Melis, G. & Monsó, S. Are Humans the Only Rational Animals? The Philosophical Quarterly, (2023). https://doi.org/10.1093/pq/pqad090
While growing empirical evidence suggests a continuity between human and non-human psychology, many philosophers still think that only humans can act and form beliefs rationally. In this paper, we challenge this claim. We first clarify the notion of rationality. We then focus on the rationality of beliefs and argue that, in the relevant sense, humans are not the only rational animals. We do so by first distinguishing between unreflective and reflective responsiveness to epistemic reasons in belief formation and revision. We argue that unreflective responsiveness is clearly within the reach of many animals. We then defend that a key demonstration of reflective responsiveness would be the ability to respond to undermining defeaters. We end by presenting some empirical evidence that suggests that some animal species are capable of processing these defeaters, which would entail that even by the strictest standards, humans are not the only rational animals.
Melis, G. Normative Defeaters and the Alleged Impossibility of Mere Animal Knowledge for Reflective Subjects. Philosophia (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-023-00658-5
Investigating ow subjects’ knowledge is structured and acquired is central to understanding the relation between the cognitive achievements of adult humans and those of very young children and non-human animals. One important distinction is the one between reflective and unreflective knowledge. The former is supported by an evaluation of one’s state of knowledge, and adult humans exhibit it when they think something like “I know that Andy Murray plays today because I checked the BBC website.” The latter is not supported by an evaluation of the relevant state, and it is often ascribed to young children and non-human animals. For example, a two year-old may know that her mummy is in the room with her because she sees her mummy, and yet be incapable of formulating a thought like “I know that mummy is here because I see her.”
According to philosophers Sanford Goldberg and Jonathan Matheson, mere unreflective knowledge—that is, unreflective knowledge that is not thereby also reflective knowledge—is impossible for reflective subjects. Goldberg and Matheson’s view may support a dualism about knowledge which, if correct, would frustrate attempts to provide a unified account of knowledge-attributions to human adults, very young children, and non-human animals.
This article discusses Goldberg’s and Matheson’s proposal, outlines some of the ways in which it is insightful, and argues that it fails to establish the impossibility of mere unreflective knowledge for reflective subjects because it neglects the inherent temporal dimension of knowledge acquisition. It is argued that reflective subjects can have plenty of mere unreflective knowledge. The paper also highlights connections between the debates on the relation between unreflective and reflective knowledge, propositional and doxastic justification, and the theory of epistemic defeat. The final section advocates an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the relationship between unreflective and reflective cognitive achievements.
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