Do Animals Have Thought? Essay

2019 words - 8 pages

Staring my dog in the eyes after she had grabbed a muffin on my kitchen floor, I see her head cautiously tip to the ground, and her jaw release the little treat. I smile and lower my scolding finger, only for her to mischievously grab the muffin off the ground once more, and bolt into the backyard to finish it off before I have a chance to stop her. That was a clever move of deception on her part, and it is everyday interactions like this one that lead me to the bigger question I want to address. Do animals have thought? And if so, how similar is it to the human definition of thought, and mindfulness? In this paper I will argue a point similar to one discussed by philosopher Marc Hauser, that animals cognitive abilities form a continuum from the least complex to the most complex, and that there is no great discontinuity between human and non- human animal cognition (Hauser). Hauser argues that no non- human animals have communication closely analogous to human language, but human- like language is not necessary for thought. I will provide reasoning on two major supposed components of advanced cognition, language and empathy, in order to prove that there exists a spectrum of animal cognition, and within it a continuum of both language and empathetic qualities that non- human animals embody.
I will start by stating Marc Hauser’s argument on animal cognition, from Wild Minds. Hauser argues that animal’s cognitive abilities form a continuum from the least complex to the most complex, where human cognitive abilities can be found on the most complex end of the continuum. There is no great discontinuity between human and animal cognition, although a hierarchy of communication does exist, ranging from involuntary, voluntary, referential, and ultimately to syntactical communication. Humans are able to talk with complex syntax, creating and understanding novel sentences that they may have never encountered before. Apart from rare laboratory manipulations, non human- animals do not communicate with syntactical complexity; but that does not mean that they do not have thought. Thoughts can still be there without a human- like language (Hauser). This philosophy counters that of Daniel C. Dennett, who believes that although animals can exhibit intelligent behavior, only humans have genuine thought; human thought is discontinuous from non- human thought (Dennett).
I agree with Hauser’s argument, and would like to specifically focus on the issues of language and empathy to support his argument that the complexity of thought can be seen as a continuum, evolved to different extents in different animals based on evolutionary needs and complexity. I will discuss an example of Vervet monkeys proposed by Hauser to discuss the spectrum of non- human language. In regards to empathy, there have been many studies conducted in order to support the idea that some non- human animals have empathy, or the attribution of mental states to others, a very complex form of...

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