Theoretical virtues in eighteenth-century debates on animal cognition

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 42 (3):1-35 (2020)
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Within eighteenth-century debates on animal cognition we can distinguish at least three main theoretical positions: (i) Buffon’s mechanism, (ii) Reimarus’ theory of instincts, and (iii) the sensationalism of Condillac and Leroy. In this paper, I adopt a philosophical perspective on this debate and argue that in order to fully understand the justification Buffon, Reimarus, Condillac, and Leroy gave for their respective theories, we must pay special attention to the theoretical virtues these naturalists alluded to while justifying their position. These theoretical virtues have received little to no attention in the literature on eighteenth-century animal cognition, but figure prominently in the justification of the mechanist, instinctive, and sensationalist theories of animal behavior. Through my philosophical study of the role of theoretical virtues in eighteenth-century debates on animal cognition, we obtain a deeper understanding of how theoretical virtues were conceptualized in eighteenth-century science and how they influenced the justification of theories of animal cognition.

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Hein Van Den Berg
University of Amsterdam


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