Toronto March 2018 "Evolving Ethics and Animal Persons"
Humans are animals, so some animals are already considered to be persons. But not too long ago not all humans were even thought to be persons. Personhood is an ethical category of certain kinds of individuals who are agents and who matter, so being included as a person comes with certain benefits, such as rights to bodily determination, rights to freedom, and rights from interference with one's own interests. As science tells us more about other animals, the question arises whether we ought to include additional animals in the category of persons-- animals such as chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and ravens. Today, such animals are largely considered property, and do not enjoy the aforementioned rights. Should we change the status of some animals from property to persons? What justifies including some and excluding others? Given the ethical implications of inclusion and exclusion, careful consideration of these questions is a contemporary moral imperative.
Montreal June 26, 2018 "Ways Other Minds Know Other Minds"
Mind-reading, or the ability to attribute mental states to others, is a familiar and significant ability for adult humans, and the investigation into whether humans are alone in this capacity has been a vexed topic over the last forty years. There are three key complexities to the investigation: one, there are a host of different kinds of content that could be mind-read (e.g. perceptual states, emotions, beliefs); two, there are a host of different kinds of methods for coming to learn about others’ mental content (e.g. perception, cognitive attribution, mirroring plus interoception); three, we lack a good understanding of these capacities in humans, and false assumptions can lead the investigation into animal mindreading astray. With these complexities on the table, we can turn to the recent research suggesting that great apes attribute false belief to others (Krupenye et al. 2016; Buttelmann et al. 2017). I will argue that these studies do not provide converging evidence that apes have the concept of belief or can attribute belief to others, and that likewise the infant studies that these experiments are based on fail to offer evidence of belief attribution, at least on familiar representational accounts of what a belief is. I will present an alternative function for belief attribution, namely the explanation of anomalous behavior, will discuss the extent to which other species might have this capacity, and what sorts of studies we could run in order to better investigate the question of mindreading belief across species. I will also discuss the importance of looking at the ways different species may solve their own versions of the other minds problem.
Ankara April 2018 "Naïve Normativity: Examining the evolution of moral psychology"
Are adult humans the only normative creatures? Recent research by development psychologists and animal behaviorists has begun to challenge the idea that adult humans are the only normative folk; children countenance specific cooperative norms (Hamlin et al. 2007), and some nonhuman animals act consistently with some of the moral foundations found across human cultures (Vincent et al. 2018). Such findings feed the current interest in examining the evolution of morality.
In this paper I take another angle on investigating the evolution of morality. Normative thought is a cognitive capacity that includes thinking about what one should do regardless of the source of authority, or whether the end is categorical, instrumental, self-justifying, or objectively valuable. It isn’t limited to moral cognition, and it isn’t sufficient for moral participation, but it is necessary. Drawing on recent research in social cognition suggesting that the way we understand others is essentially regulative and normative (Andrews 2012, 2015; McGeer 2007, 2015; Zawidzki 2008, 2013), I argue that there are four early-developing cognitive capacities that are necessary for human social cognitive practices; I call the set of these capacities naïve normativity. From this perspective, I will show how agential thinking is normative thinking. Finally, in a review of the current ape cognition literature, I will show how great apes fulfill the requirements for naïve normativity, thus supporting the view that normative thought is an ancient cognitive endowment.
Amsterdam December 2017 "Normative Practice in Other Animals"
Many discussions about morality in other species focus on sentimentalist or deontological moral theories, and whether animals have what is needed to count as moral participants according to these theories. For example, Mark Rowlands thinks animals engage in moral behavior because they are capable of empathy and Philip Kitcher thinks animals don’t have a capacity for morality because they cannot consider principles for action. If our concern is to investigate the evolution of morality, this way of understanding the issue leads to a stalemate, since there is little agreement on what counts as “moral” in the first place. I will argue that it is more productive to examine the evolution of morality in terms of the existence of normative practice-- a necessary component of morality on any moral theory. I will argue that normative practice is a cultural technology found in many animal species. Normative practice involves sensitivity to the way we do things around here, the appropriateness of different kinds of actions, and a drive toward conformity to in-group behavior.