Animal Consciousness
Allen (Colin)
Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 1995-2010
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

There are many reasons for philosophical interest in nonhuman animal (hereafter “animal”) consciousness.

  1. First, if philosophy often begins with questions about the place of humans in nature, one way humans have attempted to locate themselves is by comparison and contrast with those things in nature most similar to themselves, i.e., other animals.
  2. Second, the problem of determining whether animals are conscious stretches the limits of knowledge and scientific methodology (beyond breaking point, according to some).
  3. Third, the question of whether animals are conscious beings or “mere automata”, as Cartesians would have it, is of considerable moral significance given the dependence of modern societies on mass farming and the use of animals for biomedical research.
  4. Fourth, while theories of consciousness are frequently developed without special regard to questions about animal consciousness, the plausibility of such theories has sometimes been assessed against the results of their application to animal consciousness.
Questions about animal consciousness are just one corner of a more general set of questions about animal cognition and mind. The so-called “cognitive revolution” that took place during the latter half of the 20th century has led to many innovative experiments by comparative psychologists and ethologists probing the cognitive capacities of animals. The philosophical issues surrounding the interpretation of experiments to investigate perception, learning, categorization, memory, spatial cognition, numerosity, communication, language, social cognition, theory of mind, causal reasoning, and metacognition in animals are discussed in the entry on animal cognition. Despite all this work, the topic of consciousness per se in animals has remained controversial, even taboo, among scientists, even while it remains a matter of common sense to most people that many other animals do have conscious experiences.
  1. Concepts of Consciousness
  2. Historical Background
  3. Basic Philosophical Questions: Epistemological and Ontological
  4. Applying Philosophical Theories
    … 4.1 Varieties of dualism
    … 4.2 Physicalist accounts
    … 4.3 Neurofunctional accounts
    … 4.4 Representationalist accounts
    … 4.5 Higher-order theories
    … 4.6 Limits of philosophical theories
  5. Arguments Against Animal Consciousness
    … 5.1 Dissimilarity arguments
    … 5.2 Similarity arguments
    … 5.3 Arguments from the absence of self-consciousness1
    … 5.4 Methodological arguments
  6. Arguments For Animal Consciousness
    … 6.1 Similarity arguments
    … 6.2 Inference to the best explanation
    … 6.3 Interpretivism
  7. Current Scientific Investigations
    … 7.1 Animal pain and suffering
    … 7.2 Animal emotions
    … 7.3 Perceptual phenomenology
    … 7.4 Self-consciousness2 and metacognition
    … 7.5 Evolution of consciousness
  8. Summary
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