The search for Dog: All-night philosophy marathon discusses animals

Mark Alizart dog
A man of dog: Philosopher Mark Alizart and his dog Master Eckhart.
Photo by Lili Doillon

It’s a night of natural philosophy.

An all-night ideathon will return to Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch at 7 pm on Feb. 1 and stretch well into Feb. 2, offering 12 free hours of philosophical debates, artistic performances, film screenings, juggling shows, and readings. The fourth annual Night of Philosophy and Ideas promises a diverse array of discussions, including several speakers who will discuss what we can learn from the natural world.

Philosopher Mark Alizart will deliver an 8 pm lecture simply titled “Dogs,” which examines our relationship with Man’s Best Friend as more than just master and pet. Domestication happened as much to humans as it did to dogs, according to the scholar.

“Dogs have co-evolved with us, we’re actually also domesticated animals,” Alizart said. “So we should look at dogs as another face of ourselves rather than an animal we have dominated.”

The thinker recently published a book about canines, also titled “Dogs,” which he wrote after his own pooch died in 2016. He found that dogs have mostly been written about dismissively, portrayed as hapless goofy animals that we need to protect. In fact, their instincts are to protect us — and they might find some of our behavior stupid, too!

“Sometimes they probably think we’re stupid and childish, like when we’re throwing food away,” he said.

Alizart doesn’t look to dogs for self help, but he does think our fluffy companions can teach us to enjoy life.

“There’s something about them I think we can learn from, by opening ourselves up to their joy of life, and how you take pleasure from the simple things.” 

Later in the night, at 10 pm, a Columbia University philosophy professor will discuss the natural world as a living organism with its own dignity, inspired by a pair of under-appreciated female philosophers. In her talk “Everything Is Alive: Weird Metaphysics in Early Modern Thought,” Christia Mercer will discuss the beliefs of Julian of Norwich, from the Middle Ages, and 17th century philosopher Anne Conway. 

“Conway thinks that everything in nature deserves dignity — even little critters,” Mercer said.

Her talk will show how the writings of these mostly forgotten women offer a radical perspective for today’s environmental crises.

“I think it’s really interesting if you’re in the world now and wondering about human beings’ relationship to nature or how we can bring about peace in the world,” she said. “It’s fascinating to see how people writing a really long time ago are talking about things we deal with today and offer such radical responses.”

Mercer has spoken at previous iterations of the night-long marathon of ideas, and says she enjoys having heated discussions during the coldest months of the year.

“There’s something really exciting and invigorating about it,” she said. “It’s a nice antidote to the season.”

“A Night of Philosophy and Ideas” at the Library’s Central Branch [10 Grand Army Plaza, at Eastern Parkway in Prospect Heights, (718) 230-2100, www.bklynlibrary.org]. Feb 1, 7 pm-7 am. Free.