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131 Who Let the Dogs Out? Tracking the Philosophical Life among the Wolves and Dogs of the Republic Christopher P. Long The wolf exerts a powerful influence on the human imagination. It takes your stare and turns it back on you. —Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men Philosophies diffuse odors. —George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo The complex olfactory communication practices of wolf scent-marking remain in many ways a mystery to us. But for the wolves themselves, who make or inspect a scent mark once every two minutes, olfactory communication must play a rather important role in their relations with one another and the wider world they inhabit.1 Although scent-marking in wolves is thought to be in part an attempt to warn off intruders, some research suggests that it is used as a kind of “cognitive map” for members of the pack to find their way through the home territory by locating sources of water and standard hunting trails.2 Of course, for the breed of philosophers who seek meaningful pathways through the territory of our most ancient and familiar textual homes, the eyes, ears, and even the sense of taste have long been faithful guides, while the nose has remained always ancillary.3 Perhaps it is a species problem, for as Aristotle notes in the De Anima with respect to smell, “we do not have precision in this power of perceiving, but are inferior to many animals.”4 And yet, the wolves, and their more domesticated descendants, the dogs, may be onto something.5 8 132 | Christopher P. Long In his rich and engaging Dialogues in Limbo, George Santayana imagines himself entering into conversation with immortal dead philosophical figures, the first of whom, Democritus, insists that “a philosophy can be smelt.”6 In discussion with Alcibiades, Democritus claims: “Hence, though it be a delicate matter and not accomplished without training, it is possible for a practiced nose to distinguish the precise quality of a philosopher by his peculiar odor, just as a hound by the mere scent can tell a fox from a boar.”7 However comical, Santayana’s Democritus, like our wolves and dogs, may be on to something. Perhaps the nose knows something of philosophy, if only we would attend to it as we navigate the territory of our most familiar textual homes. There is arguably no home more familiar and no text more odiferous than Plato’s Republic. So perhaps something of Plato’s quality as a philosopher and of Socrates’s attempt in the dialogue to sniff out the longer road toward a philosophical life may be discerned by tracking the scent of wolves and dogs in the Republic.8 Despite its rather peculiar absence of any thematization of smell or smelling as a mode of perceiving, Plato’s Republic reeks of various animals, but the smell of wolves and dogs permeates the text with striking pungency. The scent-markings of the canines in the Republic leave a trail that might itself be used as a kind of cognitive map leading us to one of the central teachings of the text itself: that the philosophical life is situated precariously between the tyrannical tendencies of the wolf and the blind obedience of the well-trained dog. The Scent of the Wolf The first hint of the presence of wolves in the Republic can be discerned even before one attacks Socrates in the form of the “wild beast” that is Thrasymachus. Autolykos, Odysseus’s cunning maternal grandfather, appears at a turning point of the discussion Socrates has with Polemarchus about the nature of justice.9 The appearance of Autolykos, the “lone wolf,” marks the moment when Polemarchus, having so eagerly taken up the question of justice inherited from his father, Cephalus, begins to wonder if he himself understands what he meant when he insisted that “justice is helping friends and harming enemies” (334a–b). Socrates brings him to this recognition by insisting that Autolykos would be the embodiment of justice on the account Polemarchus had been defending. Citing Homer, Socrates emphasizes that Autolykos is said “to excel all human-beings in stealing and swearing oaths” (334b).10 The appeal to Autolykos has a strong effect on Polemarchus, for he would rather relinquish his previous position than endorse a conception of justice that would elevate the “wolf itself” as a paragon. In Homer, Autolykos is said to have learned his skills of lying and thievery from Hermes, the trickster god, so well versed in using verbal...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253016201
Related ISBN
9780253016133
MARC Record
OCLC
907092951
Pages
270
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-10
Language
English
Open Access
No
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