Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nonhuman Animals Cannot Reason Like Humans

I made a recent post on the nytimes article on Hugo Mercier's (et. al.) evolutionary, argumentative theory of reasoning. I think that essay was a bit sensationalist. Mercier corrects it here. He writes: "We do not claim that reasoning has nothing to do with the truth. We claim that reasoning did not evolve to allow the lone reasoner to find the truth. We think it evolved to argue." 
Mercier's entire academic article is here. (Click on "One-click Download" - it's free!) I did, and since its Father's Day, and I get to do what a father wants to do, I am  now reading it. A lot of interesting things are popping up. Here's one.
Mercier defines "reasoning." This is very good; viz., define key terms. "Reasoning, as commonly understood, refers to a very special form of inference at the conceptual level, where not only is a new mental representation (or conclusion) consciously produced, but the previously held representations (or premises) that warrant it are also consciously entertained. The premises are seen as providing reasons to accept the conclusion. Most work in the psychology of reasoning is about reasoning so understood."
This is in agreement with what we teach in Logic courses.
Mercier says "Such reasoning is typically human. There is no evidence that it occurs in nonhuman animals or in preverbal children."  So, as we suspected, nonhuman animals cannot "reason" as humans do; nonhuman animals would not do well in my Logic class since they cannot reason this way. Do animals "reason?" Not like this.
And all those brilliant Gary Larsen cartoons are false...