Invertebrate animals are frequently lumped into a single category and denied welfare protections despite their considerable cognitive, behavioral, and evolutionary diversity. Some ethical and policy inroads have been made for cephalopod molluscs and crustaceans, but the vast majority of arthropods, including the insects, remain excluded from moral consideration. We argue that this exclusion is unwarranted given the existing evidence. Anachronistic readings of evolution, which view invertebrates as lower in the scala naturae, continue to influence public policy and common morality. The (...) assumption that small brains are unlikely to support cognition or sentience likewise persists, despite growing evidence that arthropods have converged on cognitive functions comparable to those found in vertebrates. The exclusion of invertebrates is also motivated by cognitive-affective biases that covertly influence moral judgment, as well as a flawed balancing of scientific uncertainty against moral risk. All these factors shape moral attitudes toward basal vertebrates too, but they are particularly acute in the arthropod context. Moral consistency dictates that the same standards of evidence and risk management that justify policy protections for vertebrates also support extending moral consideration to certain invertebrates. Moving beyond a vertebrate-centered conception of welfare can also clarify foundational moral concepts in their own right. (shrink)
Stephen Jay Gould argued that the shape of animal life as we know it is a radically contingent accident of history determined more by fortune than comparative functional merit. Acknowledging the formative role of contingency in macroevolution is crucial, Gould believed, to vanquishing the lingering vestiges of progressivism that continue to buttress anthropocentric views of life. Gould’s contingency thesis has come under fire in recent years by proponents of convergent evolution who argue that not only is replication ubiquitous in evolution, (...) but also that it indicates an evolutionary process charging inexorably toward ever more complex and human-like outcomes. We argue here that although convergentist approaches are widely seen as inimical to the Gouldian view of life, in fact the two are indispensable allies in the anti-progressivist crusade, particularly in relation to the evolution of mind. We illustrate this by examining the progressivist foundations of comparative cognition science and the ongoing resistance to attributions of convergent minds. (shrink)
Behavioural flexibility is often treated as the gold standard of evidence for more sophisticated or complex forms of animal cognition, such as planning, metacognition and mindreading. However, the evidential link between behavioural flexibility and complex cognition has not been explicitly or systematically defended. Such a defence is particularly pressing because observed flexible behaviours can frequently be explained by putatively simpler cognitive mechanisms. This leaves complex cognition hypotheses open to ‘deflationary’ challenges that are accorded greater evidential weight precisely because they offer (...) putatively simpler explanations of equal explanatory power. This paper challenges the blanket preference for simpler explanations, and shows that once this preference is dispensed with, and the full spectrum of evidence—including evolutionary, ecological and phylogenetic data—is accorded its proper weight, an argument in support of the prevailing assumption that behavioural flexibility can serve as evidence for complex cognitive mechanisms may begin to take shape. An adaptive model of cognitive-behavioural evolution is proposed, according to which the existence of convergent trait–environment clusters in phylogenetically disparate lineages may serve as evidence for the same trait–environment clusters in other lineages. This, in turn, could permit inferences of cognitive complexity in cases of experimental underdetermination, thereby placing the common view that behavioural flexibility can serve as evidence for complex cognition on firmer grounds. (shrink)
In guarding against inferential mistakes, experimental comparative cognition errs on the side of underattributing sophisticated cognition to animals, or what I refer to as the underattribution bias. I propose eliminating this bias by altering the method of choosing the default, or null, hypothesis. Rather than choosing the most parsimonious null hypothesis, as is current practice, I argue for choosing the best-evidenced hypothesis. Doing so at once preserves the risk-controlling structure of the current statistical paradigm and introduces a sensitivity to probability-conferring (...) empirical and theoretical information. This analysis illustrates how values like parsimony can covertly shape statistical-experimental design and inference. (shrink)
We have structured our response according to five questions arising from the commentaries: (i) What is sentience? (ii) Is sentience a necessary or sufficient condition for moral standing? (iii) What methods should guide comparative cognitive research in general, and specifically in studying invertebrates? (iv) How should we balance scientific uncertainty and moral risk? (v) What practical strategies can help reduce biases and morally dismissive attitudes toward invertebrates?
In this chapter, the author examines how the simplicity heuristic adversely affects a relatively new tool in experimental comparative cognition: cognitive models. It does so, she argues, by directing intellectual resources into the development and refinement of putatively simple cognitive models at the expense of putatively more complex ones, which in turn directs experimenters to develop tests to rule out these simple models.
Browne 1 (this issue ) argues that what may appear to be a benevolent practice-disclosing the sex of a fetus to expecting parents who wish to know-is in fact an epistemically problematic and, as a result, ethically questionable medical practice. Browne worries that not only will the disclosure of fetal sex encourage sex-selective abortions (an issue we will not take up here), but also that it will convey a misleading and pernicious message about the relationship between sex and gender. More (...) specifically, she contends that the practice of disclosure is problematic because (1) it purports to establish the gender of the developing baby based on information about the baby's sex, whereas this is not a warranted inference because while sex is determined by biological factors, gender is determined by social factors and (2) it conflates (biological) sex with (social) gender or encourages such conflation or reduction and thereby promotes 'essentialistic' thinking about gender that is closely linked to sexism and social injustice. If (1) is true, then disclosing fetal sex amounts to misinforming or misleading prospective parents-and since misinforming patients is wrong, the act of disclosing is also wrong. However, beyond the wrongs of misinforming patients, the practice also perpetuates the harms associated with a rigidly gendered society through endorsing the message in (2), thus lending the authority of the medical profession to the gender-essentialist ideas that have underpinned, and continue to drive, sexism and social injustice. This analysis leads Browne to recommend that clinicians be prohibited from informing parents about the sex of their developing fetus. -/- We agree with Browne that gender essentialism-the notion that 'femaleness' and 'maleness' carve out distinct natural classes with innate, immutable properties-is not only a false metaphysical thesis, but also a pernicious idea insofar as the sexist attitudes it fosters motivate policies that systematically violate the human rights of women, as well as those of the LGBTQ community. However, we do not think that the disclosure of fetal sex misinforms prospective parents about the gender of their baby, nor do we believe that such disclosure presupposes or promotes gender essentialism properly understood. (shrink)
Peña-Guzmán (2017) argues that empirical evidence and evolutionary theory compel us to treat the phenomenon of suicide as continuous in the animal kingdom. He defends a “continuist” account in which suicide is a multiply-realizable phenomenon characterized by self-injurious and self-annihilative behaviors. This view is problematic for several reasons. First, it appears to mischaracterize the Darwinian view that mind is continuous in nature. Second, by focusing only on surface-level features of behavior, it groups causally and etiologically disparate phenomena under a single (...) conceptual umbrella, thereby reducing the account’s explanatory power. Third, it obscures existing analyses of suicide in biomedical ethics and animal welfare literatures. A more promising naturalistic approach might seek a theoretical understanding of the social/ecological circumstances that drive humans and perhaps other animals to self-destruction. (shrink)
Comparative cognition is the interdisciplinary study of nonhuman animal cognition. It has been criticized for systematically underattributing sophisticated cognition to nonhuman animals, a problem that I refer to as the underattribution bias. In this paper, I show that philosophical treatments of this bias at the experimental level have emphasized one feature of the experimental-statistical methodology at the expense of neglecting another feature. In order to eliminate this bias, I propose a reformulation of the standard statistical framework in comparative cognition. My (...) proposal identifies and removes a problematic reliance on the value of parsimony in the calibration of the null hypothesis, replacing it with relevant empirical and theoretical information. In so doing, I illustrate how epistemic and non-epistemic values can covertly enter scientific methodology through features of statistical models, potentially biasing the products of scientific research. Broadly construed, this paper calls for increased philosophical attention to the experimental methodology and statistical choices. (shrink)