Humans have a folk psychology, without question. Paul Churchland used the term to describe “our commonsense conception of psychological phenomena” (Churchland 1981, p. 67), whatever that may be. When we ask the question whether animals have their own folk psychology, we’re asking whether any other species has a commonsense conception of psychological phenomenon as well. Different versions of this question have been discussed over the past 25 years, but no clear answer has emerged. Perhaps one reason for this lack of (...) progress is that we don’t clearly understand the question. In asking whether animals have folk psychology, I hope to help clarify the concept of folk psychology itself, and in the process, to gain a greater understanding of the role of belief and desire attribution in human social interaction. (shrink)
Once upon a time, not too long ago, the question about apes and ethics had to do with moral standing—do apes have interests or rights that humans ought to respect? Given the fifty years of research on great ape cognition, life history, social organization, and behavior, the answer to that question seems obvious. Apes have emotions and projects, they can be harmed, and they have important social relationships.
Family feuds, social climbing, and power struggles are the stuff of a 19th century novel of manners. They're also the stuff of 21st century primate societies, according to Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth's new book Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. From 15 years of behavioral observations, playback experiments, and hormonal analyses, Cheney and Seyfarth (C&S) have compiled a portrait of baboon social life as an egoistic attempt to win friends and influence people—not unlike the vervet monkeys we (...) met in their last book . The posturing and intrigue needed to successfully navigate a complex social milieu require sophisticated cognitive equipment, and C&S support the view that general cognitive abilities evolved in primates primarily to meet such demands. (shrink)
The question of whether humans have free will, like the question of the meaning of life, is one whose answer depends on how the question itself is interpreted. In his recent book Neurophilosophy of Free Will: From Libertarian Illusions to a Concept of Natural Autonomy, Henrik Walter examines whether free will is possible in a deterministic natural world, and he concludes that the answer is "It depends" (xi). He rejects a libertarian account of free will as internally inconsistent, but argues (...) for a version of compatibilism that he calls "natural autonomy." Natural autonomy, or "giving oneself laws" (8), is a successor concept to libertarian free will, and it provides for a self-determination that is consistent with a deterministic and fully physical world. Walter covers a lot of ground in this book. He debunks dualism, examines classical and modern physics, critiques radical constructivism, and utilizes chaos theory, and he refers to figures from St. Augustine to Humberto Maturana, Dennett, Einstein, Hegel and Nozick. This book could be seen as encompassing two distinct projects. The first project is a defense of what Walter calls "neurophilosophy" as a methodology for answering traditional philosophical questions. This methodology is more commonly known as "cognitive science," and Walter accepts the naturalistic premises that underlie most of the work being done by cognitive scientists today. The second project is an application of the neurophilosophical methodology to the traditional question of whether free will is compatible with determinism. The defense of a neurophilosophical methodology is concentrated in the second section of the book, whereas the first and third sections focus on the issue of free will. In the first section Walter presents a thorough overview of the free will debate. It is the final third of the book that warrants the most attention, for this is where the original work is concentrated. Before we examine Walter's contribution to the free will debate, let us briefly look at his historical analysis and the neurophilosophical method that he advocates.. (shrink)
In the context of animal cognitive research, “anthropomorphism” is defined as the attribution of uniquely human mental characteristics to non-human animals. Those who worry about anthropomorphism in research are confronted with the question of which properties are uniquely human. As animals, humans and non-human animals1 share a number of biological, morphological, relational, and spatial properties. In addition, it is widely accepted and humans and animals share some psychological properties such as the ability to fear or desire. These claims about the (...) properties animals share with humans are often the products of empirical work. Prima facie one might think that in order to justify the claim that a property is uniquely human, it would be necessary to find empirical evidence supporting the claim that the property is not found in other species. After all, the goal of animal cognition is to determine what sort of cognitive abilities animals use. If scientists were to discover that a cognitive property wasn’t found in any species except human species, then the claim that some other animal had that property would be a false charge, and would be an example of anthropomorphism. However, in practice anthropomorphic worries play a pre-empirical role. Research programs are charged with being anthropomorphic because they are examining.. (shrink)
According to the mental continuity claim (MCC), human mental faculties are physical and beneficial to human survival, so they must have evolved gradually from ancestral forms and we should expect to see their precursors across species. Materialism of mind coupled with Darwin’s evolutionary theory leads directly to such claims and even today arguments for animal mental properties are often presented with the MCC as a premise. However, the MCC has been often challenged among contemporary scholars. It is usually argued that (...) only humans use language and that language as such has no precursors in the animal kingdom. Moreover, language is quite often understood as a necessary tool for having representations and forming beliefs. As a consequence, by lacking language animals could not have developed representational systems or beliefs. In response to these worries, we aim to mount a limited defense of the MCC as an empirical hypothesis. First, we will provide a short historical overview of the origins of the MCC and examine some of the motives behind traditional arguments for and against it. Second, we will focus on one particular question, namely whether language as such is necessary for having beliefs. Our goal is to show that there is little reason to think language is necessary for belief. In doing so, we will challenge a view of belief that is widely accepted by those working in animal cognition, namely representational belief, and we will argue that if belief is non-representational, then different research questions and methods are required. We will conclude with an argument that to study the evolution of belief across species, it is essential to begin the study of subjects in their social and ecological environment rather than in contexts that are not ecologically valid along the social and ecological dimensions. Thus, rather than serving as a premise in an argument 3 in favor of animal minds, the MCC can only be defended by empirical investigation, but importantly, empirical investigation of the right sort.. (shrink)
In the context of animal cognitive research, anthropomorphism is defined as the attribution of uniquely human mental characteristics to animals. Those who worry about anthropomorphism in research, however, are immediately confronted with the question of which properties are uniquely human. One might think that researchers must first hypothesize the existence of a feature in an animal before they can, with warrant, claim that the property is uniquely human. But all too often, this isn't the approach. Rather, there is an a (...) priori argument against attributing some properties to animals. Which features are thought to be uniquely human on a priori grounds? The class can be quite large, including psychological states such as beliefs and desires, personality traits such as confidence or timidity, emotions such as happiness or anger, social organizational properties such as culture or friendship, moral behavior such as punishment or rape. For convenience, I will refer to the members of the class as "psychological properties". One critic includes feeling, purpose, intentionality, consciousness, and even cognition in his list of psychological properties that are incorrectly attributed to animals (Kennedy 1992). Among the critics, there is quite a bit of disagreement about what counts as an anthropomorphic attribution, and this alone should raise questions about the charge. We can identify two different questions about the practice of attributing psychological properties to animals within a scientific context. First we can ask whether it is scientifically respectable to examine questions about the mental, psychological, cultural, etc. states of animals. Those who bemoan anthropomorphism think that we ought not even ask such questions. I will look at the worries about asking the question, and argue that there is no special problem with it. The second question arises with an affirmative answer to the first. Given that it is scientifically respectable to examine whether an animal has a psychological property, there must be some scientifically respectable method for doing the examination.. (shrink)
A defense of equality for great apes must begin with an understanding of the opposition and an acknowledgement of the most basic point of disagreement. For great apes to gain status as persons in our community, we must begin by determining what the multitude of different definitions of "person" have in common. Finding that great apes fulfill the requirements of any one specific theory of personhood is insufficient, for these theories are highly controversial, and a critique of the theory will (...) undermine the status of great apes as persons. Instead, the first step in the argument for ape equality must be a defense of their self-consciousness. This notion is one thing all plausible theories of personhood have in common. (shrink)
There were various initial reactions to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and among those reactions were some contradictions. There were those who demanded an explanation for the attacks, and others who condemned attempts to explain as immoral or unpatriotic. Though President George W. Bush did make some rhetorical remarks that, I believe, masqueraded as explanatory, it appears that he agrees with the latter set.
Ramsey, Bastian, and van Schaik (RBS) have made a valiant effort to identify innovations in nature. As their theoretical perspective on innovation as a product largely conforms to Reader & Laland (2003), their novel contribution is epistemological. They may well have considered as much information as possible on the ecological, individual, and historical factors that suggest innovations in nature. However, their method does not..
Biology and Philosophy, forthcoming. Following recent arguments that there is no logical problem with attributing mental or agential states to animals, I address the epistemological problem of how to go about making accurate attributions. I suggest that there is a two-part general method for determining whether a psychological property can be accurately attributed to a member of another species: folk expert opinion and functionality. This method is based on well-known assessments used to attribute mental states to humans who are unable (...) to self-ascribe due to an early stage of development or impairment, and can be used to describe social and emotional development as well as personality. I describe how instruments such as the Child Behavior Checklist, which relies on intersubjective expert opinion, could be modified to assess other species subjects. The measures are validated via the accuracy of the predictions that are derived, which is an example of the functionality of attribution. I respond to theoretical criticisms against use of this method, and argue that if the method counts as good science for infant cognition research, then it should count as good science for animal cognition research as well. Correspondingly, if the method doesn’t count as good science for animal cognition research, then we must be very skeptical of its use with nonverbal humans. (shrink)
In the twenty-five or so years since Paul Churchland (1981) proposed its elimination, defenders of folk psychology have argued for the ubiquity of propositional attitude attribution in human social cognition. If we didn’t understand others in terms of their beliefs and desires, we would see others as ‘‘baffling ciphers’’ (Dennett, 1991, p. 29) and it would be ‘‘the end of the world’’ (Fodor, 1990, p. 156). Because the world continues, and we seem to predict and explain what others do (...) with a remarkable degree of accuracy, the advocates of folk psychology tend to accept that we do rely on a third-person attribution of propositional attitudes as the central means for understanding other people. Based on this shared assumption, a central project in folk psychology since Churchland’s paper has been focused on the cognitive architecture that subsumes this understanding. Humans attribute propositional attitudes to predict and explain, but how do they do it? Is our understanding of others’ behavior theoretical, as Churchland originally argued? Is.. (shrink)
I argue that having a theory of mind requires having at least implicit knowledge of the norms of the community, and that an implicit understanding of the normative is what drives the development of a theory of mind. This conclusion is defended by two arguments. First I argue that a theory of mind likely did not develop in order to predict behavior, because before individuals can use propositional attitudes to predict behavior, they have to be able to use them in (...) explanations of behavior. Rather, I suggest that the need to explain behavior in terms of reasons is the primary function of a theory of mind. I further argue that in order to be motivated to offer explanations of behavior, one must have at least an implicit understanding of appropriate behavior, which implies at least an implicit understanding of norms. The second argument looks at three cases of nonhuman animal societies that appear to operate within a system of norms. While there is no evidence that any species other than humans have a theory of mind, there is evidence that other species have sensitivity to the normative. Finally, I propose an explanation for the priority of norms over a theory of mind: given an understanding of norms in a society, and the ability to recognize and sanction violations, there developed a need to understand actions that violated the norms, and such explanations could only be given in terms of a person's reasons. There is a significant benefit to being able to explain behavior that violates norms, because explanations of the right sort can also serve to justify behavior. (shrink)
I suggest a pluralistic account of folk psychology according to which not all predictions or explanations rely on the attribution of mental states, and not all intentional actions are explained by mental states. This view of folk psychology is supported by research in developmental and social psychology. It is well known that people use personality traits to predict behavior. I argue that trait attribution is not shorthand for mental state attributions, since traits are not identical to beliefs or desires, and (...) an understanding of belief or desire is not necessary for using trait attributions. In addition, we sometimes predict and explain behavior through appeal to personality traits that the target wouldn't endorse, and so could not serve as the target's reasons. I conclude by suggesting that our folk psychology includes the notion that some behavior is explained by personality traits—who the person is—rather than by beliefs and desires—what the person thinks. Consequences of this view for the debate between simulation theory and theory theory, as well as the debate on chimpanzee theory of mind are discussed. (shrink)
According to both the traditional model of folk psychology and the social intelligence hypothesis, our folk psychological notions of belief and desire developed in order to make better predictions of behavior, and the fundamental role for our folk psychological notions of belief and desire are for making more accurate predictions of behavior (than predictions made without appeal to folk psychological notions). My strategy in this paper is to show that these claims are false. I argue that we need not appeal (...) to mental states to make predictions of many behaviors, and I will offer a positive account of how we might go about predicting intentional behavior. Finally, I suggest that taken together, the critique of traditional folk psychology along with the alternative account of our predictive practices leads to a new hypothesis. While it may be true that mental state concepts developed in response to social-environmental pressures, I suggest that this pressure was more likely the need to explain behavior, rather than the need to predict it. (shrink)
The official explanations the US gave for the September 11th terrorist attacks are not in fact explanatory, and there has been popular condemnation of those who attempt to offer causal explanations for the attacks. This paper is an investigation of the difficulty people have with finding and accepting explanations for acts they strongly condemn. Using research in the philosophy of mind and moral psychology, I distinguish between explanations for actual immoral behavior and explanations for fictional immoral behavior. The difficulty with (...) accepting the existence of an explanation for an immoral action is based on the difficulty we have identifying with the immoral person. Fiction gives us the narrative required to engage in this imagination, and thus facilitates the construction of explanations. I conclude that rather than being immoral to construct an explanation for the terrorist attacks, it is the first step toward fighting terrorism. (shrink)
The debates about the form of folk psychology and the potential eliminability of folk psychology rest on a particular view about how humans understand other minds. That is, though folk psychology is described as --œour commonsense conception of psychological phenomena--� (Churchland 1981, p. 67), there have been implicit assumptions regarding the nature of that commonsense conception. It has been assumed that folk psychology involves two practices, the prediction and explanation of behavior. And it has been assumed that one cognitive mechanism (...) subsumes both these practices. (shrink)
We clarify some points previously made by Andrews, and defend the claim that Davidson's account of belief can be and is challenged by the existence of some people with autism. We argue that both Bouma and Andrews (Philosophical Psychology, 15) blurred the subtle distinctions between the psychological concepts of theory of mind and joint attention and the Davidsonian concepts of interpretation and triangulation. And we accept that appeal to control group studies is not the appropriate place to look for an (...) individual who can speak but who has significant problems with interpretation. In this paper we argue that by turning to the clinical literature we can more readily find such a challenge to Davidson's account. (shrink)
I respond to an argument presented by Daniel Povinelli and Jennifer Vonk that the current generation of experiments on chimpanzee theory of mind cannot decide whether chimpanzees have the ability to reason about mental states. I argue that Povinelli and Vonk’s proposed experiment is subject to their own criticisms and that there should be a more radical shift away from experiments that ask subjects to predict behavior. Further, I argue that Povinelli and Vonk’s theoretical commitments should lead them to accept (...) this new approach, and that experiments which offer subjects the opportunity to look for explanations for anomalous behavior should be explored. (shrink)
A new approach to developing models of folk psychology is suggested, namely that different models exist for different folk psychological practices. This point is made through an example: the explanation and justification of morally heinous actions. Human folk psychology in this area is prone to a specific error of conflating an explanation for behaviour with a justification of it. An analysis of the error leads me to conclude that simulation is used to generate both explanations and justifications of heinous acts. (...) It is needed in both these cases because most of us lack theoretical information about evil actors. I will argue that it is difficult to simulate such acts, and hence difficult to develop explanations for behaviour widely accepted as evil. This difficulty explains the judgements made against successful simulators by those who don't succeed, and so explains the common problem of conflating an explanation with a justification. (shrink)
Perhaps because both explanation and prediction are key components to understanding, philosophers and psychologists often portray these two abilities as though they arise from the same competence, and sometimes they are taken to be the same competence. When explanation and prediction are associated in this way, they are taken to be two expressions of a single cognitive capacity that differ from one another only pragmatically. If the difference between prediction and explanation of human behavior is merely pragmatic, then anytime I (...) predict someone’s future behavior, I would at that moment also have an explanation of the behavior. I argue that advocates of both the theory theory and the simulation theory accept the symmetry of psychological prediction and explanation. However, there is very good reason to believe that this hypothesis is false. Just as we can predict the occurrence of some physical phenomena that we have no explanation for, we are also able to make accurate predictions of intentional behavior without having an explanation. Rather than requiring mental state attribution, I argue that the prediction of human behavior is most often accomplished by statistical induction rather than through an appeal to mental states. However, explanations are not given in these terms. (shrink)
Donald Davidson's account of interpretation purports to be a priori , though I argue that the empirical facts about interpretation, theory of mind, and autism must be considered when examining the merits of Davidson's view. Developmental psychologists have made plausible claims about the existence of some people with autism who use language but who are unable to interpret the minds of others. This empirical claim undermines Davidson's theoretical claims that all speakers must be interpreters of other speakers and that one (...) need not be a speaker in order to be a thinker. The falsity of these theses has consequences for other parts of Davidson's world-view; for example, it undermines his argument against animal thought. (shrink)
Psychologists distinguish between intentional systems which have beliefs and those which are also able to attribute beliefs to others. The ability to do the latter is called having a `theory of mind', and many cognitive ethologists are hoping to find evidence for this ability in animal behaviour. I argue that Dennett's theory entails that any intentional system that interacts with another intentional system (such as vervet monkeys and chess-playing computers) has a theory of mind, which would make the distinction all (...) but meaningless. This entailment should not be accepted; instead, Dennett's position that intentional behaviour is best predictable via the intentional stance should be rejected in favour of a pluralistic view of behaviour prediction. I introduce an additional method which humans often use to predict intentional and non-intentional behaviour, which could be called the inductive stance. (shrink)
I argue that the behavior of other agents is insufficiently described in current debates as a dichotomy between tacit theory (attributing beliefs and desires to predict behavior) and simulation theory (imagining what one would do in similar circumstances in order to predict behavior). I introduce two questions about the foundation and development of our ability both to attribute belief and to simulate it. I then propose that there is one additional method used to predict behavior, namely, an inductive strategy.