Thursday, May 14, 2015

Schopenhauer's Cat

One of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's endearing traits is that he loved his poodles. So I thought he was a dog person, although I think it's silly to have to choose between being a dog person and a cat person - dogs and cats are all so lovable. I have cats now, but when I was growing up I had a dog named Cookie and we were close. So close that when she had a litter of puppies she decided to have them in my bed.

So I can't understand this either-or point of view. Which even shows up in discussions between philosophers. David Skinner asks David Cartwright:
I don’t know how else to put this: Was Schopenhauer a cat person or a dog person? 
A dog person. He owned a series of poodles, calling each “Atma” formally and “Butz” informally. He once told a dinner companion that when his dog was mischievous, he would scold it by saying, “You are not a dog, but a human being, a human being,” and he claimed that this would shame the dog.
With all this evidence I was surprised to read this in Wikipedia:
...Schopenhauer settled permanently in Frankfurt in 1833, where he remained for the next twenty-seven years, living alone except for a succession of pet poodles named Atman and Butz. The numerous notes that he made during these years, amongst others on aging, were published posthumously under the title Senilia. 
Schopenhauer had a robust constitution, but in 1860 his health began to deteriorate. He died of heart failure on 21 September 1860 while sitting at home on his couch with his cat. He was 72.
It doesn't say the name of his cat, unfortunately. Possibly Atma too.

The Wiki entry reveals that there is a definite disagreement over whether the name is Atma - as the two philosophers named David have it, and Atman, as Wikipedia has it.

I suspected that there might be more to Schopenhauer giving his poodles all the same name besides lack of imagination, and I think I might have just found it:
In 1844, writing in the second volume of his magnum opus, The World as Will and Representation, Arthur Schopenhauer made a curious statement:

I know quite well [Schopenhauer wrote] that anyone would regard me as mad if I seriously assured him that the cat, playing just now in the yard, is still the same one that did the same jumps and tricks three hundred years ago; but I also know that it is much more absurd to believe that the cat of today is through and through and fundamentally an entirely different one from the cat of three hundred years ago.

Amazingly enough, Schopenhauer defended that statement throughout his magnum opus. The cat both is and is not the same cat that frolicked similarly three hundred years ago.
As far as Schopenhauer was concerned, they virtually were all the same poodle. 

In any case, there are worse ways to die than sitting on your couch with your cat.

Apparently there was a Google doodle dedicated to Schopenhauer on February 22, 2013 on his 225th birthday. It features him walking Atma, appropriately. It only showed up in Germany though, which is why I didn't see it.