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Determinacy of content : the hard problem about animal intentionality


Glock, Hans-Johann (2020). Determinacy of content : the hard problem about animal intentionality. The Harvard Review of Philosophy, 27:101-120.

Abstract

Few arguments against intentional states in animals have stood the test of time. But one objection by Stich and Davidson has never been rebutted. In my reconstruction it runs: Ascribing beliefs to animals is vacuous, unless something counts as an animal believing one specific “content” rather than another; Nothing counts as an animal believing one specific content rather than another, because of their lack of language; Ergo: Ascribing beliefs to animals is vacuous. Several attempts to block the argument challenge the first premise, notably the appeals to “naked” belief ascriptions and alternative representational formats. This essay defends the first premise and instead challenges the second premise. There are non-linguistic “modes of presentation”; these can be determined by attributing to animals specific needs and capacities—a “ hermeneutic ethology” based on lessons from the debate about radical translation/interpretation in the human case. On that basis we can narrow down content by exclusion. What remains is an “imponderability of the mental” which does not rule out attributions of intentional states to animals.

Abstract

Few arguments against intentional states in animals have stood the test of time. But one objection by Stich and Davidson has never been rebutted. In my reconstruction it runs: Ascribing beliefs to animals is vacuous, unless something counts as an animal believing one specific “content” rather than another; Nothing counts as an animal believing one specific content rather than another, because of their lack of language; Ergo: Ascribing beliefs to animals is vacuous. Several attempts to block the argument challenge the first premise, notably the appeals to “naked” belief ascriptions and alternative representational formats. This essay defends the first premise and instead challenges the second premise. There are non-linguistic “modes of presentation”; these can be determined by attributing to animals specific needs and capacities—a “ hermeneutic ethology” based on lessons from the debate about radical translation/interpretation in the human case. On that basis we can narrow down content by exclusion. What remains is an “imponderability of the mental” which does not rule out attributions of intentional states to animals.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Philosophy
Dewey Decimal Classification:100 Philosophy
Language:English
Date:1 January 2020
Deposited On:15 Feb 2022 14:27
Last Modified:15 Feb 2022 14:27
Publisher:Philosophy Documentation Center
ISSN:1062-6239
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.5840/harvardreview202072631
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