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Tenth Lecture: Dr Ian Ground: Listen to the Lion: Wittgenstein and Animal Minds

May 14, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

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by Neil O'Hara

Dr. Ground’s lecture sought to open up more fruitful ways to engage with scientific discoveries about the cognitive abilities of animals. Ground argued that, though some ethologists may indeed come to these discoveries with models of mind that some philosophers might baulk at (a default ascription to Theory theory or the like), this should not push us deeper into scepticism about animal minds, but prompt us to offer and make attractive a more philosophically robust notion of animal mindedness.

Whereas philosophers tend to dismiss our ordinary practices around animals, and go instead down the route of theorising, Ground argued it should be the other way round. Our practices show that we already treat many things as minded. And so we should start by critically examining these practices, rather than dismissing them out of hand as philosophically problematic. If we would start this way we would be more open to seeing our own minds as distinctive and special, but also as one amongst many kinds.

And again, instead of getting hung up on the non-linguistic nature of animal minds, Ground called us to remember the primacy of action. Of course we must beware of the dangers of behaviourism. But on the other hand we should not be so cautious that we neglect evidence of mindedness expressed in action, ‘expressive enactions’ as Dr. Ground has it. In fact, the investigation of such expressive enactions should form the basis of our ethological methodology.

The central thrust of the paper though was Ground’s defence of the principle of parity. Philosophers tend to treat the same evidence as, in humans demonstrating mindedness, and in animals as inconclusive. Does the dog who sees the rabbit think of it? The philosopher tends to answer ‘No!’ But if the same question were asked of a human similarly placed we would be happy to say that thinking took place. This is surely wrong and, so Ground argued, unless one can give other arguments a principle of parity should be observed. It does make sense to speak of an animal’s second personal interactions. And we should feel free to answer that, yes the dog is thinking – but with the caveat ‘not in the way the way some mean it’. We must go further and make tenable an affirmation of animal mindedness, based on our ordinary interactions with them, and stripped of theory laden philosophical baggage. And this begins in the beginning, with the primacy of practice, and of the second person.

About the speaker

Dr Ian Ground is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Sunderland, UK. His principal research interests are in aesthetics and the philosophy of mind particularly in regard to the minds of other animals.

He is a member of the British Society of Aesthetics Executive Committee and Secretary of the British Wittgenstein Society.

For Sunderland University, he leads the national award winning Explore Programme.

Dr. Ground's publications include Can We Understand Animal Minds? (1998) and 'Do Animals Need a Theory of Mind? in Against Theory of Mind (2009), both co-authored with M. Bavidge, as well as Art or Bunk? (1989) and 'Must We Mean What We Play?' in Creative Chords: Studies in Music (2000).

Praise for Can We Understand Animal Minds?

'…a trailblazer which has the potential to inspire and support philosophers and scientists for a long time to come…in sum, the sort of book that can contribute to significant, much-needed change in our thinking about the natural world.'

Dr Francoise Wemelsfelder, Animal Welfare Scientis


May 14, 2013
5:30 pm
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Daniele Moyal Sharrock