In Stephen Hales (ed.), What Philosophy Teaches You about Your Cat (2008)
In our dealings with our pets, and larger animals in general, at least most of us see them as conscious beings. We say “the cat feels pain” ascribing sensation. We notice “My cat wants to get in the kitchen because she thinks there is some cheese left” ascribing beliefs and desires. Explanations likes these can be employed on a variety of occasions, and usually we are content with what they say. We seem to understand why our cat is doing what she does. On the other hand the employment of human categories to animals seems to be problematic. Reflecting on the details of human beliefs, for example, casts serious doubt on whether the cat is able to believe anything at all. Clever as they are none of my cats has the concept of kitchen , because a kitchen is – roughly – a functional part of an artificial dwelling (a house). Since cats do not built houses and do not prepare their food, the place the cat is walking into cannot be conceptualized by the cat as kitchen . Even the concept of cheese in its generality (made out of goat or cow milk, or camel milk …) is beyond the cat. So when we say what our cat believes and wishes we use our concept, in fact express a belief that a human being might have in a similar situation. What, then, does the cat have? Does a cat have beliefs? Or at least something like beliefs?
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