Chrysippus' dog


#1

In the third century B.C there was a greek philosopher named Chrysippus who reported seing a dog chading a rabbit. After the rabbit had gone out of sight of the dog, the dog came to a fork in the road. Sniffing one path revealed no scent, and so the dog bolted down the other path without even sniffing. Chrysippus concluded that dogs had the ability to reason, seeing the dog’s deduction that the other path had to be correct since the first was not.

As I understand it, the Catholic position is that only humans have the ability to reason. What would one call the attribute displayed by Chrysippus’ dog, and how is this different from reasoning? If Chrysippus’ dog (and dogs in general) actually do behave this way, does this not display a level of reasoning above, say, mentally disabled human beings?

This being said, can reason still be given as evidence for the soul? Did it serve as evidence in the first place, or am I misunderstaning something?


#2

:slight_smile:

Hi Jack.

I am invariably amazed at what one can find in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa.

Yes, Aquinas makes reference to Chrysippus’ dog! See Prima Secundae Partis, Question 13, Article 2 “Is choice to be found in irrational animals?”

Specifically, Objection 3:

For a hound in following a stag, on coming to a crossroad, tries by scent whether the stag has passed by the first or the second road: and if he find that the stag has not passed there, being thus assured, takes to the third road without trying the scent; as though he were reasoning by way of exclusion, arguing that the stag must have passed by this way, since he did not pass by the others, and there is no other road. Therefore it seems that irrational animals are able to choose.

To which Aquinas replies:

in the works of irrational animals we notice certain marks of sagacity, in so far as they have a natural inclination to set about their actions in a most orderly manner through being ordained by the Supreme art. For which reason, too, certain animals are called prudent or sagacious; and not because they reason or exercise any choice about things. This is clear from the fact that all that share in one nature, invariably act in the same way.

So to answer your question, I suppose St. Thomas would call the attribute displayed by C’s dog, the sensitive appetite. And, perhaps the question we should be asking is whether C’s dog had a *choice or not. *

In any event, the anecdote doesn’t seem to me to present any evidence that C’s dog had abstract knowledge of the situation, like we do.

VC
%between%


#3

Thanks a lot for that tidbit! It suprises me at times what we Catholics have answers for.


#4

[quote=Verbum Caro]:slight_smile:
So to answer your question, I suppose St. Thomas would call the attribute displayed by C’s dog, the sensitive appetite. And, perhaps the question we should be asking is whether C’s dog had a *choice or not. *

In any event, the anecdote doesn’t seem to me to present any evidence that C’s dog had abstract knowledge of the situation, like we do.
VC
%between%
[/quote]

I wonder, too what role conditioning plays in this. Having worked with hawks, I can say that they “learn” what works (following the falconer so that they will be in an advantageous position when the falconer flushes game) and, possibly, what doesn’t. This does not involve complex abstract thought, but certainly a kind of memory. I’d want to ask Chrysippus how many times that dog had chased rabbits before…


#5

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