Reasoning of non- and pre-linguistic creatures: How much do the experiments tell us?

Belgrade Philosophical Annual 31:115-126 (2018)
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Abstract
If a conclusion was reached that creatures without a language capability exhibit some form of a capability for logic, this would shed a new light on the relationship between logic, language, and thought. Recent experimental attempts to test whether some animals, as well as pre-linguistic human infants, are capable of exclusionary reasoning are taken to support exactly that conclusion. The paper discusses the analyses and conclusions of two such studies: Call’s (2004) two cups task, and Mody and Carey’s (2016) four cups task. My paper exposes hidden assumptions within these analyses, which enable the authors to settle on the explanation which assigns logical capabilities to the participants of the studies, as opposed to the explanations which do not. The paper then demonstrates that the competing explanations of the experimental results are theoretically underdeveloped, rendering them unclear in their predictions concerning the behavior of cognitive subjects, and thus difficult to distinguish by use of experiments. Additionally, it is questioned whether the explanations are rivals at all, i.e. whether they compete to explain the cognitive processes of the same level. The contribution of the paper is conceptual. Its aim is to clear up the concepts involved in these analyses, in order to avoid oversimplified or premature conclusions about the cognitive abilities of pre- and non-linguistic creatures. It is also meant to show that the theoretical space surrounding the issues involved might be much more diverse and unknown than many of these studies imply.
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