Thoughtful Brutes

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Donald Davidson and John Searle famously differ, among other things, on the issue of animal thoughts. Davidson seems to be a latter-day Cartesian, denying any propositional thought to subhuman animals, while Searle seems to follow Hume in claiming that if we have thoughts, then animals do, too. Davidson’s argument centers on the idea that language is necessary for thought, which Searle rejects. The paper argues two things. Firstly, Searle eventually argues that much of a more complex thought does depend on language, which reduces a distance between himself and Davidson. Secondly, some of Davidson’s suggestions are promising – in particular the idea that we may lack a vocabulary to capture the contents of animal thoughts. Based on this insight, one might, pace Davidson, grant thoughts to animals. However, this does not mean, pace Searle, that it should be possible to construe even the simplest of such thoughts as propositional. Perhaps we need to move beyond Davidson and Searle by developing a theory of nonpropositional thought for animals.
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Archival date: 2018-07-24
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