The Argument from 'Surprise!'

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
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.5840/wcp2120076195
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 24,442
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

41 ( #118,034 of 1,925,107 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

13 ( #61,706 of 1,925,107 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.