The questions readers ponder as Philosopher or Dog? unfolds concern the nature of winning and losing, the value of what is won in relation to how victory has been achieved, and the efforts of human ambition as either idealism or madness. Rubião is a modest, former schoolteacher from the provincial interior of Brazil who unexpectedly becomes heir to the wealth of Quincas Borba, an unbalanced philosopher who preaches the value of egotism and survival of the fittest. Along with the fortune, Rubião acquires responsibility for the dog of the deceased, also named Quincas Borba.
A third-person narrator balances Rubião’s recounting of the characters’ actions and dialogue, so a reader can evaluate appearance versus reality and intentions against actions. Rubião decides he no longer wishes to reside in his provincial hometown, going to live in Rio de Janeiro, seat of the imperial court. On his journey there, he meets Palha, a colleague who is indebted to him, and his alluring wife, Sofia. As Palha hears of the fortune Rubião has inherited, he and his wife resolve to capitalize on it to their benefit. Enamored of Sofia, sending her expensive gifts, and secretly imagining adultery with her, Rubião is taken in by the pair. Palha encourages the attraction. Sofia nurtures her vanity.
Another predator is Camacho, a shiftless politician, who sees how easily he can manipulate the naïve Rubião, who has just rescued a boy from an accident....
(The entire section is 480 words.)