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Cats vs Dogs

The world is full of animal lovers but we can’t agree on which pet is more worthy of our love - the loyal, obedient dog, or the inscrutable, capricious cat

‘Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.’ – Christopher Hitchens

It’s the issue that’s more divisive than Brexit, more polarising than politics. The world is full of animal lovers but we can’t agree on which pet is more worthy of our love – the loyal, obedient dog, or the inscrutable, capricious cat.  

It’s the dog, of course, say the champions of all things canine. For a start, dogs are more intelligent. They have twice the number of neurons in their cerebral cortexes as cats, and their mental abilities can be close to that of a human toddler. But intelligence isn’t everything. What bonds us to our dogs is love. And science backs this up. When we look into our dog’s eyes, our levels of the so-called love hormone, oxytocin, shoot up by 300 per cent. And the feeling is mutual. One study showed a 130 per cent increase in dogs’ oxytocin levels when they gaze into the eyes of their owners. And cats? They showed a 12 per cent increase – proof of bonding, but also evidence that cats don’t love us as much as dogs do. No wonder cats have a reputation for being self-centred and standoffish. And then there’s that heart-melting look that dogs give us, when they lift their eyebrows and make those sad ‘puppy dog’ eyes. They can do this because they have evolved a special muscle, absent from their wolf ancestors, which they can use to make their eyes larger and more childlike. As for cats, you’re lucky if you get an impenetrable stare. 

But that’s to misunderstand the whole essence of cats, say fans of the feline. Unlike dogs, who were domesticated by humans and bred to be subservient, cats live alongside us more or less unchanged from their wild forebears. As for intelligence, cats are just as good as dogs at learning. They are just less keen than your typically obsequious pooch to show us what they’ve learned. And when it comes to communication, every cat owner will tell you that their cat has a whole repertoire of miaows – from high to low pitch, short to drawn out – to signify to us what they want. Dogs merely have an unnuanced bark and a waggy tail. But the real point about cats is that they are not ‘people’, as some owners think their dogs are. Cats may have entered our world and they may love us in their own way, but they are fundamentally ‘other’ than us, which makes owning a cat a much grander and more mysterious project than owning a dog. 

That’s the argument that the political thinker John Gray, author of the new book Feline Philosophy, will be making in defence of cats in this debate. He’ll be taking on the full rhetorical force of novelist and dog-lover Will Self, who in his own words is ‘positively salivating at the thought of getting my canines into those narcissistic cats’.

Join us on December 9, cast your vote and help us get this vital question settled once and for all. 



Will Self

Novelist, broadcaster and literary critic

Widely acclaimed novelist, broadcaster, political commentator and literary critic, known for his acerbic wit. He has been described in the Guardian as the most daring and delightful novelist of his generation. His most recent novels are Umbrella, Shark and Phone, a trilogy which the New Statesman predicted will become ‘one of the most significant literary works of our century, books that reflect and refract the hideousness of our times'. His memoir, Will, was released in November 2019.

John Gray

Political philosopher and author of the new book Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life

One of the UK’s best known and most popular philosophers. Between 1998 and 2007 he was Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, and since 2008 he has been Emeritus Professor there. He has published over twenty books, including Gray’s Anatomy: Selected Writings; The Silence of Animals: Thoughts on Progress and Other Modern Myths, and Seven Types of Atheism. He writes and reviews for The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, TLS and other journals. His latest book is the bestselling Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, described by The Observer as ‘The intellectual cat's pyjamas ... Gray's is the perfect book for the estranging oddness of the pandemic.’

Shahidha Bari

Writer, academic and broadcaster

Professor of Fashion Cultures and Histories at London College of Fashion at the University of the Arts London, and a Fellow of the Forum for Philosophy at the London School of Economics. She is a regular presenter of the BBC Radio 3's Arts and Ideas programme, Free Thinking, and an occasional presenter of BBC Radio 4's Front Row and Saturday Review. She contributes to Aeon, The Financial Times, Frieze art magazine, The Guardian, The Observer, The Times Literary Supplement and other publications. She is the author of Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes.


Speakers subject to change.