Animal Thought And Reason Essay

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Essay 3

Given what we know or can safely assume to be true of animal brains and behaviors, do animals actually exhibit thought and reason? The answer depends in large measure on one’s definition of thought and reason. Philosophers René Descartes and David Hume hold conflicting views about the nature and possession of thought and reason and, as a result, offer starkly different arguments for and against the existence of thought and reason in animals. While Descartes maintains in Part Five of Discourse on Method that only humans are capable of conscious thought, Hume asserts that human and animal behaviors are not so different in Section Nine of his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Descartes argues that although animals are
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As noted above, Descartes attempts to do this by appealing to mechanical reflexes and instincts in animals. However, this is not possible for certain types of animal behaviors, such as the fight or flight reflex. In some ways, Descartes also almost proves too much. If one cannot infer the existence of minds in animals from their behavior, then how could the possession of minds by other men be inferred from their behavior? The analogy could just as well be extended to man 's mind as to his body, God being capable of contriving both human and animal automata. Conversely, to ascribe thought to animals involved granting them immortal souls, which was theologically unacceptable at the time. Contrary to Descartes, Hume’s approach is more closely associated with a modern evolutionary conception of humans. Humans are evolved creatures like non-human animals. We may be different from non-human animals in many ways, but we also share a great deal of similarities. So, we can expect to find related, if not identical, human mental phenomena in non-human animals. For animals, too, may have a mind, though perhaps not a mind in quite the same sense as the human

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