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Do animals have volition?

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Do animals(non-human) have volition? How do you know either way?

It might depend on what you mean by volition. They can make choices in a fairly limited way. Put a steak on the left and a fish on the right and they will choose to eat one or the other first. Typically however, volition assumes consciousness. That you are making a decision consciously . So first it must be decided whether animals are concious or not. I would argue that animals have an implicit conciousness but not an explicit one, in that they lack a sense of self-awareness. They do not have the capacity to reduce themsleves or anything else to a unit for classification. Without the capacity for unit reduction, abstraction is essentially impossible. Without abstraction, conscious, reasoned decisions cannot occur. You can not hold one choice as an option and compare it to another choice as an option. So their decision making process remains on the perceptual level. Their choices largely, or possibly wholly, are automatic responses to emotional states and instincts.

As for why I believe this, I take there lack of communicative abilities to be evidence for their inability to form abstractions.

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I would argue that animals have an implicit consciousness but not an explicit one, in that they lack a sense of self-awareness.

There is a test to determine that: you take an animal and put it in front of the mirror. Then you put an annoying red dot on someplace on their body which is only visible through the mirror, and watch what they do: if they look at the image in the mirror and immediately start cleaning themselves, then they have self awareness (that they exist in space), if they don't, and they treat the animal in the mirror as another animals, then it is said that they don't.

But there are certainly animals with self awareness, like chimpanzees.

Here is the place to start looking: Self awareness in animals. It's not a great link but that's all I have time for now.

As for why I believe this, I take there lack of communicative abilities to be evidence for their inability to form abstractions.

Well pigs can also take your lack of communicative ability as an indication of your lack of ability to think. Can you talk pig language? I think not. How is this an indication for how animals think?

Edited by ifatart

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Well pigs can also take your lack of communicative ability as an indication of your lack of ability to think. Can you talk pig language? I think not. How is this an indication for how animals think?
Pigs don't have language, and they don't understand "evidence", or anything else. Pigs aren't conceptual people, and only a conceptual being can have language.

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There is a test to determine that: you take an animal and put it in front of the mirror. Then you put an annoying red dot on someplace on their body which is only visible through the mirror, and watch what they do: if they look at the image in the mirror and immediately start cleaning themselves, then they have self awareness (that they exist in space), if they don't, and they treat the animal in the mirror as another animals, then it is said that they don't.

But there are certainly animals with self awareness, like chimpanzees.

While MSR would cerainly indicate a higher level of conciousness then not having it, I don't think it would be enough realization of self for volition to occur. They might be identifying themselves, but that is not the same as classifying themselves in a catagory, which can in turn, be classified in another catagory.

Here is the place to start looking: Self awareness in animals. It's not a great link but that's all I have time for now.

Well pigs can also take your lack of communicative ability as an indication of your lack of ability to think. Can you talk pig language? I think not. How is this an indication for how animals think?

Actually I can...they talk about food a great deal. Culinarily their civilization surpasses our own in many ways. :nuke: Consider though, that when humans speaking two different languages encounter each other, through mutual effort, they will eventually be able to learn the other's language. We have certainly done more then our part through numerous studies with uncooperative animals to learn the language of animals while they have done very little in return. The best being an african grey who has gone as far as to develop a paultry vocabulary of a hundred words or so. So if they are capable of language on a more complex level, I can only assume that as a race, animals are quite lazy.

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So if they are capable of language on a more complex level, I can only assume that as a race, animals are quite lazy.
That's why we eat them: they can't be bothered to run away, even if you warn them in their native language (Pig Latin).

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When babies are born, they only have their primitive brains. So at one point we are all equal. But then with each passing second, the cortex develops, enabling concept formation, thoughts, ideas, morality, etc. :nuke:

Edited by Mimpy

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And how would you know?
At various times in the past, I've been called a "pig", a "dirty dog", a "snake", etc...., mostly by women that I hardly knew. Despite this, I still can't carry on a decent conversation with a member of the Wild Kingdom.

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As for why I believe this, I take there(animals) lack of communicative abilities to be evidence for their inability to form abstractions.

Well what constitutes a language? I have heard of some species that use very simple noises as a communication device with others. Even if its just a yelp which stood to alert the others of danger, would that not be a formation of a language? Then that would show they have volition because of their concept formation.

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Well what constitutes a language? I have heard of some species that use very simple noises as a communication device with others. Even if its just a yelp which stood to alert the others of danger, would that not be a formation of a language? Then that would show they have volition because of their concept formation.

It is actually well established that animals do communicate with one another in a number of ways. For the most part, though, they are emotive in nature and referencing an emotion or perhaps a particular concrete, rather then an idea. Even the brightest chimpanzees that are taught sign language have great difficulty with abstractions. One chimp, when asked about another that had died, signed something to the effect of "monkey sleep long time". A concept like non-existence is far beyond the grasp of arguably the second most intelligent species on the planet. So without understanding the real meaning of the fundemental alternative that living creatures face, they are not capable of volition, almost by definition. Choices are obviously made on some level. Even one-celled organisms are floating around going "food...no food...no food...food....no food.." But volition would be a poor choice of words to describe their behaviour.

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One chimp, when asked about another that had died, signed something to the effect of "monkey sleep long time".

I don't disagree with you fundamentally, but wouldn't a human who is barely fluent in the particular language being used express death almost exactly the same way?

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It is actually well established that animals do communicate with one another in a number of ways.
Depending on how you define "communicate", it is also well established that viruses communicate with other cells, and photons communicate with atoms.

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I don't disagree with you fundamentally, but wouldn't a human who is barely fluent in the particular language being used express death almost exactly the same way?

Initially, yes, but not after years of dedicated training.

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They might be identifying themselves, but that is not the same as classifying themselves in a catagory

But animals can distinguish between their own species and another species very well. How do you suppose some of them live in packs?

Consider though, that when humans speaking two different languages encounter each other, through mutual effort, they will eventually be able to learn the other's language. We have certainly done more then our part through numerous studies with uncooperative animals to learn the language of animals while they have done very little in return.

The forms of communication between different species are fundamentally different. Two different human languages are not like the sounds and gestures used for communication between monkeys. The skills for understanding human language are formed very early in development, and it is very difficult to acquire them later: There have been cases of children raised in social isolation, or feral children which demonstrated a very limited ability to learn human language at teenage years.

This shows you that the cognitive skills required for understanding a species' language are fundamentally different, and therefor just because we don't have the skill to understand pigs, doesn't mean that they do not communicate in a complex way.

Suppose someone was not exposed to any sounds as a baby: their brain would develope in such a way that even though their ears are perfectly functional, they would not hear a thing. Does this mean that the world has no sounds anymore?

In the same way, just because you were not trained as a baby to understand pig's language, does this mean it does not exist?

Also, even after someone learns a new language there are some sounds which are almost impossible to make for a non-native speaker: not because the vocal cords and muscles are incapable of producing that sound, but because the brain is not capable of learning it.

So in conclusion: animal's inability to understand human language and human's inability to understand animal's language is not a proof that such languages don't exist.

In fact, if no one presented you with a dictionary/teacher/right books, it would be very difficult to learn a new language just by observing other people talk (when they do not communicate with you and make an effort to explain the symbols).

So there.

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This shows you that the cognitive skills required for understanding a species' language are fundamentally different, and therefor just because we don't have the skill to understand pigs, doesn't mean that they do not communicate in a complex way.

But this doesn't prove that animals do have language, either. Just because we cannot seem to adequately prove (something I disagree with, but here it is really quite irrelevant) that animals do not have language doesn't matter. It should be the default position to assume that they do not unless you have evidence that they do. "Animals having language" is the positive claim here, and not "animals not having language". Otherwise you'd just be entertaining the arbitrary.

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First clarification: I am not saying that it is impossible to understand any language (if it exists) of another species, just that it requires a lot of effort and time, even more time than it would take someone to understand a foreign language just by observation, without having a dictionary.

It should be the default position to assume that they do not unless you have evidence that they do.

There is no doubt that animals communicate. (To start with that). I don't think anyone here disagrees with that, unless they are evading facts.

"Language" is a special form of communication in which objects / type of events or principles have symbols (which are either in audio or something visual).

We need to draw the line between language and communication in general before proceeding in this discussion.

I consider an animal which has a special sign for "danger" to be using language. Might be a very primitive language, but still a language. Maybe the problem in this discussion is the definition of language.

Oh yeah, I agree that you shouldn't assume that something exists unless you have evidence for it (or something to suggest it).

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But then you could also call a cat hissing at something to be a sign for "anger". I don't think that by itself makes the animal have language. For it to have language, you'd need to show that they have concepts and that these concepts have been given a specific concrete form (i.e. the word). A sign used for signifying danger or hunger or fear doesn't show that.

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But then you could also call a cat hissing at something to be a sign for "anger".
That is exactly the point. To claim that an animal has a "special sign" for anything is begging the questions. Animals simply do not have signs. They have behaviors, and not signs. A photon and an electron will mutually self-destruct which can be seen as the communication of signs "I'm negative" and "I'm positive". This is not symbolic behavior or language. This nonsense about redefining words at whim is, well, as the word implies, nonsense. I could consider the brain to be any grey-colored body tissue, but that is not what a brain actually is. Or I could consider a cow to be any 4-legged animal that gives milk, but that actually isn't what a cow is. I just do not understand why people think that words can mean whatever you want them to.

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But animals can distinguish between their own species and another species very well. How do you suppose some of them live in packs?

I would guess that it is some combination of instinct and memorization of particular concretes.

So there.

:)

I agree with most of what you said. I would, in fact, be very in favor of giving rights to pigs even if they had a very terrible speech impediment or think accent. Providing they were able to communicate human levels of thought in some way. Doing addition while stomping their feet, would be a good start. Unfortunately, even animals reaised by humans from birth which are given far more attention and educational resources then most human children recieve are incapable of communicating any thought patterns higher then a two year old human.

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Do animals(non-human) have volition? How do you know either way?

volitin: an act of making a choice or decision ; also : a choice or decision made

: the power of choosing or determining : WILL

I think cats might. My cat chooses not to eat certain food and will resort to eating plants/grass first. I haven't tested it for more then a day or so though as I usually break down first and give her what she likes.

Cats also sleep in closets and such having figured out , in their cat brain ability, that they can rest peacefully undisturbed there as opposed to the middle of the kitchen table.

My cat also head butts me in the morning and tries to wake me up.

Edited by Alessa36

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