Beyond Anthropomorphism: Attributing Psychological Properties to Animals

In Tom L. Beauchamp R. G. Frey (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics. Oxford University Press. pp. 469--494 (2011)
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In the context of animal cognitive research, anthropomorphism is defined as the attribution of uniquely human mental characteristics to animals. Those who worry about anthropomorphism in research, however, are immediately confronted with the question of which properties are uniquely human. One might think that researchers must first hypothesize the existence of a feature in an animal before they can, with warrant, claim that the property is uniquely human. But all too often, this isn't the approach. Rather, there is an a priori argument against attributing some properties to animals. Which features are thought to be uniquely human on a priori grounds? The class can be quite large, including psychological states such as beliefs and desires, personality traits such as confidence or timidity, emotions such as happiness or anger, social organizational properties such as culture or friendship, moral behavior such as punishment or rape. For convenience, I will refer to the members of the class as "psychological properties". One critic includes feeling, purpose, intentionality, consciousness, and even cognition in his list of psychological properties that are incorrectly attributed to animals (Kennedy 1992). Among the critics, there is quite a bit of disagreement about what counts as an anthropomorphic attribution, and this alone should raise questions about the charge. We can identify two different questions about the practice of attributing psychological properties to animals within a scientific context. First we can ask whether it is scientifically respectable to examine questions about the mental, psychological, cultural, etc. states of animals. Those who bemoan anthropomorphism think that we ought not even ask such questions. I will look at the worries about asking the question, and argue that there is no special problem with it. The second question arises with an affirmative answer to the first. Given that it is scientifically respectable to examine whether an animal has a psychological property, there must be some scientifically respectable method for doing the examination..
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