Why the question of animal consciousness might not matter very much

Document Type: 
Article
Article Type: 
Theoretical
Disciplines: 
Philosophy
Topics: 
Animal Cognition
Keywords: 
animal consciousness, role of consciousness, behavior
Deposited by: 
Dr Peter Carruthers
Date of Issue: 
2005
Authors: 
Peter Carruthers
Journal/Publication Title: 
Philosophical Psychology
Volume: 
18
Page Range: 
83-102
Abstract: 
According to higher-order thought accounts of phenomenal consciousness (e.g. Carruthers, 2000) it is unlikely that many non-human animals undergo phenomenally conscious experiences. Many people believe that this result would have deep and far-reaching consequences. More specifically, they believe that the absence of phenomenal consciousness from the rest of the animal kingdom must mark a radical and theoretically significant divide between ourselves and other animals, with important implications for comparative psychology. I shall argue that this belief is mistaken. Since phenomenal consciousness might be almost epiphenomenal in its functioning within human cognition, its absence in animals may signify only relatively trivial differences in cognitive architecture. Our temptation to think otherwise arises partly as a side-effect of imaginative identification with animal experiences, and partly from mistaken beliefs concerning the aspects of common-sense psychology that carry the main explanatory burden, whether applied to humans or to non-human animals.
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