From Jeannie Kever at University of Houston:
Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, argues in an article published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research that a wide range of animal species exhibit so-called “executive control” when it comes to making decisions, consciously considering their goals and ways to satisfy those goals before acting.
He acknowledges that language is required for some sophisticated forms of metacognition, or thinking about thinking. But bolstered by a review of previously published research, Buckner concludes that a wide variety of animals – elephants, chimpanzees, ravens and lions, among others – engage in rational decision-making.
“These data suggest that not only do some animals have a subjective take on the suitability of the option they are evaluating for their goal, they possess a subjective, internal signal regarding their confidence in this take that can be deployed to select amongst different options,” he wrote. More.
Pity Jeannie Kever, having to write up this nonsense. If animals thought rationally, they would consciously know the abstractions that always elude them: death, hope, justice… We’d notice that they did. We wouldn’t be doing casuistical tests or offering casuistical arguments. Or offering anecdotes or moralizing.
Sometimes, when comforting a friend on the death of a beloved pet, one needs to say, “But he didn’t know that he was dying or that death comes to us all. Or anything really, except that he was in pain and he hoped you could help. The mercy is that, by his very nature that is all he can understand.”
The “coffee-table edition” set has its own reasons, one gathers, for wanting to keep all the nonsense around abstract thought in animals going. Sad, because animal cognition is really interesting if we try to understand them on their own terms and don’t need to pretend that we is them and they is us.
People are entitled to believe, if they insist, that humans are not special. But surely it is time to start making clear that most of the resulting claims are not science and also don’t help animals.
Note: This post is dedicated to Harry (2012-2017), a feline who lived life in overdrive until his life suddenly failed last Wednesday morning. And to the canine companion (2006-2017) of a close friend, “Faithful she began, faithful she remains.”
See also: Claim: Whales and dolphins have rich ‘human-like’ cultures and societies
Intelligence tests are unfair to apes
What can we hope to learn about animal minds?