Animal Consciousness as a Test Case of Cognitive Science

Bremer, Manuel (2002) Animal Consciousness as a Test Case of Cognitive Science. [Conference Paper] (Unpublished)

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In our dealings with animals at least most of us see them as conscious beings. On the other hand the employment of human categories to animals seems to be problematic. Reflecting on the details of human beliefs, for example, casts serious doubt on whether the cat is able to believe anything at all. These theses try to reflect on methodological issues when investigating animal minds. Developing a theory of animal mentality seems to be a test case of the interdisciplinary research programme in cognitive science. From the philosopher`s perspective the most pressing problem is how to talk about animal minds. Can we just employ the vocabulary of human psychology? If not, exploring animal minds contains the non-trivial task of introducing a terminology that allows to see the distinctness of animal minds and to see its connection to the human case. The treatment of some topic in cognitive science has to reach a reflective equilibrium between our intuitions, a phenomenological approach, philosophical conceptual analysis, various empirical approaches and model building. Reflective equilibrium means in this context that we have to reach a coherent model which incorporates as much of our intuitions concerning animal consciousness and integrates at the same time the findings of the different co-operating sciences. There can be various trade-offs in case of conflict between, say, philosophical definitions of mental terms as to be applied to animals, neurophysiology, our reflected intuitions and ethological model building based on a computational theory of animal minds. The paper gives an example of reflective equilibrium in discussing the case for awareness in vertebrates. It considers the role of evolutionary reasoning. The main focus lays on two examples of comparing our human notions (chosen here are “having concepts” and “belief”) with corresponding abilities in animals, and how an appropriate conceptual apparatus dealing with the abilities of animals could be introduced.

Item Type:Conference Paper
Keywords:animal consciousness, awareness, animal minds, animal concepts, reflective equilibrium, cognitive science
Subjects:Psychology > Applied Cognitive Psychology
Biology > Ethology
Biology > Animal Cognition
Psychology > Comparative Psychology
Psychology > Cognitive Psychology
Philosophy > Philosophy of Mind
Psychology > Behavioral Analysis
Biology > Animal Behavior
ID Code:2971
Deposited By: Bremer, Manuel
Deposited On:25 May 2003
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:55


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