men are dogs: important truth in disparaging men

dog seeking compassion and consolation

Declaring that men are dogs is a common sort of disparagement of men today. Such disparagement has a long history. It’s typically associated with condemning men’s strong, independent sexuality. For example, the late-twelfth-century Latin text De amore (On love) declares:

Even after they have reflected long on a woman or have enjoyed her rewards, as soon as they see another they long for her embraces, becoming forgetful of and ungrateful for the services obtained from their former lover. Such men as these wish to indulge their lust with every woman they see. Their love is like that of a shameless dog, or rather they are, I think, to be compared with donkeys, for they are affected solely by that natural urge which puts men on a level with the rest of the animal kingdom. [1]

Thinkers throughout history have declared that “reason” distinguishes humans from all other animals.[2] Many animals have a large, complex repertoire of behaviors. They pursue easily understandable interests (food, security, reproduction) in ways that rapidly adapt to specific circumstances. Do animals reason? Describing the distinctiveness of (human) reason has been a highly successful job-creation scheme for philosophers. In today’s common-sense reality of human-created artifacts (intricately cooked meals, movies, airplanes, spaceships, etc.), humans are obviously very special animals.

Although very special animals, humans are animals. Lack of appreciation for that reality has been pervasive in elite thought throughout history. For example, De amore declares:

Who could doubt that he who chose the consolation of the upper part is to be preferred to him who chose the lower? So far as the consolations of the lower part is concerned, we are in no sense separated from the brute animals, nature herself having joined us to them in this respect. But the consolations of the upper part have been granted particularly to human nature and denied to all other animals by nature herself. So he who chose the lower part should be rejected from love as unworthy, like a dog, and the one who chose the upper part should be accepted, as embracing his nature. [3]

Humans can forgo sexual activity. Humans can also fast for a time, eat limited portions of healthful food, or gorge themselves on junk food and become grotesquely obese. None of these facts change the reality of human nature. Separating a man’s head from his genitals destroys his life. Much more terrible than men being dogs are men’s dismembered, bleeding body parts.

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Notes:

[1] Andreas Capellanus, De amore 1.5.7-8, from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 41. Reference to a dog as a man’s best friend occurs in twelfth-century Latin literature. Understanding of a dog as man’s best friend seems unrelated to the claim that men are dogs. At least in medieval European understanding, referring to men as dogs would be less disparaging than referring to men as cats. Any symbolic relation between dog and Doug is purely coincidental.

[2] Aristotle was particularly influential in developing understanding of humans as the rational animal. See, e.g. De anima III, Nicomachean Ethics I.13.

[3] De amore 1.6.536-7, trans. Walsh (1982) p. 201.

[image] Dog. Thanks to Soggydan Benenovitch for sharing his photo.

Reference:

Walsh, P.G., trans. 1982. Andreas Capellanus on love {De amore}. London: Duckworth.

One thought on “men are dogs: important truth in disparaging men”

  1. Capellanus, ‘De amore’, equals a jape taken in deadly earnest equals Ovid, ‘Ars Amatoria’, misunderstood.

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