UserpicKant and Dog Training

Following on from last week's 'Nietzsche and dog training' post, I've been thinking about something Kant said in his essay, 'Conjectures on the beginnings of human history'. Here he tells an Eden myth, with which we needn't concern ourselves, and tells a four-point story about the development of humanity into the Kingdom of Ends. What interests me is his claim that self-consciousness comes first, and this makes possible the ability to resist impulses (step 2 in his developmental story). This strikes me as obviously the wrong way around.

When you always follow your impulses, then there is no need to differentiate yourself from them. A person who follows their impulses without fail, come what may, is, in effect, always, as Sartre put it, ' in situation'. It is saying 'no' to the impulse that enables the differentiation of consciousness from the impulse. The ability to say 'no' to an impulse is concomitant with the recognition that you are not the impulse. It is here, I think, and not in some Kantian miracle, that we find the roots of self-consciousness.

I've been thinking about this due to my attempts to teach Hugo the 'long down': lying down and staying in place for fifteen minutes, even after I have left the location (for those who missed the Nietzsche post, Hugo is my young German shepherd). I think it's fair to say that the results so far have beem mixed. Philosophically, I suppose, what is crucial is how you come to say 'no' to the impulse. If it's simply that there is another stronger impulse, then Hugo is not so much saying 'no' to one impulse as saying 'yes' to another. That's why I find the long dwn very interesting - the most interesting exercise we have so far attempted. The most obvious stronger impulse would surround my presence at the scene. With my absence, perhaps something different is beginning to emerge: the genuine saying 'no' to an impulse.

In the 'Nietzsche' post, I claimed that dog training was a way of teaching values to dogs - of teaching tham a morality in a broad sense. Now I'm flirting with the idea that it is way of teaching them self-consciousness (in one sense of that multiply ambiguous term) - of teaching them to differentiate themselves from, and become aware of, their impulses. 

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