We are advised to never judge books by their covers. Well, in this case, it would be perfectly fine to do just that. The cover of How to Teach Philosophy to Your Dog, featuring an adorably thoughtful pooch, is every bit as entertaining as the book itself. And if that does not tell you something, nothing will.
As the name itself suggests, How to Teach Philosophy to Your Dog sees author Anthony McGowan address the big questions and issues in philosophy in one of the simplest ways possible – as if he were explaining it to his Maltese terrier, Monty. Now, books on philosophy and philosophical issues are supposed to be ponderous and weighty, not exactly the types you can simply pick up and read. This one is different. And you realise it the moment you read the opening sentences:
“I have a dog, a scruffy Maltese terrier, called Monty. I say ‘have’ not to suggest ownership particularly, but more in the way you’d say I have a dandruff or a cold. Monty looks like a failed cloud that has fallen to earth and rolled around in the muck for a while.”
That sets the tone for the book, which is divided into chapters, each of which covers a “walk” in which McGowan and Monty discuss some philosophical issue or line of thought, all the way from Plato to Kierkegaard to Schopenhauer. Does the method of explaining philosophy in terms of a man and a dog talking to each other work? Well, to a large extent, it does. McGowan tries his best to simplify complex concepts to make them simple enough for his dog, who he confesses is not the brightest bulb out there even in caninekind.
No, he does not always succeed, and some of his explanations are a little complicated, but there are always Monty’s responses to look forward to. In fact, the biggest charm of the book is how well McGowan captures the “voice” of Monty. For instance, when McGowan tells Monty how Socrates had asked people to imagine three sticks, Monty answers in a typically dog-like manner: “I need a little more detail on the sticks before I can imagine them properly.” He also loves the “sound” of the term “dogmatists.” Of course he would.
Mind you, this formula does not always work. Sometimes the chitchat between dog and man seems a little irrelevant and to be honest, some of McGowan’s explanations tend to be a little too complicated. Still, if you are looking for a very basic primer on key concepts of philosophy, this book is definitely a good place to start. In fact, even if you just want to read a little and think, this is a great book. It is not a hefty tome (a touch above 300 pages), has a generally light tone and for the most part is simple enough to understand. Best of all, running right through the pages is the best friend you can have – a dog.