New research by the assistant professor of animal behavior, ecology and conservation (ABEC) at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, reveals that pets are more than just animals to children.
“They often see themselves as the center of their pets’ affections”, says Russell, who conducted one-on-one interviews with children between the ages of six and 13. “They describe their pets as siblings or best friends with whom they have strong connections”. Α 13-year-old boy was shaken by the sudden death of his cat, even though it occurred two years earlier.
Children “have a distinct sense of existential fairness around whether or not an animal lived until an appropriate age”, Russell explains. A short lifespan “is normal for hamsters and fish,” according to the children interviewed, “but unexpected for dogs, cats and rabbits”.
“Children whose pets lived the extent of their potential lifetimes – or beyond – expressed acceptance upon their deaths,” Russell says. The children also suggested that euthanasia “was the moral thing to do when a pet is suffering”. Conversely, children whose pets died unexpectedly “described it as emotionally and morally unfair, and had a much more difficult time reconciling the loss”.
In all instances, family and friends helped the children cope with the loss, while moving on to a new pet for some children seems right and for some not.
A kid summarized it best, Russell concludes, when he said, “Sometimes death is tragic, like when a cat is run over by a car. But ultimately, death is part of life and life does go on”. (1)
Learning about life and death from small children.
Surely children have a lot to teach us. Their fresh innocent look on philosophical questions is indeed refreshing and many times to the point. But we cannot rely on them completely in order to formulate conclusions. We must try to find out what is the gist of their beliefs in order to find the core of primordial a priori truth hiding in their little cute minds. But from that point the wisdom of a grown up philosopher is needed.
Kids in the aforementioned article speak stoically about death as part of life, feel a sense of justice or injustice even without knowing why. They understand that death is just part of life – which it is – but at the same time feel devastated by death. This implies that they are too emotionally attached to life – too much to actually see clearly the truth about life and death on a metaphysical level. Their love towards their pets shows their inner values but they cannot truly comprehend these values. Their love is raw and their emotions explode when they lose their loved cat. Even the easiness with which they replace their cat with a new one or their acceptance of euthanasia is actually a result of their inability to manage their emotions.
And yet their emotions towards a dead animal show that we are not just lifeless matter wondering around with no purpose. These kids know that there is something more than matter (or else they wouldn’t feel injustice for anything or affection for matter per se, they would never put their loved ones life on a higher priority than their own) and yet at the same time they complain and feel bad as if there is nothing more than death (or else they wouldn’t think their life ended when the cat died). What this “something else” is, is a matter of analysis. What “love” is, is a matter of analysis. And so on and so forth.
Yes, the kid with the cat is a good pointer to the truth. Actually babies and small kids (rather than grown up kids like in these examples, who have already been exposed to society and affected by its norms) could be the ONLY true pointers to the truth, at least as far as our senses and perception of reality is concerned.
But Parmenides is a better philosopher.
As simple as that.