Philosophy of Cognitive Ethology:
Annotated Bibliography   by Colin Allen

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Rationale and organization of the bibliography

A brief introduction to cognitive ethology can be found in the overview that accompanies this bibliography. Given the amount of indeterminacy about the boundaries of the field of cognitive ethology (discussed in the overview) there is corresponding indeterminacy about the scope of this annotated bibliography. With a few exceptions, I have decided to limit the entries to works in the philosophy of cognitive ethology, a nascent subspecialty straddling the borders of philosophy of mind, philosophy of biology, and philosophy of science.

This is not to say that all the listed works are authored by professional philosophers - far from it - but works by professional scientists are generally limited to those that deal with methodological issues facing attempts to study animal cognition in natural conditions. Thus, in general, I have not included scientific papers whose primary contribution is empirical rather than theoretical, nor have I included pieces on the controversies surrounding ape language or `theory of mind' in primates which although of evolutionary interest have not generally been conducted in naturalistic settings. (Those looking for references into the broader scientific literature are referred to this unannotated bibliography.)

Entries are arranged primarily in chronological rather than alphabetical order, except where it seemed natural to group works that form a single corpus, or to group critical articles with the items that prompted them.

Some of the references in this bibliography do not have their own headings. Such items are generally not specifically about cognitive ethology, but are important background reading for the pieces under whose heading they appear.

Annotated Bibliography

Griffin, D. R. 1976. The Question of Animal Awareness: Evolutionary Continuity of Mental Experience. Rockefeller University Press (second edition: 1981)
----- 1984. Animal Thinking. Harvard University Press
----- 1992. Animal Minds. University of Chicago Press.

Griffin's first book launched a discipline. Widely reviewed, and the focus of a 1978 article, with peer commentary and author's response in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Griffin, D. R. 1978. "Prospects for a cognitive ethology." BBS 4: 527-538). It was republished in a revised edition in 1981. In an effort to convince scientists that animal intelligence is closer to human intelligence than typically supposed, Griffin provides numerous examples of animals behaving in an apparently clever fashion, particularly focusing on naturally observed behaviors.

Griffin's subsequent books extend the number of examples that he believed indicative of animal intelligence while responding to criticism that his approach was merely "anecdotal" by attempting to refine the theoretical justification for his claims that animals are conscious, and arguing that consciousness has a biological function.

Some critical reviews of Griffin's books:

Griffin, D. R. 1982. Animal mind-Human mind. Berlin: Dahlem Konferenzen.

Proceedings of a workshop organized by Donald Griffin. Contains individual articles by the various scientists and philosophers present, and a summary report written by Robert Seyfarth.

Dennett, D. C. 1983. "Intentional systems in cognitive ethology: The "Panglossian paradigm" defended." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6: 343-390.

Dennett argues that his "intentional stance" can be used to generate testable hypotheses about animal cognition. Introduces a Gricean hierarchy of intentional states from "zero-order" (non-intentional, stimulus-response) to "first-order" (beliefs and desires about non-intentional states of the world) to "second-order" (beliefs about first-order states) and on up. Features work described subsequently in Cheney & Seyfarth (1990) and Ristau (1991). The paper was reprinted in Dennett's 1987 The Intentional Stance (MIT Press) along with a field report of the difficulties involved in taking his ideas to Kenya.

Asquith, T. J. (1984). "The inevitability and utility of anthropomorphism in description of primate behaviour." In R. Harré & V.Reynolds (Eds.), The meaning of primate signals. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 138-174.

Argues that use of "anthropomorphism" as a term of criticism is not justified. Contrasts attitudes to anthropomorphism in Anglo-American primatology and Japanese primatology and argues that anthropomorphic description serves a valuable heuristic function.

Burghardt, G.M. 1985. "Animal awareness: perceptions and historical perspective." American Psychologist 40: 905-919.

A very useful historical overview of attempts to understand the mental capacities of animals within an evolutionary framework, linking the "new" work of Griffin to the earlier endeavors of Charles Darwin and his follower George Romanes.

Heyes, C. 1987. "Contrasting approaches to the legitimation of intentional language within comparative psychology." Behaviorism 15: 41-50.

Cecilia Heyes is one of Griffin's strongest critics. In this article she compares and constrasts Griffin's and Dennett's fieldwork-based approaches to cognitive ethology to her preferred approach based on laboratory work.

Cheney, D. L., and Seyfarth, R. M. 1990. How Monkeys See the World: Inside the Mind of Another Species. University of Chicago Press.

A classic of cognitive ethology that acknowledges a debt to Griffin's urgings that scientists should pay more attention to animal minds. This book summarizes more than a decade of field work on vervet monkeys in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, including attempts to probe monkeys' understanding of their social relations, predators, and cause-effect relationships. Of particular methodological importance is the use of recorded playbacks of vervet vocalizations to provoke responses under relatively controlled conditions. The book was the subject of a target article and peer commentary in BBS (Cheney, D. L., and Seyfarth, R. M. 1992. Précis of How Monkeys See the World. BBS 15: 135-182).

Heyes, C., and Dickinson, A. 1990. "The intentionality of animal action." Mind and Language 5: 87-104.
Allen, C., and Bekoff, M. 1995. "Cognitive ethology and the intentionality of animal behavior." Mind and Language 10: 313-328.
Heyes, C., and Dickinson, A. 1995. "Folk psychology won´t go away: Response to Allen and Bekoff." Mind and Language 10: 329-332.

Heyes and Dickinson argue that laboratory studies show that even such a basic behavior as approaching food is not an intentional action by Dennettian criteria, and argue that only lab studies provide the necessary controls to critically assess intentional hypotheses.

Allen & Bekoff critique the argument showing that it depends on a number of unsubstantiated assumptions about the experimental situation; published with a response by Heyes and Dickinson.

Rosenberg, A. 1990. "Is there an evolutionary biology of play?" In Interpretation and Explanation in the Study of Animal Behavior, Vol. 1, Interpretation, Intentionality, and Communication ed. M. Bekoff & D. Jamieson. Westview Press, Boulder, CO, pp. 180-196.
Allen, C. & Bekoff, M. 1994. "Intentionality, social play, and definition." Biology and Philosophy 9:63-74.
[Both articles are reprinted in Bekoff & Jamieson 1996.]

Rosenberg argues that the definition of play is essentially functional and essentially involves higher-order intentionality (in the sense of Dennett 1983). Each of these claims is sufficient to entail, on his view, that there can be no evolutionary biology of play. His argument against an evolutionary biology of functional categories is based on their heterogeneity of cause and effect. His argument against an evolutionary biology of intentionality is based on worries similar to those in Dennett 1969 and Stich 1983.

In their critique of Rosenberg's article, Allen & Bekoff agree that social play is naturally characterized in intentional terms but maintain that intentionally and functionally characterized phenotypes are a proper domain for ethological investigation.

Ristau, C. A. (ed.) 1991. Cognitive Ethology, The Minds of Other Animals. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

A useful collection of essays in honor of Donald Griffin on the foundations of cognitive ethology. Articles include (partial list):

Allen, C., and Hauser, M. D. 1991. "Concept attribution in nonhuman animals: Theoretical and methodological problems in ascribing complex mental processes." Philosophy of Science 58: 221-240

A discussion of ways in which observations of animal behavior might lend support for attributing specific concepts to them, on the basis of a couple of thought experiments; one involving naturalistic observation, and the other involving experimental manipulation in a controlled setting. (Reprinted in Bekoff & Jamieson 1996.)

Williams, G. C. 1992. Natural selection: Domains, levels, and challenges. New York: Oxford University Press.

Material around page 4 deals critically with Griffin.

Beer, C. 1992. "Conceptual issues in cognitive ethology." Advances in the Study of Behavior 21:69-109.

A sympathetic survey of problems and issues facing Griffin's program by pre-eminent ethologist Colin Beer.

Allen, C. 1992a. "Mental content." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43: 537-553

Daniel Dennett (1969, Content and Consciousness, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul) and Stephen Stich (1983. From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: The case against belief MIT Press) independently but similarly, argued that the contents of mental states cannot be specified precisely enough for the purposes of scientific prediction and explanation. Dennett takes this to support his view that the proper role for mentalistic terms in science is heuristic. Stich takes it to support his view that cognitive science should be done without reference to mental content at all. Allen defends a realist understanding of mental content against these attacks by Dennett and Stich, arguing that they both mistake the difficulty of making content ascriptions precise for the impossibility of doing so.

Allen, C. 1992b. "Mental content and evolutionary explanation." Biology and Philosophy 7: 1-12.

Argues that a realist construal of intentional content is more suitable to the explanatory purposes of cognitive ethology than Stephen Stich's syntactic theory of mind (Stich 1983). Illustrates the point using work by Cheney & Seyfarth.

Bekoff, M., and Allen, C. 1992. "Intentional icons: Towards an evolutionary cognitive ethology." Ethology 91: 1-16.

Argues for the application of Millikan's notion of an intentional icon (Millikan, R. G. 1984. Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories. MIT Press.) to the understanding of play signals in canids.

Jamieson, D., and Bekoff, M. 1993. On aims and methods of cognitive ethology. Philosophy of Science Association 2: 110-124.
Allen, C., and Hauser, M. D. 1993. Communication and cognition: Is information the connection? Philosophy of Science Association 2: 81-91.

These articles are the product of a symposium at the 1992 PSA meetings organized by Dale Jamieson. Jamieson & Bekoff recapitulate Tinbergen's famous article outlining the research program of classical ethology (Tinbergen, N. 1963. "On aims and methods of ethology". Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 20: 410-433). Allen & Hauser take as their starting point Griffin's suggestive metaphor that communication might provide a window on animal minds. They survey different conceptions of information (Shannon/Weaver, Dretske, Millikan) in order to see which might best relates communication to cognition in the sense of information processing.

Roitblat, H. L., and J.-A. Meyer, eds. 1995. Comparative Approaches to Cognitive Science. MIT Press.

This volume contains proceedings of two weeks of meetings held in Aix-en-Provence in the summer of 1993. Several chapters relate to cognitive ethology, including:

  • Allen, C. "Intentionality: Natural and artificial."
    Explains Brentano's notion of intentionality and various attempts to naturalize it, arguing that science can proceed to investigate empirical consequences of the different positions without resolution of the philosophical arguments.
  • Bekoff, M. "Cognitive ethology and the explanation of nonhuman animal behavior."
  • Dennett, D.C. "Do animals have beliefs?"
  • Evans, C., and Marler, P. 1995. "Language and animal communication: Parallels and contrasts."
    Describes interesting work on the alarm calls of chickens.
  • Toates, F. "Animal motivation and cognition."
Blumberg, M.S. and E.A. Wasserman 1995. "Animal mind and the argument from design." Am. Psychologist 50: 133-144.

A strong condemnation of Griffin's attempts to reintroduce the subject of consciousness, argued from a staunchly behavioristic perspective to the effect that consciousness is strictly unobservable and therefore untenable in science. Argues that the logic of mentalistic explanation is as circular as religious arguments for creation by design. As well as targetting Griffin, the authors dismiss several of the other items listed in this bibliography.

Bekoff, M. , & D. Jamieson (eds.) 1996. Readings in Animal cognition. MIT Press.
A volume containing reprinted articles, many but not all of which were selected from an earlier two-volume set by the same editors (Bekoff, M., and Jamieson, D., eds. 1990. Interpretation and Explanation in the Study of Animal Behavior, volume 1: Interpretation, Intentionality, and Communication, volume 2: Explanation, Evolution, and Adaptation. Westview). John Fisher's article titled "The myth of anthropomorphism" is particularly recommended for readers interested in that topic.
Bekoff, M., and Allen, C. 1997. "Cognitive ethology: Slayers, skeptics, and proponents." In Anthropomorphism, Anecdote, and Animals, ed. Mitchell, R. W. , N. S. Thompson & H. L. Miles. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Surveys published reviews of Donald Griffin's books, and other sources, to try to classify some of the more common responses to Griffin's program.
Burghardt, G.M. 1997. Amending Tinbergen: A fifth aim for ethology. Ch. 20 (pp. 354-76) in Anthropomorphism, Anecdotes and Animals. eds. R. W. Mitchell, N. S. Thompson & H. L. Miles. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Like Jamieson & Bekoff (1993), another article attempting to extend Tinbergen's 1963 framework for ethology to provide support to cognitive ethology.
Allen, C., & M. Bekoff 1997. Species of Mind, The philosophy and biology of cognitive ethology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Surveys the history of cognitive ethology, the challenge from behaviorism, and the application of contemporary ideas from the philosophy of mind to the methodological problems facing cognitive ethologists.
Balda, R.P., Pepperberg, I.M., and Kamil, A.C. (eds.) 1998. Animal Cognition in Nature: The Convergence of Psychology and Biology in Laboratory and Field
A collection of essays describing a variety of approaches to the study of animal cognition in an evolutionary and ecological context, while trying to stay clear of the controversies engendered by Griffin's attention to consciousness and other folk-psychological notions.
Cummins, D., and Allen, C., eds. 1998. The Evolution of Mind. Oxford University Press.
A collection of papers on the evolution of animal and human mind. Papers drawing upon or relevant to cognitive ethology include:
  • Cummins, D. "Social norms and other minds: the evolutionary roots of higher cognition"
  • Hauser, M. D., and Carey, S. "Building a cognitive creature from a set of primitives: evolutionary and developmental insights."
    Lays out a strong program for applying experimental techniques from cognitive developmental psychology to the study of animal cognition.
  • Allen, C. and Saidel, E. "The evolution of reference"
    Argues for evolutionary homology between animal communcation and human language.
  • Bekoff, M. "Playing with play: What can we learn about cognition, negotiation, and evolution?"
    Argues that the interactions in social play are a good area for uncovering features of animal minds.
  • Sober, E. "Morgan's canon."
    Places Morgan's famous canon in the context of evolutionary explanation.
Allen, C. 1998. "The discovery of animal consciousness: an optimistic assessment." Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 10:217-225.
Draws a distinction between knowing what it is like to be a member of another species and knowing that it is like something to be a member of another species, and argues that even if the former topic is not scientifically tractable, the latter topic may be.

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