The importance of being erroneous: Prospects for animal intentionality

Philosophical Topics 27 (1):281-308 (1999)
The question of animal belief (or animal intentionality) often degenerates into a frustrating and unproductive exchange. Foes of animal intentionality point out that non-linguistic animals couldn’t possibly possess the kinds of mental states we linguistic beings enjoy. They claim that linguistic ability enables us to become sensitive to intensional contexts or to the states of mind of others in a way that is unavailable to the non-linguistic, and that would be necessary for proper attributions of intentionality. To attribute mental states to non-linguistic brutes, no matter how natural it comes to us, would be grossly anthropomorphic. In the face of these challenges some friends of animal intentionality have attempted to show that at least a few animals (chimpanzees, vervet monkeys, honeybees) are capable of engaging in quasi-linguistic, communicative practices that ought to be accorded at least a minimal degree of intentionality. Others have questioned the foes’ necessity claims; linguistic ability, claim these animal friends, isn’t required for sensitivity to intensional contexts, surprise, or belief about belief after all, or if it is, then these features aren’t really requisite for mental capacity. Indeed, if we focus exclusively upon linguistic ability, then we are apt to miss the primitive kinds of mental capacities from which our own full-blooded intentional capacities likely evolved. Animals certainly seem to interact intelligently with their surroundings, so much so that we ought to follow our natural (brute?) anthropomorphic inclinations to credit them with minds. Failing to recognize their genuine intentional capacities would be "brutishly" anthropocentric
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DOI 10.5840/philtopics199927123
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