The Philosopher and the Wolf
Rowlands (Mark)
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Review in TLS1 On-Line (31 December 2008)

  1. One day, the eye of the philosopher Mark Rowlands was caught by an advertisement in his local newspaper, the Tuscaloosa News: “Wolf cubs for sale, 96 per cent”. Rowlands was eyeballing the father of those cubs just an hour later, the wolf’s yellow eyes on a level with his own, the beast’s enormous paws propping it up against a stable door. This encounter had the opposite effect to that which it would have on most human beings, who fear wolves with a primordial terror. Rowlands purchased one of the cubs and his life changed. Within hours, Brenin had savaged his furniture and destroyed the air conditioning.
  2. When Brenin was alive, he was the centre of Rowlands’s life; each day the creature had to be exercised, fed and settled before the philosopher could embark on anything else. The demand the wolf made on him reminds Rowlands of the myth about St Francis and a wolf that terrorized a village. St Francis made a deal with the wolf, whereby the creature would cease his hostilities if the villagers promised to feed him regularly. The arrangement worked, and firm arrangements are what you need to make with wolves if the relationship is to flourish. Now that Brenin is dead, the philosopher still thinks of his “brother wolf” every day. He misses the relationship that was one of the most formative in his life, and confesses to worrying about Brenin’s bones, now that they lie buried in a lonely spot in the South of France.
  3. In his professional life, Rowlands is known for the idea that consciousness is embedded in the world around us as much as within us. For example, our intelligence stems in part from our ability to use language, and language itself exists apart from any one of us. Brenin, he decides, has “mechanical intelligence”: the wolf lives in a mechanical world, solving problems like opening doors in a flash. This differs from dogs who, he argues, have “magical intelligence”: a dog lives in a magical world, in which it deals with doors by looking at them and waiting for its owner to do the opening, though in ways that are entirely mysterious to the dog itself. Rowlands’s thoughts on “externalism”, as his view of the connection between mind and world is called, developed in part because of his relationship with Brenin: “I think there are certain thoughts that can emerge only in the space between a wolf and a man”.
  4. Other fascinating speculations are concerned with human intelligence. It is rational and moral – for all that we can be irrational and amoral, and profoundly affected by emotions. That would suggest that there is a rational and moral world external to us. Inasmuch as that is embedded in language, it might be argued that we create that rationality and morality, on the grounds that we are the makers of the language we speak. An alternative view, though, is that language is a mirror of a deeper reality: might rationality and morality exist externally to and independently of us too? Rowlands, for one, is open to this possibility. That said, wolfish or “canine” traits almost invariably come off better than human or “simian” traits, in Rowlands’s view – at least in this book. This misanthropic thread is partly a reflection of the discontent Rowlands felt about himself over the period the book covers, about which he is painfully honest, notably when he muses on the failed human relationships in his life and his tendency to drink too much.
  5. Rowlands needn’t have been so negative about his conspecifics. Apart from anything else, studies of bonobos, conducted by Frans de Waal among others, have revealed astonishing capacities for kindness and empathy among higher primates. Taken as a whole, though, Rowlands’s memoir is life-affirming, engrossing, thoughtful and moving. The subtitle is “Lessons from the wild on love, death and happiness”, and I found the lessons on consciousness, animals and knowledge as engaging as the main current of the memoir. The Philosopher and the Wolf could become a philosophical cult classic.
Amazon Reviews
  1. 'The Philosopher and the Wolf has been one of the most intense reading experiences of my life. There is hardly a sentence in the book that did not engage me, stop me, make me think. It is a profound and beautiful book'
    … Jeffrey Masson
  2. 'Mark Rowlands has given us that rarest of things - a book that takes the reader beyond the human world, while exploring the deepest human emotions. This moving account of the life he lived with an adopted wolf will be recognised as a seminal work of philosophy that forces us to re-evaluate our view of the human animal2'
    … John Gray
  3. 'An absolute stunner of a book. Impossible not to be moved by the painfully personal narrative and the depth of reflection. Just enthralling and unputdownable.'
    … Professor Andrew Linzey, Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics
  4. 'The Philosopher and the Wolf is a wonderful book. It's rare that a professor lets his hair down and weaves sentiment, heart, and love into deeper and supposedly more objective academic issues. Mark Rowlands does just this and I will be sharing his book widely.'
    … Marc Bekoff, author of Animals Matter

In-Page Footnotes ("Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf")

Footnote 1:
Book Comment

Granta Books (3 Nov 2008)

"Rowlands (Mark) - The Clearing"

Source: Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf, Chapter 1

"Rowlands (Mark) - Brotherwolf"

Source: Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf, Chapter 2

"Rowlands (Mark) - Distinctly Uncivilised"

Source: Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf, Chapter 3

"Rowlands (Mark) - Beauty and the Beast"

Source: Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf, Chapter 4

"Rowlands (Mark) - The Deceiver"

Source: Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf, Chapter 5

"Rowlands (Mark) - The Pursuit of Happiness and Rabbits"

Source: Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf, Chapter 6

"Rowlands (Mark) - A Season in Hell"

Source: Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf, Chapter 7

"Rowlands (Mark) - Time's Arrow"

Source: Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf, Chapter 8

"Rowlands (Mark) - The Religion of the Wolf"

Source: Rowlands (Mark) - The Philosopher and the Wolf, Chapter 9

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