Towards ending the animal cognition war: a three-dimensional model of causal cognition

Biology and Philosophy 36 (2):1-24 (2021)
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Debates in animal cognition are frequently polarized between the romantic view that some species have human-like causal understanding and the killjoy view that human causal reasoning is unique. These apparently endless debates are often characterized by conceptual confusions and accusations of straw-men positions. What is needed is an account of causal understanding that enables researchers to investigate both similarities and differences in cognitive abilities in an incremental evolutionary framework. Here we outline the ways in which a three-dimensional model of causal understanding fulfills these criteria. We describe how this approach clarifies what is at stake, illuminates recent experiments on both physical and social cognition, and plots a path for productive future research that avoids the romantic/killjoy dichotomy.



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Tobias Starzak
Ruhr-Universität Bochum