wittgenstein, Kant, and Heidegger, to probe the consciousness of animals, especially the ones closest to us (as well as, unexpectedly, octopuses). Chapters address animal morality, grief, loneliness and more. Readers will emerge knowing more about themselves than animals, and that’s precisely Svendsen’s goal.’ — Toronto Star

‘Reading these two excellent books on what we do and do not have in common with animals had a similarly exhilarating yet disorienting effect. In attempting to enlarge our understanding of animals – beginning with those domestic pets closest to us – we must be prepared to confront our own limitations, both physical and intellectual. In doing this, we may not only deepen our awareness of them but also more clearly explain our own existence . . . [These books] approach the knowledge deficit and empathy gap between humans and other animals from quite different angles. Each, in its own way, is positive and indispensable. In essence the message from the two authors is the same – we humans are limited in our understanding of animals, as well as ourselves, only by our own curiosity, intelligence and imagination.’ — The Australian

‘It is funny how often philosophers have been right about other animals, and how often they have been wrong. In this enlightening book, Lars Svendsen takes us through a history of Western philosophical musings, from Wittgenstein’s lion to Descartes’ automatons, comparing them with current knowledge.’ — Frans de Waal, author of Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves

‘As knowledge about life human and otherwise grows greater and greater, we need a lucid guide through a thicket of questions that emerge when we try to understand animals, including the ones we are. Lars Svendsen is that guide . . . Clear as always and with a dose of characteristic humour thrown in, Svendsen draws on contributions from all the participant disciplines – philosophy, biology and zoology, for instance, but also cognitive science and even literature – to address the many questions that arise when we take seriously the importance of understanding animals.’ — Jeffrey Kosky, author of Arts of Wonder: Enchanting Secularity

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Lars Svendsen is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Bergen, Norway. He is the author of many books including A Philosophy of Boredom (2004), Fashion: A Philosophy (2006), A Philosophy of Fear (2008), A Philosophy of Freedom (2014) and A Philosophy of Loneliness (2017), all published by Reaktion Books.


One Wittgenstein’s Lion and Kafka’s Ape
Two Language
Three Seeing Animal Consciousness
Four A Human Form
Five Mind-reading
Six Intelligence
Seven For Now We See through a Mirror, Darkly
Eight Time
Nine Can Animals Be Understood?
Ten Surroundings
Eleven To Be an Animal
Twelve The Dog
Thirteen The Cat
Fourteen The Octopus
Understanding animals
Fifteen Loneliness and Grief
Sixteen Do Animals Have Morals?
Seventeen Humans and Other Animals
Eighteen Friendship