Overall, it must be said that those who kill or harm living creatures, or set them up to fight each other for their own pleasure, are no better than wild beasts themselves. If you pause and look carefully at the birds and animals, and even the little insects, you will see that they love their children, feel affection for their parents, live in couples, are jealous, angry, full of desire, self-protecting and fearful for their lives, and far more so than men, since they lack all intelligence. Surely one should pity them when they are killed or made to suffer? If you can look on any sentient being without compassion, you are less than human.

— Yoshida Kenko, Essays in Idleness


The swallows that we see at the return of the spring, searching all the corners of our houses for the most commodious places wherein to build their nest; do they seek without judgment, and amongst a thousand choose out the most proper for their purpose, without discretion? And in that elegant and admirable contexture of their buildings, can birds rather make choice of a square figure than a round, of an obtuse than of a right angle, without knowing their properties and effects? Do they bring water, and then clay, without knowing that the hardness of the latter grows softer by being wetted? Do they mat their palace with moss or down without foreseeing that their tender young will lie more safe and easy? Do they secure themselves from the wet and rainy winds, and place their lodgings against the east, without knowing the different qualities of the winds, and considering that one is more wholesome than another? Why does the spider make her web tighter in one place, and slacker in another; why now make one sort of knot, and then another, if she has not deliberation, thought, and conclusion? We sufficiently discover in most of their works how much animals excel us, and how unable our art is to imitate them. We see, nevertheless, in our rougher performances, that we employ all our faculties, and apply the utmost power of our souls; why do we not conclude the same of them?

Why should we attribute to I know not what natural and servile inclination the works that excel all we can do by nature and art? wherein, without being aware, we give them a mighty advantage over us in making nature, with maternal gentleness and love, accompany and learn them, as it were, by the hand to all the actions and commodities of their life, whilst she leaves us to chance and fortune, and to seek out by art the things that are necessary to our conservation, at the same time denying us the means of being able, by any instruction or effort of understanding, to arrive at the natural sufficiency of beasts; so that their brutish stupidity surpasses, in all conveniences, all that our divine intelligence can do.

— Montaigne, “An Apology for Raymond Sebond


Cats have no need of philosophy because they already know how to live. Dull, commonplace folk will say the reason cats do not philosophise is that they lack the capacity for abstract thought. But imagine a species of cats that possessed this capacity while retaining the ease with which they live in the world. They might even give humans guidance on how to live. My book contains a list of 10 feline tips or hints on the subject. Of course these are not pieces of moral advice. Cats know nothing of morality as we understand it. They obey no commandments and feel no obligation to improve the world. Yet if we think of ethics as living according to one’s nature — as the ancient Greeks and Chinese Daoists did, along with Montaigne and also Spinoza — these feline philosophers could have something useful to tell us about the good life. To be sure, they would not expect us to follow their advice, nor would they care if we did. If they engaged in philosophy, it would be as a form of play.

— John Gray, “What Cats Taught Me About Philosophy