International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-1420
Organized session / standard talks
Are you a romantic or killjoy? (1) Issues in comparative psychology

Rachael Brown (Macquarie University, Australia)

Comparative psychology has been disparagingly described by some as a field of “romantics” and “killjoys”; some researchers being keen to attribute human-like mental states and cognition to non-human animals, and others arguing that to do so is anthropocentrism. This session brings together five researchers working in the philosophy of comparative psychology offering different perspectives on “romantic” and “killjoy” explanations and how to arbitrate between them. Each of the researchers will present an aspect of their most recent work followed by an open panel discussion.

Even a fish could do it: Outgroup species and killjoy explanations

Hayley Clatterbuck (University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States)

I examine a common dialectic in contemporary debates about the kinds and degrees of cognitive continuity between humans and our closest primate relatives. When great apes demonstrate behavior that, in humans, is caused by sophisticated, abstract reasoning, this is often (correctly) offered as evidence that the apes’ behavior has the same underlying mental causes. One common response has been to show that outgroup species (e.g., fish or birds) demonstrate the same behavior, and this is taken to significantly undermine the claim that the apes’ behavior resulted from human-like mental causes. I first examine a prima facie problem with this “killjoy” argument which is that given the close phylogenetic relationship between humans and apes, facts about human cognition should provide much stronger evidence about ape cognition than do facts about distant outgroup species. Then, I consider several possible justifications for the killjoy argument, concluding that such phylogenetic considerations alone do not yield decisive answers about continuity between humans and our closest living relatives, and they must be paired with substantive theories of the mental causes in question.

Field and lab: Different methods, different questions, and different answers

Kristin Andrews (York University, Canada)

While animal minds are typically studied in controlled experimental situations such as a laboratory, zoo, or sanctuary, some cognition research is done with wild animals in a messier natural environment. The benefits and problems associated with each method have been much discussed. Laboratory settings allow for better controls for experiments, but lack ecological validity. In wild settings, experiments, if performed, have fewer controls, and much of the research is not experimental. However, wild animals enjoy a typical ecological and psychological environment. What hasn’t been discussed as much is what sort of information is better gained in the lab and in the field. Appealing to my notion of folk expertise (Andrews 2009), methods in classical and cognitive ethology, and comparative cognition, I sketch a program that combines lab and field research that we can use to gain a better understanding of animal cognition. The proposed program is a modification of the methods we use with human animals in psychology and anthropology. I appeal to the methods in these fields, and especially in cross-cultural psychology, and apply the lessons learned from these fields to the research we do with other animals. Finally, I show how the current state of research on ape cognition that attempts to compare apes with human children fails to make an adequate comparison given the differences in subject pools and methods used with each group.

Romantics and killjoys on animal morality

Simon Fitzpatrick (John Carroll University, United States)

In recent years, there has been much philosophical and scientific interest in whether some non-human animal species are capable of moral reasoning or moral agency, with various “romantic“ and “killjoy” positions being occupied—for instance, that some animals possess full-fledged moral capacity, that they possess the “evolutionary building blocks” or “precursors” to morality, but not quite the genuine article, and that nothing remotely resembling moral capacity can be found in non-humans. However, like many debates in the animal cognition literature, this one often seems to hang more on how the relevant terms are to be defined than on particular empirical details about animal behaviour. In particular, much ink has been spilt on what should count as “true” or “genuine” morality (or moral reasoning), with protagonists proposing quite different accounts. I defend the sceptical position that it is there is likely no defensible definition of “morality” that provides a principled distinction between “genuine” morality and something that falls short of it, and hence that much of the existing literature on animal morality has been on a fool’s errand. I then make some suggestions about how the debate might be best re-situated. This includes making more precise the question of whether animals possess a mechanism for internalizing and applying social norms.