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.

The soul of a dog

One day, by mistake, Jupiter gave a human soul  to a dog about to be born. At first the dog followed its dog’s instincts, which had already developed within his body. So he was able to suckle his mother’s milk without having learnt how. A little later, with his dog’s memory, he gradually learnt to obtain juicy pieces of food while avoiding blows. Against unexpected blows, which fell upon him at random, experience taught him certain evasions, like the one which consists in pressing one’s stomach against the ground, to protect the most sensitive parts from strokes of the whip. Since he also found plenty of pleasant food odours to lick from the hands of his master and the faces of little boys, he passed for a dog who was both affectionate and respectful. So, with his dog’s soul alone, he learnt both to communicate and to lie.

Soon his intelligence crossed a threshold; he learnt to distinguish between those who hit him when he barked and those who ran away. As soon as he could threaten the weak and flatter the strong, he was, without expecting it, promoted to guard dog. As he was not chained up, he led a pretty good dog’s life, biting when he was stronger, threatening when he was afraid, putting his nose into the dirt, making the most of what came his way, making love by chance, and sleeping without remorse.



One day, while chasing his tail, his human soul awoke. The dog suddenly saw that he was trying to bite himself and the reason he wasn’t succeeding. The discovery crushed him. “Am I then only a stupid animal?”

So here he is, using his reason, recognising himself as a dog, and realising that there are other dogs who feel blows as he does. He promptly lost the taste for biting them. In truth, when eating he suffered because a thin dog was watching him through the gate. He became good. But the other dogs mocked him. He wanted to instruct them, but they replied: “If you are cleverer than other dogs, prove it by eating their dinner. Anyone who shares is weak, anyone who’s weak is a fool.” This seemed to him an acceptable conclusion, for he was large and strong; but the reasoning seemed stupid. Now he no longer always had his eye on his dinner; from time to time he looked elsewhere. Don’t forget that this dog had a human soul, and that Newton one day forgot to eat.

Finally, he thought he understood that the stupidity of dogs came from earning their living as slaves; and he harangued them with incitements to rebellion. But they demonstrated to him that the state of slavery was the best; they gave him the example of two or three wandering dogs who were dying of hunger. “Who will feed you”, said the old dogs, “if you don’t have a master?” They raced off without waiting for his reply, for the butcher was doing his rounds. After several attempts, he finally realised that a dog can do nothing with a human soul; and he gave it back to Jupiter.


English translation copyright © Michel Petheram

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