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Can animals reason?

I attend school at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and i have this philosophy class...i asked my professor whether or not animals can reason. I said animals can not reason. She said they could. I argued that you can teach an animal to do almost anything (tricks, roll over, etc.) but that is not reason. I also argued that animals have instinct, which is very different than reason. What do you think? Just want your opinion on the matter.

[ This Message was edited by: steeplejack on 2004-03-03 11:39 ]

[ This Message was edited by: steeplejack on 2004-03-17 10:26 ]

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Location: St. Paul, MN
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Can animals reason?

I do not believe that animals in general can reason. To me an animal would have to be more intelligent than a 12 year old to be able to reason since I believe in Piaget's theory of cognitive development. I find it very hard to believe that most animals have the capacity to ever reach the formal operations stage of development. I believe that most animals act/react out of instinct and/or conditioning. Primates are probably the smartest animals and one may have more of an argument for them but on the whole, I would say no..animals cannot reason. Just my 2 cents.

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Can animals reason?

Some years ago when I was in High School we had a lab in my psychology class that posed the same question and generated extensive debate.
In general learning comes from experience. You have to atleast heard about something to know about it but mostly we learn from experience and repetition.

Reasoning or the ability to reason involves thought processes. Reasoning involves thinking something thru and coming to a conclusion(s) without actually having an idea about what the task involves beforehand.

Lots of animals and fowl(for those that dont think fowl are animals) appear to have the ability to reason but is in fact just learned or instinctive behavior. For instance an Elk wont just walk up to the edge of a cliff and sit and think things thru before deciding not to walk out into thin air. Just because he knows that it will involve a nasty fall doesn't mean he is capable of reason it means that he knows thru experience that he needs solid ground under his feet to keep from falling down. He has no concept that height will kill.

The one important thing that demonstrates reasoning is the knowledge of ones mortality. We humans are the only animal that knows it will die one day and there is no escaping it and that forces us to reason to avoid an early death.

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Can animals reason?

Well said JT

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Can animals reason?

Reason... that's a dangerous word, because it means different things to different folks. If one wants a good answer, one needs a good definition.

I looked up MN's Piaget and found some references here and here. Couldn't really find Piaget's definition of "reason" though other than some oblique references to "schema operations" and "motor behavior". Too abstract for my taste.

So I asked google what is reason: Here's what it says:

"a rational motive for a belief or action"

That's nice, what's rational? Asking again:

"consistent with or based on or using reason"

HA HA! The definition is circular!

So I ask, what's a motive?

"the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal; the reason for the action; that which gives purpose and direction to behavior;"

Ha Ha, more circularness!

(Note all of these definitions came from a cogsci web page at princeton).

Just a little example to show that those in the know don't always know. A circular definition is not a definition. Piaget with his interest in math would realize this, I suspect.

So what is your definition of reason?

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Can animals reason?

Yep Bitmasher thats a good question and was the bigger part of the debates in the aforementioned lab, what is reason?

The definition we were given/concluded was this, Reason is the thought process involved in reaching conclusions that are not developed from instinctive or learned behavior. The ability to reach multiple conclusions using information gathered from thought process while solving a task.
The Elk anology gives to this. Another one is that we(humans) know that we can not breathe underwater,as do most animals, that is learned behavior. The fact that we know we can die from trying to breathe under water is not learned behavior as everyone that knew we would drown would be dead. We(humans) came to the conclusion that we would drown by "reason", we thought it thru and came to the conclusion that we need air to live, we dont have the ability to get oxygen from water, I cant swim so I'll go under the water where there is no air, and last but certainly not least, we'll get all wet and our hair will be messed up and the girls wont like us which brings us to instinctive behavior....passing along our genes, so we conclude to stay outta the water till we learn to swim and have access to a mirror and a comb.

The line seperating "reason" and "learned and instinctive behavior" is microscopic.

Of course wheather or not an animal, besides a human can reason is purely theory as we do not have the ability to see or hear what is going on in an animals mind.

One last note...we are using reason here right now. We are solving a task using no Learned or Instinctive Behavior.

[ This Message was edited by: JTapia on 2004-03-05 16:35 ]

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Can animals reason?

Yes, animals can reason. Our cat has taken to meowing at the top of his lungs outside our toddler's door at O-dark thirty in the morning. We thought he was just wandering around doing it at first, or perhaps doing it outside our door. But we've discovered that when we wake up and stumble into the hallway to deal with him in a particularly kind, loving, and humane manner (NOT), he's right outside the toddler's door, not ours.

Why? Because he's apparently figured out that if the toddler wakes up hollering, we get up. And shortly after we wake up, the cat gets fed.

Now, I suppose you could argue that it's learned behavior. But he's figured out that if he wakes up one of the older kids, nothing happens. If he wakes us up, he gets dealt with and nothing happens. But if he wakes up the baby, that gets us up long term -- long enough for him to get fed. That's an extrapolation of raw data, and something he came up with by himself.

So is it learned behavior? A psychologist might say so. But when you get down to it, couldn't you argue that any behavior is "learned" from various lifetime experiences? Reasoning is often thought of in terms of inductive, rather than deductive thought. Yet unlike deductive reasoning, which draws conclusions based on information directly at hand, inductive reasoning extrapolates other lessons learned to draw conclusions somewhere else.

[ This Message was edited by: expatriate on 2004-03-06 06:00 ]

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Can animals reason?

I think that some animals can, and some can't. Quailified, of course by your definition of "reason". To me reason would be the ability to look at a situation, or pieces of information and say "if A then B" without actually trying it.

We had a horse back home that could untie knots. No matter what knot you used to tie it up with, if you gave it an hour he would untie himself (not bite or break the rope - he'd untie the knot). We had to start hitching him up under his halter or bridle where he couldn't get at the knot with his teeth.

My dog likes to have his ball thrown into a tangle of crap and try and get it out - like a puzzle. He also seems to know when ice is safe to go on and when it's not even though he's had little experience with ice. One week he'll stop dead at the edge, the next he'll trot right out like nothing. Somehow he knows when it's thick enough to be safe.

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Can animals reason?

Well apparently your dog has a distinct reasoning advantage over elk in Idaho, as evidenced by the train collision thread in the Rocky Mountain section. They'd be a lot better off if they had your dog's knack for knowing when ice is too thin.

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Can animals reason?

re; do animals reason? This is very interesting, see for yourself.
http://users.ox.ac.uk/~kgroup/tools/tools_main.html

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Can animals reason?

heres another good place to look to get more information on animal reasoning, from scientific american.

http://www.ucd.ie/artspgs/langmind/animalreasoning.pdf

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