Contrasting the Portrayal of Dogs in Philosophy and Modern Natural Sciences


This discussion explores the portrayal of dogs in philosophical writings and contrasts it with the understanding of dogs derived from modern natural sciences. While philosophers have often used dogs as metaphors or symbols to address human nature, ethics, and the human condition, modern scientific research has provided insights into the complex cognitive abilities, emotions, and social behaviors of dogs.


Dogs have played a significant role in both philosophical writings and modern natural sciences. In philosophical texts, dogs have been used as metaphors, symbols, or subjects to illustrate various aspects of human nature, ethics, and the human condition. Meanwhile, modern natural sciences have provided insights into the biology, psychology, and social behavior of dogs, which can contribute to our understanding of their role in philosophy. Here, we will contrast the portrayal of dogs in philosophy with that of modern natural sciences.

Philosophical perspectives

Diogenes the Cynic

The Greek philosopher Diogenes famously lived like a dog, advocating a life free from the constraints of society and material possessions. In this context, the dog symbolized a rejection of conventional norms and values in pursuit of a simpler, more natural life.

Plato’s “Cave Allegory”

In Plato’s allegory, a dog is mentioned as a loyal guardian that can discern the truth from the shadows. This metaphor represents the philosopher’s ability to perceive the world of forms or ideas, unlike ordinary people who remain trapped in the world of appearances.


The French philosopher René Descartes argued that animals, including dogs, are mere automata, lacking consciousness or self-awareness. In his view, the human mind was unique in its ability to reason and possess a self-aware consciousness.

Nietzsche’s “Dog”

Friedrich Nietzsche often used the metaphor of a dog to describe human nature, especially in the context of morality. He argued that humans, like dogs, are conditioned by society to follow certain rules and norms, with the implication that morality is a human construct rather than an objective truth.

Modern natural sciences


Scientific research has shown that dogs are highly evolved social animals, with complex cognitive abilities and emotional lives. They share a close evolutionary relationship with humans, and selective breeding has resulted in a wide variety of breeds, each with its unique traits and characteristics.


Studies have revealed that dogs possess advanced cognitive abilities, including problem-solving, learning through observation, and even understanding human emotions. These findings challenge Descartes’ notion of dogs as unthinking automata and suggest that their minds are more complex than previously thought.

Social behavior

Research has demonstrated that dogs have an extraordinary ability to form close bonds with humans, as well as with other dogs. They are skilled at interpreting human body language, vocalizations, and emotions, which has allowed them to integrate seamlessly into human societies. This challenges the idea that dogs are mere reflections of human nature, as they exhibit their own unique social behaviors and cognitive abilities.


In conclusion, contrasting the dog from the perspective of modern natural sciences with that portrayed by philosophers reveals a more nuanced and complex understanding of dogs. While philosophers have used dogs as metaphors or symbols to explore aspects of human nature and morality, modern scientific research has demonstrated that dogs possess unique cognitive abilities, emotions, and social behaviors. As such, dogs are not mere stand-ins for humans in philosophical discussions but fascinating subjects in their own right.

Further Reading

  1. Bekoff, M. (2007). The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy – and Why They Matter. New World Library.
  2. Coetzee, J. M. (2003). The Lives of Animals. Princeton University Press.
  3. de Waal, F. (2016). Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? W. W. Norton & Company.
  4. Horowitz, A. (2009). Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. Scribner.
  5. Herculano-Houzel, S. (2016). The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable. MIT Press.
  6. Masson, J. M., & McCarthy, S. (1995). When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. Delacorte Press.
  7. Nagel, T. (1974). What Is It Like to Be a Bat? The Philosophical Review, 83(4), 435-450.
  8. Pepperberg, I. M. (2008). Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence—and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process. HarperCollins.
  9. Singer, P. (1975). Animal Liberation. HarperCollins.
  10. Thomas, E. (2013). The Secret Language of Dogs: Unlocking the Canine Mind for a Happier Pet. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Print This Post Print This Post
Tony Bierman, "Contrasting the Portrayal of Dogs in Philosophy and Modern Natural Sciences," OBTESA, Accessed May 31, 2023,