Philosophe Alain

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

League of the dogs

In the Committee of the League for the Rights of the Dog, there arose a great debate on human rights. « We must ask ourselves, » said the poodle, « whether the state of domestication in which we have seen man living for so many centuries is due to a real insufficiency of his nature, or else to some violent spoliation of which the memory has not been kept. Certainly, no one has ever seen a dog build its own kennel, nor prepare its soup, nor cut and roast meats; man has always been entrusted with these servile labors, up to the point that it almost seems as if he is doing them for pleasure. We can even say that, without the admirable instinct of his lower brother, the dog would never have thought of feeding on wheat or beets, never would the dog have known either bread or sugar. From time immemorial we have taken from these human provisions what is pleasing to us, just as man strips bees, if patient observers are to be believed. But it must be recognized that human industry far outweighs that of bees. From all things, man makes honey and sweetness; and if manufacturing were the same as knowing, it would be necessary to say that man is very learned. However, this slavery in which we hold him without much difficulty, and although he is much stronger than us, suggests that he does not think more, in all his inventions, than the bees when they make their honey. The mind gets lost in conjectures when it comes to scrutinize these astonishing works, these immense buildings, this beneficent fire, these carpets, these lights which prolong the day, finally all these goods which we enjoy lazily. Are these the fruits of an intelligence caught in its own traps, or must it be said that these industries result from the marvelous structure of the human hand, as has been proposed? The fact is that the human species works, while the dog rests, dreams, and contemplates. But it is quite possible to suppose that such a series of works, each of which immediately demands another, and which all presuppose continual vigilance, occupy so much attention that it never has the leisure to reflect on itself and finally to judge this paradoxical state of affairs, where the dog is fed, housed, protected, and pampered by man without exerting any constraint on him.


Bassano, Jacopo (1510-1592) : Deux chiens de chasse liés à une souche, Musée du Louvre


« Certainly, » said the poodle, « it is something to be able to judge. But it is questionable whether this happy freedom of the mind would be possible without the cooperation of a chained intelligence. What would our existence be, and especially the nocturnal part, if these monsters from ancient tales, lions, hyenas, jackals, wild boars were lying in wait for us in the depths of impenetrable thickets? No doubt we would be busy fighting, watching, fleeing, without these precious fences, without these barriers, these walls, and these gates, behind which we must admit that we still keep the watch by a fear no doubt hereditary. What guardian and protective instinct pulls a man from his sleep, sets him in alarm and surveillance at the dog’s first call? Gentlemen, I see an astonishing harmony in all of this, for the nature of intelligence is to foresee from afar, and even to form the idea of ​​a possible danger, from the slightest signs; while instinct goes about its jobs with almost stupid security. Thus, following the ways of nature, prudence and power are found to be separated as befits for the perfection of both, and at the same time power is subordinated to prudence. The mind, the father of fear, has fearless guardians. This arrangement is no accident. A higher providence can be seen here. It took the human beehive and these constant works for existence to finally appear to itself, precisely in this poodle which holds its man on a leash, and which, free from concerns, chooses to guess the movements of the ingenious animal, instead of changing them. » “Very well, » said the big dog, « but let us not forget that the fault, as soon as you think of a man, is to suppose him thoughts. I believe that all of his work is a continuation of his hands, a play of his hands, and that he found himself attached to us by a leash long before he understood anything of it. For me, I love this naivety and I celebrate it. Works suppose accumulation; they are always done, and thoughts come too late; man and dog are a very ancient compound. Let us admit it; this compound is a more or less recognized de facto friendship and it is in this sense that there are human rights.  »

October 10, 1925

To read the original version

English translation copyright © Thierry Leterre


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