Shared Language, Meaningful Communication and Inter-species Trust

A Discussion of Key Themes Related to Anthropomorphism as Philosophical Sin’

Rebekah Humphreys

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to draw together themes in the literature on the topic of anthropomorphism (particularly in relation to methodological disdain and the problematic claim that anthropomorphic language-use with regards to animal mentality is unjustified): these themes include inter-species meaningful communication, scepticism, shared language, trust and reciprocity, and the role of the body in relation to animal mentality.

Further, problems concerning animal consciousness and the possibility and acquisition of knowledge of such consciousness will be reinterpreted (presented differently from the current literature) and found to be problems concerning something of quite a different nature; that is, problems concerning language and the description of animal mentality. The work of Vicki Hearne and Mark Rowlands will be drawn on to provide examples of inter-species shared language.

The paper concludes that anthropomorphism cannot be avoided for the very reason that it is necessarily in operation whenever we describe the mental life of other than human animals in a way that avoids mechano-morphism. Our folk psychology of other animals plays a role here in our description of animal mentality, just as it does in our description of human mental states (see, for example, Andrews, 2011), as does our immediate, direct or non-inferential knowledge of the feelings of others (whether human or nonhuman).

Of course, in terms of immediate knowledge, it is true that another’s emotions or feelings do not always lie open to view, but even if we responded to only those feelings and emotions that we can or do perceive and which are communicated to us via expressions and behaviours, then this would necessarily involve a recognition of the obvious immense sufferings of creatures exploited for own benefit.

Overall, this paper will examine key issues relevant to anthropomorphic practice in order to work towards constructing an adequate ontology of a lifeworld with animals. It will also suggest the moral implications of that construction because a new, more adequate way of seeing the world (a world of complex, communicating, suffering animals) has moral consequences.

Such recognition should call for urgent action on behalf of animals; a call which is stronger when combined with empirical knowledge and an intimate understanding of the beings in question. These ways of acquiring knowledge can be recognised as significant in describing intra- and inter-species similarities and differences, as well as species-specific interests, all of which can be considered in moral deliberations (and are capable of being considered equitably too).

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