Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life 

Quick: What is the meaning of life?

You said 42, right?

No, wait a minute—that’s a different book. In Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, philosopher John Gray explores what cats think about the meaning of life, what he calls “feline philosophy,” though it is really equal parts philosophy, history, and psychology.

This is not one of those light, amusing books about cats, as you may have thought when you saw the title. It’s not a popularization, being closer in many ways to a serious philosophy book. You’ll learn about Spinoza and Leibniz, about the ancient Greeks and the modern French. You’ll learn why some of the common ideas about cat behavior may be wrong, and why some of the ones that are right still mean something other than what you might have thought. Parts of it veer too close to being textbook-like, other parts are too light for “serious” readers. There are a couple of unfortunate pages that delve into the ways humans have mistreated cats throughout history. If those are too disturbing (and they are), just skip over them; the rest of the book will not lose its coherence.

Perhaps the core paragraph is on page 33:

In regard to diversion, humans and cats are at opposite poles. Not having formed an image of themselves, cats do not need to divert themselves from the fact that they will someday cease to exist. As a consequence, they live without the fear of time passing too quickly or two slowly. When cats are not hunting or mating, eating or playing, they sleep. There is no inner anguish that forces them into constant activity.

I suppose I should conclude with Gray’s list of Ten Feline Hints on How to Live Well. Each hint gets an entire paragraph, but the topic sentences will give you the idea:

  1. Never try to persuade humans beings to be reasonable.
  2. It is foolish to complain that you do not have enough time.
  3. Do not look for meaning in your suffering.
  4. It is better to be indifferent to others than to feel you have to love them.
  5. Forget about pursuing happiness, and you may find it.
  6. Life is not a story.
  7. Do not fear the dark, for much that is precious is found in the night.
  8. Sleep for the joy of sleeping.
  9. Beware anyone who offers to make you happy.
  10. If you cannot learn to live a little more like a cat, return without regret to the human world of diversion.


Categories: Books, Cats