, Volume 123, Issue 1, pp 35-64

Animals, Thoughts And Concepts

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Abstract

There are three main positions on animalthought: lingualism denies that non-linguistic animalshave any thoughts; mentalism maintains that theirthoughts differ from ours only in degree, due totheir different perceptual inputs; an intermediateposition, occupied by common sense and Wittgenstein,maintains that animals can have thoughts of a simplekind. This paper argues in favor of an intermediateposition. It considers the most important arguments infavor of lingualism, namely those inspired byDavidson: the argument from the intensional nature ofthought (Section 1); the idea that thoughts involveconcepts (Sections 2–3); the argument from the holisticnature of thought (Section 4); and the claim that beliefrequires the concept of belief (Sections 5–6). The lastargument (which Davidson favors) is uncompelling, butthe first three shed valuable light on the extent towhich thought requires language. However, none of themprecludes animals from having simple thoughts. Even ifone adopts the kind of third-person perspective onthought Davidson shares with Wittgenstein, the resultis a version of the intermediate position, albeit oneenriched by Davidson's insights concerningintensionality, concepts and holism (Section 7). We canonly ascribe simple thoughts to animals, and even thatascription is incongruous in that the rich idiom weemploy has conceptual connections that go beyond thephenomena to which it is applied.