The author of Straw Dogs, famous for his provocative critiques of scientific hubris and the delusions of progress and humanism, turns his attention to cats—and what they reveal about humans' torturous relationship to the world and to themselves.
The history of philosophy has been a predictably tragic or comical succession of palliatives for human disquiet. Thinkers from Spinoza to Berdyaev have pursued the perennial questions of how to be happy, how to be good, how to be loved, and how to live in a world of change and loss. But perhaps we can learn more from cats--the animal that has most captured our imagination--than from the great thinkers of the world.
In Feline Philosophy, the philosopher John Gray discovers in cats a way of living that is unburdened by anxiety and self-consciousness, showing how they embody answers to the big questions of love and attachment, mortality, morality, and the Self: Montaigne's house cat, whose un-examined life may have been the one worth living; Meo, the Vietnam War survivor with an unshakable capacity for "fearless joy"; and Colette's Saha, the feline heroine of her subversive short story "The Cat", a parable about the pitfalls of human jealousy.
Exploring the nature of cats, and what we can learn from it, Gray offers a profound, thought-provoking meditation on the follies of human exceptionalism and our fundamentally vulnerable and lonely condition. He charts a path toward a life without illusions and delusions, revealing how we can endure both crisis and transformation, and adapt to a changed scene, as cats have always done.
John Gray is the author of many critically acclaimed books, including The Silence of Animals, The Immortalization Commission, Black Mass, and Straw Dogs. A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, he has been a professor of politics at Oxford, a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale, and a professor of European thought at the London School of Economics. He now writes full-time.
"On the face of it, Feline Philosophy would seem like a departure for Gray—a playful exploration of what cats might have to teach humans in our never-ending quest to understand ourselves. But the book, in true Gray fashion, suggests that this very quest may itself be doomed . . . Gray has always been a shrewd critic, nimbly dismantling high-minded schemes and their unintended consequences."
—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
"A short but serious polemic attacking much of the western tradition of moral thought. It’s worth a read even if—perhaps especially if—you hate cats."
—Robert Armstrong, Financial Times
"This new account of what cats can teach us about how to live corresponds closely with what the philosopher John Gray has been teaching us about how to live for the past few decades. Although his previous works contain occasional hints about what he considers to be the good life . . . this is his most direct pounce at the subject. If, like me, you consider him to be one of the most important thinkers alive, you will be eager to know what he has to say. . . In our pious age his attack on the cheap solace of moral convictions is invigorating."
—James Marriott, The Times (London)
"Cat lovers will enjoy the celebration of feline mythos, from the cat gods of ancient Egypt to purring contemporary domestics, while hardcore Gray fans will be reassured by the usual references to immortality cults, Hobbes, the gulags and so on."
—Charles Arrowsmith, The Washington Post
“The intellectual cat’s pyjamas . . . Gray’s is the perfect book for the estranging oddness of the pandemic.”
—Tim Adams, The Observer
“Engaging, amusing, perceptive and untimely, in the most admirable Nietzschean sense.”
—Mark Rowlands, New Statesman
"Curious and exploratory. Gray moves freely among writing modes, including several of the potted biographies that are common to popular works of philosophy. But he also tells stories of famous cats, dabbling in evolutionary history and showing a clear appreciation for his subject. Above all, the book is an ode to cats, and Gray gives the impression of having learned from them how to take pleasure where he finds it."
“A wonderful mixture of flippancy and profundity, astringency and tenderness, wit and lament.”
—Jane O’Grady, The Telegraph
“Gray offers well-timed scratches at tender bits of the human psyche and sinks some sharp teeth into a few of our most cherished self-conceptions.”
—Ian Ground, The Times Literary Supplement
“Slyly playful . . . As enlightening as it is delightful.”
—John Banville, The Irish Times
—Kathryn Hughes, Literary Review
"Gray's work makes a strong case that our species is incorrigibly irrational, and it raises questions about humanist beliefs that should be particularly important for those of us on the political left to consider...Gray pursues the deep interest in the nonhuman world that makes his critique of humanism so sharp in fang and claw."
—Oliver Hall, Dangerous Minds
"For philosophers and philosophical cat lovers. Lots of endnotes for further discovery."
"The bulk of Gray's fantastic book does not concern cats . . . Gray focuses on humanity's insatiable (and predominantly fruitless) attempts at happiness and our inability to reckon with the illusion of morality . . . His ten feline commandments are ultimately for us."
—Derek Beres, Big Think