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Animal minds

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-V046-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

By examining the mind across species, we can make better progress on questions about the nature of the mind generally. While this has been acknowledged since ancient times, only recently has the philosophy of animal minds developed into a robust area of philosophical research. One wave of recent discussion focused on the nature and possibility of animal belief. Another wave of discussion focused on and the question of chimpanzee mindreading/theory of mind, or whether chimpanzees understand that other animals have mental states.

A more comprehensive investigation into the philosophy of animal minds came with the publication of the book Species of Mind (1997), written by philosopher Colin Allen and biologist Marc Bekoff. Given a commitment to the evolutionary continuity of mentality, just as we study other animals to better understand physical functions like disease or digestion, we can look at other animals to better understand consciousness, communication, memory, perception, and other aspects of mind. This approach raised methodological questions about how best to study animal minds. Anthropomorphism (the attribution of perhaps uniquely human traits to animals) and the use of anecdotes as data in animal cognition research were hotly debated. In the face of evidence suggesting that vervet monkeys have different alarm calls for different predators, philosophers investigated how best to interpret animal behaviour and communicative signals.

With advances in neurological and biological techniques, scientists started investigating animal consciousness, and philosophers often appealed to empirical research as part of their arguments about whether animals are conscious. Animals also started to gain more attention from ethicists, who often appealed to mental properties in their arguments for granting moral status to animals.

At the same time that the philosophical interest in animal minds has grown, many more findings in animal cognition have come from research in psychology, biology, and anthropology. In many cases, the philosophical and scientific discussions are tightly intertwined. This is apparent in the numerous philosophical articles that take empirical research into account as well as in the rich discussions about animal cognitive capacities that often arise from particular empirical findings.

Citing this article:
Andrews, Kristin. Animal minds, 2018, doi:10.4324/0123456789-V046-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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