Animal Intelligence and Epistemology
Epistemology is defined as the area of philosophy that deals with questions concerning knowledge and that considers various theories of knowledge. There are many paths to follow in epistemology, including skepticism, rationalism, empiricism, constructivism, and epistemological relativism, all of which offer very different views to explain how people know things. These views concern primarily human intelligence and largely ignore animal intelligence in creating their theories, but animal intelligence could play a pivotal role in the development of epistemological theories. This issue has been controversial, especially in recent years when research has revealed that animal’s thoughts very likely extend beyond instinct and conditioning as B.F. Skinner and Rene Descartes once thought. Today, the question of whether animals besides humans possess intelligence is a prevalent one and may help humans to understand better the intricate concept of epistemology.
The concept of intelligence is itself controversial. There are varying definitions of intelligence, including the Russian Artificial Intelligence Researcher’s definition that an intelligent being gives intelligent answers to intelligent questions (Animal Intelligence). Webster’s dictionary defines intelligence as simply the capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity (Webster). In an article for The Nature Institute, intelligence is given the definition of “ the capacity to meet new and unforeseen situations by rapid and effective adjustment of behavior” (Holdrege). So, with a vague definition of intelligence, it is difficult to determine whether or not animals exhibit intelligence. To meet this end, scientists look for the things in animals that seem like singularly human behavior. They study language abilities, tool use, and emotion in animals to determine to what
extent animals exhibit intelligence.
Language abilities and symbolic complexity involve the number of symbols that a group uses in communication with each other. Humans typically have verbal symbols in the range of twenty to forty symbols and some pictographic languages can have thousands of symbols. While different species of animals have varying amounts of symbols, the most basic, least intelligent animals have as few as eight symbols that they use to communicate. Another factor in determining intelligence through symbolic complexity is the extent to which these symbols can be used in relation to each other. The aforementioned basic creatures use each of their limited symbols to give a specific message, which indicates limited intelligence on their part (Animal Intelligence). However, it is speculated that there are other animals, like the dolphin, that can use their extensive amount of symbols to interact with each other with combinatorial complexity close to that of humans. In an article for...