The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands
Pegasus Books, New York, 2009
I’m not really sure where I heard of this book, or why I chose to read it. Maybe it was the beautiful photo of the wolf on the cover or my initial, very negative, reaction to someone keeping a wolf as a pet. And philosophy? I never really understood it’s purpose. I suppose because I never had a teacher or mentor who explained it to me, or maybe I never asked what it was all about. After reading Mark Rowlands’ book I have a much clearer understanding and admiration for those who follow this discipline. Perhaps because he writes in a way that is interesting and accessible.
The Philosopher and the Wolf is Rowlands’ memoir of living with Brenin, an Alaskan wolf, for over a decade. It is the story of the bond that can exist between a human being and a wild animal. Rowland dedicates his life to this relationship. Just that story would have made it a wonderful book, but it is so much more than that. I found it an amazing and educational read.
One of the thing I really appreciate about Rowlands’ writing and his philosophical position is that it is anchored in real life, it the events that happen to him, and those around him, every day.
His bond with Brenin allowed him to look at human evolution in a new way, comparing simian (ape), and therefore human, social development with lupine (wolf) social development. There were times when I felt this comparison was a bit heavy handed but I need to do more reading of the latest research in animal behavior to be clear on this. There were parts of his argument that really struck me.
If we humans place a disproportionate weight on motives, then to understand human goodness we must strip away those motives. When the other person is powerless, you have no self-interested motive for treating them with decency or respect. they can neither help you or hinder you. You do not fear them, nor do you covet their assistance. In such a situation the only motive you can have for treating them with decency and respect is a moral one: you treat them this way because that is the right thing to do. And you do this because that is the sort of person you are. Page 102
Mark Rowlands writes about morality, happiness, memory and time, always reflecting back on the years spent with Brenin. What he learned and experienced in that relationship has changed him in many ways. This book is the result of those changes. I really enjoyed it.
To learn more about The Philosopher and the Wolf visit Mark Rowlands’ blog.