Belief and representation in nonhuman animals

In 2nd ed (ed.), Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology. pp. 370-383 (2020)

Authors
Sarah Beth Lesson
Santa Rosa Junior College
Brandon Tinklenberg
York University
Kristin Andrews
York University
Abstract
It’s common to think that animals think. The cat thinks it is time to be fed, the monkey thinks the dominant is a threat. In order to make sense of what the other animals around us do, we ascribe mental states to them. The cat meows at the door because she wants to be let in. The monkey the monkey fails the test because he doesn’t remember the answer. We explain animal actions in terms of their mental states, just as we do with humans. One of us has argued that our science of animal minds requires that animal behavior be explained in such terms, and this doesn’t lead to a problematic use of folk psychology or anthropomorphism (Andrews 2016, 2020). By “anthropomorphism” we mean the attribution of human psychological, social, or normative properties to non-human animals “usually with the implication it is done without sound justification” (Shettleworth 2010, 477). And by “folk psychology” we mean the commonsense practice of seeing action as caused or accompanied by mental states like belief and desire, emotions, and seeing people in terms of their moods or personality traits, as well as categorizing complex behaviors as examples of grieving, communicating, or teaching (Andrews 2012). Psychologists routinely describe human behaviors in folk psychological terms, so it’s not that the categories are unscientific. The issue with using folk psychology to describe animal behavior is whether observable similarities between human and nonhuman behavior warrants thinking they involve the same psychological kind. The use of folk psychology when talking about animals need not be problematically anthropomorphic, though we need some evidentiary basis for filing animal behavior under some folk psychological category. Despite it being commonplace for humans to attribute thoughts to animals, and there being arguments in favor of doing so in science, the nature of these mental states so many are happy to see in other animals remains unclear. To help bring some focus into the discussion, we will examine the attitude of belief. In this chapter we will examine the various possible statuses of animal beliefs, and the implications of those various views for our folk practice as well as our scientific investigations.
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