Cognitive States in Mental Lives of Nonhuman Animals: Attribution to Animals

In The Mental Lives ofNonhumon Animals, Iohn Dupré breaks down the problem ofwhether or not nonhuman animals have mental lives or not. He states from the start that people are thinking about nonhuman animals and having minds inefficiently. First, people use the Cartestian perspective, which is the idea that there is some place in the brain where there is information that directly corresponds to our conscious experience. Additionally, he points out that there is more than just one question regarding if animals are conscious or not.

Clearly, he starts offhis paper by disproving how people in the past have thought, He disagrees with Descartes and defends his reasoning by saying that we cannot even know what it is like to be another person because we cannot access their consciousness, Therefore, we need to solve that problem before we even start thinking about nonhuman animals Another idea that he disproved was argument from analogy. His reasoning was rational for this because you cannot make a generalization about billions ofpeople fromjust observing from one case.

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He finally begins to state his own view at the end of page 325 by saying that even though analytic behaviorism is inadequate, following behaviors is a way we may be able to reach a conclusion about whether humans, or nonhuman animals, have consciousness. We need to begin analyzing consciousness by understanding the meaning of different words, such as pain. He differentiates analytic behaviorism and Wittgenstein’s perspective (one he relates to) by saying that we have to try to explain the meaning of mental terms through appeal to behavior (326).

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He concludes his first part of the essay by saying that we need to stop thinking there is some deep question involved in the case of minds. In the second part of Dupre's essay, he takes questions that many people associate with the mind problem and breaks them down further. One of the first questions is about whether animals can think about something that is not present to them. This leads into to analyzing intelligence in animals. Dupré says that being able to find and solve problems is one way of defining intelligence, though there are plenty of ways to do so. Intelligence is displayed through intelligent action.

So, he concludes, animals are intelligent, according to his criterion. The next thing he brings forth is that of language. Though animals cannot engage in human language, it does not mean that they don't have their own language, a language that is more useful to them at that. He brings up Descartes again and says that language was one of the things required in order to think that nonhuman animals were conscious. Lastly, the question of whether animals possess concepts, such as attitudes, beliefs, and desires. Animals can communicate, therefore they can ration. In the final section of the paper, he brings his thoughts together finally for a solid conclusion. He discusses pain and how it can be felt in animals. We are applying a word in our language (e.g. pain) to the case of an animal. He concludes that animals typically avoid things that can cause them pain. The concept of pain and understanding it is very important regarding ethics.

If animals react to pain like we do, clearly disliking it, then we should avoid causing experiences like that for them. In order to understand animals, you have to know what they are capable of and their goals. In analyzing Dupré's essay, I would say that he had a solid core argument. You could see the way he was approaching this topic through various questions that many contemplate when dealing with this animal mind problem, He breaks it down by questions, then intelligence, following with language, and finally concluding with pain. These are only four different ways people approach consciousness and overall, he targeted them perfectly. His reason for writing the essay was stated in the introduction paragraph and his thesis was expanded through that, This particular essay is really important when addressing animal minds because he takes a few different approaches that have been used in the past and then molds it for better clarity. The way he went about the setup of the paper was helpful. Though you could see his view throughout the paper subtly, he disproved other arguments first, starting with Descartes leading up to contemporary views.

He gave examples for each different approach he went through with different perspectives so if somebody did not understand one example, they would probably understand another On another note, he addresses counterarguments. He even states at points that he understands why another person would not agree with his view but then continues to explain another way to think about the topic, Often times, Descartes and Dupré‘s views would not go together so he would address how Descartes would reason in response. As a matter of fact, Dupre‘ was fairly consistent with his argument. I could not find any examples where Dupré contradicted himself or his argument. The last thing that I really think was useful was that it left room open to further questioning. I know when I finished reading the essay; I had further questions that I wanted to discuss with Dupré, He states at the end ofhis paper that following his perspective would help to get rid of problems regarding the attribution of cognitive states to animals. He does not go into much detail about this but he leaves it open for interpretation and for further thought.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Cognitive States in Mental Lives of Nonhuman Animals: Attribution to Animals. (2022, Aug 19). Retrieved from

Cognitive States in Mental Lives of Nonhuman Animals: Attribution to Animals essay
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