My Dog, The Philosopher
What I learned about the good life from my canine friend
Plato famously imagined a land ruled by philosopher-kings: wise, benevolent souls who think deep thoughts and make good choices. Two thousand years later, we’re still awaiting this alleged philosopher-king, or even a philosopher-president.
Stop waiting, I say. Plato missed the mark. What the world really needs is not a philosopher-king but a philosopher-dog. I should know. I live with one. His name is Parker, and he is 36 pounds of tail-wagging, food-inhaling, butt-sniffing wisdom.
Parker is a “bagel:” part beagle, part basset hound — and 100-percent philosopher. Thus I’ve decided to launch a series of occasional stories on Parker’s wisdom. He doesn’t subscribe to any single school of thought but, instead, follows his sizable nose, sniffing out Socrates here, the Stoics there. But there is one philosopher who consistently tickles Parker’s tummy: Epicurus.
All philosophers, like all dogs, are misunderstood, but none more so than the great philosopher of pleasure. Forget what that gastronomic website might lead you to believe. Epicurus was no epicurean.
Don’t get me wrong. Epicurus, like Parker, valued pleasure; he just defined it differently. We think of pleasure as a presence. Epicurus considered it an absence. Ataraxia, he called it — literally “lack of disturbance.” It is the absence of anxiety rather than the presence of anything that leads to contentment. Epicurus was no hedonist. He was a “tranquillist.”
So is Parker. As long as there’s nothing disturbing his equilibrium — fleas, the cat — he is happy. As far as he’s concerned, the price of admission to the kingdom of bliss is remarkably low.
Here, again, Parker lands on the same dog-eared page as Epicurus. “It is better for you to lie upon a bed of straw and be free of fear, than to have a golden couch and an opulent table yet be troubled in mind,” the philosopher said. Parker doesn’t put it quite as eloquently, owing to the fact that he lacks the power of human speech, but he lives what Epicurus taught. He will lie upon pretty much anything: the kitchen floor, the couch, the cat basket, and even, the pricey orthopedic memory foam bed we bought for him.