“Other minds than ours”: a controversial discussion on the limits and possibilities of comparative psychology in the light of C. Lloyd Morgan’s work

  • Martin Böhnert
  • Christopher Hilbert
Original Paper


C. Lloyd Morgan is mostly known for Morgan’s canon (An introduction to comparative psychology, Walter Scott, Limited, London, 1894), still a popular and frequently quoted principle in comparative psychology and ethology. There has been a fair amount of debate on the canon’s interpretation, function, and value regarding the research on animal minds, usually referring to it as an isolated principle. In this paper we rather shed light on Morgan’s overall scientific program and his vision for comparative psychology. We argue that within his program Morgan identified crucial conceptual, ontological, and methodical issues, that are still fundamental to the current research on animal minds. This also highlights a new aspect of his role as one of the “founding fathers” of modern comparative psychology. In order to understand Morgan’s program, we briefly outline the historical context in which he began his work on a science of comparative psychology. We will then emphasize to what extent his taxonomy of psychological capacities, the development of his metaphysics for a comparative psychology, and his newly introduced interdisciplinary procedures justify Morgan’s distinctive approach to still rather sensitive issues. In doing so, we aim to provide a more comprehensive picture of Morgan’s methodological signature and we contend that a proper understanding of his canon can only be gained by taking it as part of this program. We finally understand his most renown considerations as part of his struggle to ascertain the limits and possibilities of the discipline he contributed to set up, and thus emphasize the need to keep the discussion going, notably on the accessibility of other minds than one’s own and on the limits of one’s research perspectives.


Lloyd Morgan Morgan’s canon Comparative psychology Animal behavior Animal mind 



This paper was written in the context of the International Biophilosophical School (University of Padua, 27–30 April 2015) as part of the “Integrative Biophilosophy” research project located at the University of Kassel. Funding by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) is gratefully acknowledged. We would like to thank Robert Meunier, Kristian Köchy and Francesca Michelini for their constructive criticism of the manuscript as well as to acknowledge the helpful comments of the participants of the “Philosophie der Tierforschung” colloquium (University of Kassel). Also, a sincere thank you to Tessa Marzotto for her diligent proofreading of this paper.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversität KasselKasselGermany
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversität KasselKasselGermany

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