Do Monkeys Know When They Don’t Know?

Do monkeys bathe for pleasure, or because the warm waters are ideal for introspection?

Communication with animals is difficult. It has been over one hundred years since Pavlov, and our main form of inter-species communication remains food pellets. Philosophical aphorisms like Wittgenstein’s “If a lion could talk, we would not be able to understand him” are either shown to obtain daily in research labs, or are many years from being challenged.

Still, a study conducted by Smith and Beran, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has revealed behaviour in macaque monkeys that would seem to betoken the capacity to experience doubt– opening a window into the mental lives of these animals.

Self-doubt is an interesting mental state in that it necessitates Continue reading “Do Monkeys Know When They Don’t Know?”

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It’s Me or the Dog!

JSeay: 2008

It’s a dog’s life, so the saying goes. Thanks to one dogged photographer we are finally privy to the reality of this proverbial canine existence. London-based Martin Usborne has drawn inspiration from the secret world of dogs for his latest project, entitled Mute: the silence of dogs in cars, a series of photographs of forlorn and forgotten four-legged friends. It comes as a darker follow-up to his more overtly amusing collection Life as a dog in the recession, and was yesterday described by the Independent as ‘capturing dejectedness, anger and sadness.’  Not quite as dark, though, as the controversial piece of dog related art executed by Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas, who, as part of an exhibition in 2007, tied an emaciated stray dog to the wall of the Códice Gallery, Nicaragua, and reportedly left it to starve. (Due to incandescent outrage within the blogging community, the truth was later revealed that the stray dog was both fed and spared death – Vargas, however, refused to officially comment on what exactly became of the hound). Vargas’s contribution provokes some obvious ethical questions (including, Vargas would argue, one aimed at the hypocrisy of viewers/bloggers, their dismay towards a single stray in a gallery not matching up to their attitude towards the countless strays that continue to starve outside it). Usborne’s work, on the other hand, may elicit some subtler philosophical questions, relating to such diverse philosophical areas as aesthetics, ethics, and the philosophy of mind.

Continue reading “It’s Me or the Dog!”

Interview: Animalkind – What We Owe to Animals

Are you an animal lover if you dote on your cat but then happily tuck into a plate of chicken or pig? Do horses and apes have equal rights to humans? We spoke with Jean Kazez author of Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals about her exploration into the ethical tensions between animals and humans.

The Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write Animalkind?

Jean Kazez: I got the idea to write this book when I was working on my first book, The Weight of Things: Philosophy and the Good Life (Blackwell 2007).  There are a few pages in there about what it is for animals to live good lives.  I wanted to write more about that–“The Good Life for Dogs,” maybe? As I got started, the subject gradually changed. The truth is, billions of animals in the world are living very bad lives as a result of human decisions.  I wound up writing a book that’s about animal lives, but also about our decisions. Continue reading “Interview: Animalkind – What We Owe to Animals”