Best kitteh ever

by Greg Mayer

The best kitteh ever is, of course, Peyton, the philosophical cat, who has previously contributed to our discussions here at WEIT on morality, ethics, and epistemology. But, as a semi-regular contributor, she is ineligible for the Kitteh Contest, so readers should submit their nominees to Jerry by 5 PM December 1.  Here again is Jerry’s picture of her

Peyton, the philosophical cat.

and some new video.

If she had not, once again, been displaying some of Pinker’s rudimentary moral sentiments, my foot would have been a bloody mess.


  1. Dominic
    Posted November 26, 2010 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    A curious name choice [well, no more curious than any other perhaps?]- it seems to me – why Peyton? I had a boss surnamed Peyton – I was not exactly fond of him!

    • Dominic
      Posted November 26, 2010 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      I confess myself catless, & while I like animals (I am one) I do not really approve of keeping pets. Yes I have read Stephen Budiansky’s “Covenant of the Wild” –
      – & i am not out to start a big ethical discussion

      • Posted November 26, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Well the thing is these animals are so specialized to a domestic, human guarded environment that not keeping pets would spell almost certain extinction for hundreds of species, including millions of pet dogs.

        • Diane G.
          Posted November 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

          I concur.

          Dominic, thanks for the book reference–looks interesting!

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 26, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Peyton was at an animal shelter, and that’s the name she came with.


      • HP
        Posted November 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        Contra all the cat haters out there, cats become very attached to their names, even if it’s a name we didn’t choose and don’t particularly like.

        Baby was severely malnourished stray when we took him in, fed him, and started to look for his “real” home. We didn’t want to give him a name, so we just called him by generic terms of endearment — “Big Man, Darling, Sweetheart,” etc. — when my stepdaughter called him “Baby.” He immediately began meowing loudly and trying to get up. (He was very, very malnourished.)

        “Of course!,” I said. “Bringing Up Baby, Catherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. His former owner was a classic film buff!” For the rest of his 18 years, he never answered to anything else.

  2. Posted November 26, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Definitely feline play behavior, which some people mistake for aggression. You’ll note that cats only exhibit this sort of behavior to humans (and dogs etc.), but not to other cats.

    • Posted November 26, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      Kittens. They do it to each other when they’re kittens.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 26, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        …which is where many observers posit the response arises, and not from some “rudimentary moral sentiments,” however pleasant a thought that is.

        In other words, through normal kitten play-attacks, with either their siblings or their mother, they quickly learn when play has gone too far, a lesson they can then transfer to play with their human(s).

        And I’ve certainly seen this behavior between adult cats as well. Must just depend on their individual cat-alities…

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted November 26, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

          This, of course, is precisely what a rudimentary moral sentiment is. The unusual thing here is that the sentiment is extended to a member of another species. From the ‘morality‘ post:

          And in various forms of play, she holds back from scratching and biting strongly. Scratching and biting are key elements of cat play– what makes them play, instead of fighting or predation, is the cat’s withholding of its effort so as not to injure the playmate. It’s easiest to demonstrate the existence of sympathy and trust by seeing what happens when they’re removed. We have to put her in a travel case to take her to the vet. She resists going in, because her trust is reduced by the odd circumstances, which she experiences very infrequently (ca. once per year). On leaving the vet’s office, she more fully understands that the case and a trip in the car (which she doesn’t like) are coming. She has now lost sympathy with us, and claws in ways designed to prevent her from going into the case, and she draws blood if the people are not careful. Thus the many incidents of play are revealed to be not some inability of the cat to fight effectively with people, but as a voluntary withholding of the full force of her defenses– sympathy.


          • Diane G.
            Posted November 26, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

            Having just encountered the lovely Peyton with this post, I did follow all your links to previous posts and enjoyed them very much as well. 🙂

            I think I was getting at a difference between something like behavior learned from aversive conditioning (say, getting walloped if you bite too hard on Mom’s tail) and being able to actually make the connection that ‘this action causes me pain; therefore, if I inflict it on another, it will cause that cat pain;’ i.e., that human morality might arise more from cognitive empathy, while that of cats more from conditioning.

            Either case, I should think, could easily result in Peyton’s change of behavior once “play” (or submission) are overtrumped by perceived threat, in which case all bets are off… 😀

            Interestingly enough, in this particular situation she differs from every cat I can remember ever taking to the vet, all of whom retreated as rapidly as possible to the “safety” of their kitty carriers once released from the undignified manhandling of the doctor…

            FWIW, I tend to see much more depth to the emotional lives, if you will, of my pets, than any of the more clinical-sounding researchers one often comes across…But by admitting such, one then definitely risks being seen as fairly nonscientific, in some circles. Alas.

          • Posted November 27, 2010 at 3:38 am | Permalink

            Now in such cases it’s more likely a case of the cat stressing because you are stressing. Cats pick up on our feelings, so when we are calm and happy they are calm and happy. Cats are good at reading us.

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