The Argument from 'Surprise!'

Abstract
Can non-human animals think, or arc they mindless automatons? The question is an ancient one, but as we enter the new millennium its answer is of increasing importance to both ethics and the philosophy of mind. Donald Davidson is perhaps the best known contemporary proponent of the claim that animals cannot think. His argument is characteristically systematic and far-reaching. He claims that the capacity for surprise is a necessary condition for thought, and that such a capacity presupposes complex attitudes involving sophisticated concepts and higher-order beliefs. He argues that only creatures with a fully developed language could reasonably be said to be capable of such attitudes, and as such, he concludes that humans are the only animals that can think. I argue against Davidson along both positive and negative dimensions. First, I develop a simple argument (similar in structure to Davidson's) designed to show that we have good reason to believe that even with several important Davidsonian assumptions in place, animals can think. Second, I argue that Davidson has failed to provide plausible support for his assumption that the capacity to be surprised (as he defines it) is anything other than a sufficient condition for thought. Finally, I suggest that we distinguish between thought and rationality in the hopes of better capturing the wide diversity of mental landscapes
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