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Folk-psychology in non-human animals (2)

Page history last edited by philosophyofsocialcognition 15 years, 5 months ago


Folk-psychology in non-human animals (2)





The use of Folk-psychology to explain behaviour need not be limited to humans. Intentional language (beliefs, desires) can be applied to non-human animals as well. To do this, we do not need to assume that animals really have beliefs or desires as such. We can apply a folk psychological explanation provided we assume that the animal is rational. Rational, in this case, does not need to denote anything akin to an understanding of rational concepts or logical rules. We only need to assume that the animal follows logic, not that they understand or believe in it. This means only assuming the animal is not irrational or deranged.


In his paper Intentional Systems, Daniel Dennett provides an example in which everyone can determine the outcome using “common sense.” We imagine observing a mouse in such a location that it can see a cat waiting at one mouse hole and a piece of cheese at another. First, we attribute the belief that the mouse can locate both the cat and the cheese; we can call these belief-analogues or whatever we like. We also attribute to the mouse the desire to eat the cheese and avoid the mouse; we can subsume this from the more general rational desires to nourish itself and avoid death. Thus, we make a folk psychological prediction: the mouse will go towards the cheese and away from the cat. (D.C. Dennett, Intentional Systems, The Journal of Philosophy, 1975)


These sorts of predictions can be easily made about non-human animals because all folk psychology needs to operate practically is the assumption that the thing in question abides by rationality, even if it does not, properly speaking, understand it. The terms belief and desire are functional, if not necessarily 100% accurate in terms of describing their psychological makeup.


See also...



- Brendan Donald, University of Toronto

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