Our relationships with animals are wide-ranging. When people tell me that they love animals and then harm or kill them I tell them I'm glad they don't love me. Many individuals, including scientists, ignore their responsibility when they interact with animals and fail to recognize that doing something in the name of science, which usually means in the name of humans, is not an adequate reason for intentionally causing suffering, pain, or death. "Good welfare" usually is not "good enough". Existing (...) regulations allow animals to be treated in regrettable ways that demean us as a species. Compassion is the key for bettering both animal and human lives. A good way to make the world a more compassionate place for animals is to increase our compassion footprint. We could begin by deciding that we will not intrude on animals' lives unless our actions are in the best interests of the animals irrespective of our desires. It is simple to make more compassionate choices about what we eat and wear and how we educate students, conduct research, and entertain ourselves at the expense of animals. The time to make these changes is long overdue. (shrink)
Our goal in this paper is to provide enough of an account of the origins of cognitive ethology and the controversy surrounding it to help ethicists to gauge for themselves how to balance skepticism and credulity about animal minds when communicating with scientists. We believe that ethicists’ arguments would benefit from better understanding of the historical roots of ongoing controversies. It is not appropriate to treat some widely reported results in animal cognition as if their interpretations are a matter of (...) scientific consensus. It is especially important to understand why loose references to “cognitive ethology” by philosophers can signal ignorance of the field to scientists who are more deeply immersed in the relevant literature. Understanding the variety of approaches to cognitive phenomena in animals is essential if such capacities are to form the foundation of scientifically-informed ethical reasoning about animals. (shrink)
In this paper we argue that there is much to learn about “wild justice” and the evolutionary origins of morality – behaving fairly – by studying social play behavior in group-living mammals. Because of its relatively wide distribution among the mammals, ethological investigation of play, informed by interdisciplinary cooperation, can provide a comparative perspective on the evolution of ethical behavior that is broader than is provided by the usual focus on primate sociality. Careful analysis of social play reveals rules of (...) engagement that guide animals in their social encounters. Because of its significance in development, play may provide a foundation of fairness for other forms of cooperation that are advantageous to group living. Questions about the evolutionary roots of cooperation, fairness, trust, forgiveness, and morality are best answered by attention to the details of what animals do when they engage in social play – how they negotiate agreements to cooperate, to forgive, to behave fairly, and to develop trust. We consider questions such as why play fairly? Why did play evolve as it has? Does “being fair” mean being more fit? Do individual variations in play influence an individual’s reproductive fitness? Can we use information about the foundations of moral behavior in animals to help us understand ourselves? We conclude that there is likely to be strong selection for cooperative fair play because there are mutual benefits when individuals adopt this strategy and group stability may also be fostered. Numerous mechanisms have evolved to facilitate the initiation and maintenance of social play, to keep others engaged, so that agreeing to play fairly and the resulting benefits of doing so can be readily achieved. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that we can learn much about wild justice and the evolutionary origins of social morality – behaving fairly – by studying social play behavior in group-living animals, and that interdisciplinary cooperation will help immensely. In our efforts to learn more about the evolution of morality we need to broaden our comparative research to include animals other than non-human primates. If one is a good Darwinian, it is premature to claim that only humans can be empathic (...) and moral beings. By asking the question What is it like to be another animal? we can discover rules of engagement that guide animals in their social encounters. When I study dogs, for example, I try to be a dogocentrist and practice dogomorphism. My major arguments center on the following big questions: Can animals be moral beings or do they merely act as if they are? What are the evolutionary roots of cooperation, fairness, trust, forgiveness, and morality? What do animals do when they engage in social play? How do animals negotiate agreements to cooperate, to forgive, to behave fairly, to develop trust? Can animals forgive? Why cooperate and play fairly? Why did play evolve as it has? Does being fair mean being more fit – do individual variations in play influence an individual''s reproductive fitness, are more virtuous individuals more fit than less virtuous individuals? What is the taxonomic distribution of cognitive skills and emotional capacities necessary for individuals to be able to behave fairly, to empathize, to behave morally? Can we use information about moral behavior in animals to help us understand ourselves? I conclude that there is strong selection for cooperative fair play in which individuals establish and maintain a social contract to play because there are mutual benefits when individuals adopt this strategy and group stability may be also be fostered. Numerous mechanisms have evolved to facilitate the initiation and maintenance of social play to keep others engaged, so that agreeing to play fairly and the resulting benefits of doing so can be readily achieved. I also claim that the ability to make accurate predictions about what an individual is likely to do in a given social situation is a useful litmus test for explaining what might be happening in an individual''s brain during social encounters, and that intentional or representational explanations are often important for making these predictions. (shrink)
In this essay I argue that many nonhuman animal beings are conscious and have some sense of self. Rather than ask whether they are conscious, I adopt an evolutionary perspective and ask why consciousness and a sense of self evolved---what are they good for? Comparative studies of animal cognition, ethological investigations that explore what it is like to be a certain animal, are useful for answering this question. Charles Darwin argued that the differences in cognitive abilities and emotions among animals (...) are differences in degree rather than differences in kind, and his view cautions against the unyielding claim that humans, and perhaps other great apes and cetaceans, are the only species in which a sense of self-awareness has evolved. I conclude that there are degrees of consciousness and self among animals and that it is likely that no animal has the same highly developed sense of self as that displayed by most humans. Many animals have a sense of “body-ness‘ or “mine-ness‘ but not a sense of “I-ness.‘ Darwin’s ideas about evolutionary continuity, together with empirical data (“science sense‘) and common sense, will help us learn more about consciousness and self in animals. Answers to challenging questions about animal self-awareness have wide-ranging significance, because they are often used as the litmus test for determining and defending the sorts of treatments to which animals can be morally subjected. (shrink)
Empathy is likely more widely distributed among animals than many researchers realize or perhaps are willing to admit. Studies of social carnivores, other group-living animals, and communication via different modalities will help us learn more about the evolutionary roots and behavioral, sensory, and cognitive underpinnings of empathy, including what it means to have a sense of self. There are also important implications for debates about animal well-being.
Some aspects of play may be explained by Pavlovian learning processes, but others are not so easily handled. Especially when there is a chance that specific actions can be misinterpreted; animals alter their behavior to reduce the likelihood that this will occur. The flexibility and fine-tuning of play make it an ideal candidate for comparative and evolutionary cognitive studies.
In this essay I consider various aspects of the rapidly growing field of cognitive ethology, concentrating mainly on evolutionary and comparative discussion of the notion of intentionality. I am not concerned with consciousness, per se, for a concentration on consciousness deflects attention from other, and in many cases more interesting, problems in the study of animal cognition. I consider how, when, where, and (attempt to discuss) why individuals from different taxa exchange social information concerning their beliefs, desires, and goals. My (...) main examples come from studies of social play in mammals and antipredator behavior in birds. Basically, I argue that although not all individuals always display behavior patterns that are best explained by appeals to intentionality, it is misleading to argue that such explanations have no place in the study of animal cognition. (shrink)
In this essay I argue that the evolutionary and comparative study of nonhuman animal (hereafter animal) cognition in a wide range of taxa by cognitive ethologists can readily inform discussions about animal protection and animal rights. However, while it is clear that there is a link between animal cognitive abilities and animal pain and suffering, I agree with Jeremy Bentham who claimed long ago the real question does not deal with whether individuals can think or reason but rather with whether (...) or not individuals can suffer. One of my major goals will be to make the case that the time has come to expand. The Great Ape Project (GAP) to The Great Ape/Animal Project (GA/AP) and to take seriously the moral status and rights of all animals by presupposing that all individuals should be admitted into the Community of Equals. I also argue that individuals count and that it is essential to avoid being speciesist cognitivists; it really doesn't matter whether ‘dogs ape’ or whether ‘apes dog’ when taking into account the worlds of different individual animals. Narrow-minded primatocentrism and speciesism must be resisted in our studies of animal cognition and animal protection and rights. Line-drawing into ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ species is a misleading speciesist practice that should be vigorously resisted because not only is line-drawing bad biology but also because it can have disastrous consequences for how animals are viewed and treated. Speciesist line-drawing also ignores within species individual differences. (shrink)
Recently something close to a consensus about the best way to naturalize the notion of biological function appears to be emerging. Nonetheless, teleological notions in biology remain controversial. In this paper we provide a naturalistic analysis for the notion of natural design. Many authors assume that natural design should be assimilated directly to function. Others find the notion problematic because it suggests that evolution is a directed process. We argue that both of these views are mistaken. Our naturalistic account does (...) not simply equate design with function. We argue that the distinction between function and design is important for understanding the evolution of the physical and behavioral traits of organisms. (shrink)
Social play is naturally characterized in intentional terms. An evolutionary account of social play could help scientists to understand the evolution of cognition and intentionality. Alexander Rosenberg (1990) has argued that if play is characterized intentionally or functionally, it is not a behavioral phenotype suitable for evolutionary explanation. If he is right, his arguments would threaten many projects in cognitive ethology. We argue that Rosenberg's arguments are unsound and that intentionally and functionally characterized phenotypes are a proper domain for ethological (...) investigation. (shrink)
It seems impossible for a human being not to have some point of view concerning nonhuman animal (hereafter animal) welfare. Many people make decisions about how humans are permitted to treat animals using speciesist criteria, basing their decisions on an individual's species membership rather than on that animal's individual characteristics. Although speciesism provides a convenient way for making difficult decisions about who should be used in different types of research, we argue that such decisions should rely on an analysis of (...) individual characteristics and should not be based merely on species membership. We do not argue that the concept of species is never useful or important. To make our points, we present a conversation among a skeptic, an agnostic, and a proponent of the view that our moral obligations to an animal must be based on an analysis of that individual's characteristics. In the course of the discussion, concepts such as personhood, consciousness, cognitive ability, harm, and pain are presented, because one's understanding of these concepts informs his or her ethical decisions about the use of animals by humans. (shrink)
In 1963 Niko Tinbergen published a paper, "On Aims and Methods of Ethology," dedicated to his friend Konrad Lorenz. Here Tinbergen defines ethology as "the biological study of behavior," and seeks to demonstrate "the close affinity between Ethology and the rest of Biology." Tinbergen identifies four major areas of ethology: causation, survival value, evolution, and ontogeny. Our goal is to attempt for cognitive ethology what Tinbergen succeeded in doing for ethology: to clarify its aims and methods, to distinguish some of (...) its varieties, and to defend the fruitfulness of the research strategies that it has spawned. (shrink)