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Humanities LibreTexts

2.2: Being Specific About Species

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  • In the first Chapter on logic, I made these two suggestions about identifying arguments:

    • Make the stated conclusion(s) and premise(s) precise in quantity: is something said to be true (or false) of all things (or people, or animals, etc.), or just some of them (and if so, which ones?)?
    • Clarify the intended meaning(s) of unclear or ambiguous words in conclusions or premises.

    These suggestions are relevant to thinking about animals’ minds since the category of “animal” is extremely broad: “animals” range from unicellular organisms, insects, invertebrates, vertebrates, birds, and to mammals of different kinds, including primates (like human beings). Since there are millions of species of animals, so when investigating whether animals’ have minds, the natural questions are, “Which animals?” or, “What do you mean by ‘animals’? Which animals are you referring to?”

    Sometimes we forget to notice that these same questions should often be asked about human beings’ mental lives. The mental lives of, e.g., newborn babies, five-year-olds, “normal” adults, cognitively disabled individuals, and Alzheimer’s patients surely differ greatly. So if someone says that (all) animals don’t have minds like human beings’ minds, we should ask which human beings, since many some, if not, many animals have mental lives comparable to, if not richer than, many human beings’ minds. That’s a possibility: whether we should think it’s true, of course, depends on what the research shows about the varieties of animals’ and humans’ minds and mental capacities.

    Our readings primarily focus on mammals and birds, although there is some discussion of fish, invertebrates (such as octopi) and even some research on insects. But, again, it seems likely the minds of different mammals (if any have minds) are also different: e.g., a mouse’s mental life is likely quite different from a chimpanzee’s (especially if that chimp has been taught sign language). Additional research on different kinds of animals’ minds will be discussed in later sections of the course: e.g., research on the minds of chickens, cows, and pigs will be discussed in the sections on animal agriculture; rats and mice, cats, dogs and primates in the sections of animal experimentation, and so on.

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