Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Do animals have volition?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

So how should we point to P-consciousness?
Before deciding how, we need to decide whether. I would say no, because it takes us too far from the question(s) of central interest. The basic question is whether animals have volition, and occasionally the question of concepts is interjected. Animal consciousness is not conceptual, nor is it volitional, but for the moment we're only looking at whether an animal has free will. I would reject Searle's definition of consciousness on one point, namely whether all dreamless sleeping states are the lack of consciousness, but moreover since man is defined by having a particular kind of consciousness, then when a person is in a coma, that doesn't make him less of a man. The distinction that we care about here is having a certain capacity, not the actual exercise of the capacity.

In terms of the arrows, they are pointing to animals automatically reacting in a way that maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain. Death is a major pain, and the most successful animals of the savannah have acquired the skill of running for the horizon when a cheetah appears.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 81
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

How can a person determine this in animals? Its easy to figure out with humans because we have our own mind to analyze and also are able to have complex conversations with other humans. But how exactly do you prove animals understand there are alternative choices or not?

I do not believe we can. In all probability because they do not possess freewill. Advances in neuroscience may at some point allow us to understand more specifically partiular parts of the brain do or are made to do so that they could look at them under s PET and say "look, he's using freewill". For now though, I suggest their lack of complex communication is strong evidence in favor of their lack of volition.

Yes, the fishs' behavior could be based solely on perceptual data, but how can a person determine if it is based on this or if it is an act of volition?

Same answer as above.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What is the relation between volition and the ability to conceptualize?

If a child chooses not to eat something, because the smell and taste are not to his liking, Did this act of not eating it indicates volition? (the ability to make a choice?)

Yet I don't see how any concept was involved, and it was not an instinct, too (in some cases it might be an instinct: because I think we are born with the tendency to find certain smells and tastes repelling).

So what is the concept involved in deciding not to eat something? Isn't it possible to decide not to eat something without thinking "this is tasty/not tasty"? (as a generalization of all tasty things). And if it is possible, why is it all of a sudden "not a choice"?

Of course not everything which acts selectively indicates the possession of free will, but also I don't think that an ability to conceptualize is present in each choice a man makes. Those are two separate things.

So to summarize: What is the relation between conceptualization and volition? Can one exist without the other, and why?

Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Can you explain what you claim and suggest a more down to earth explanation for animal's ability to do this? (I mean explain how exactly you think this happens?)

Also: Animals are able to identify other new animals as belonging to a certain species and gender: a lion does not react the same to a male lion entering his domain and a zebra entering his domain, or a female lion. The lion is able to classify them even if it sees this particular concrete for the first time. This leaves out the "memorize particular concrete" explanation of yours.

Also: By observation you see that certain animals are able to sort entities to groups. This is a fact. From observing humans you have evidence that this behavior indicates an ability to conceptualize. Why assume then, that this behavior in animals does not come from the same cognitive ability as in humans?

Now, I'm guessing you would say "because animals fail to conceptualize in other areas of knowledge". But then my answer will be that you need to establish first that an ability to conceptualize must either exist for all fields of knowledge or not at all. And then if you try to establish it, I am going to give as a counter example the fact that some people are unable to conceptualize certain fields of knowledge, such as mathematics, yet are perfectly able to conceptualize social interactions.

So now that I've finished the argument for the both of us... :P:lol: ... Go right ahead and fill in the gaps (or correct me if I was wrong about the chain of arguments)..

Edited by ifatart
Link to post
Share on other sites

I am considering freewill from the objectivist perspective. That the fundemental choice we make is to focus or not. Focusing meaning bringing all of your concious faculties to bear on some issue, including awareness of all pertinent information you know or can find which has a relationship to the subject in question. Freewill is a constant, but it's expression is a capacity and maybe a habit, for some people. Also that fundemental choice is not either/or. It is a range of degrees of focus.

The pertinent fact here is that this choice, to push your mind into a state of focus, is connected to a great many concepts. To do so, you must understand that you have a mind, that it possesses different moods, that you can be more tired or less tired, that with effort you can increase it's efficiency, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. And many of these ideas are abstractions from abstractions. This is the level where man jumps far ahead. Animals can be observed to make choices, and these choices in some cases might even be learned associative catagorizations rather then instincts. But that is not the same as the ability to form concepts of concepts. A lion might be able to grasp consciously that a lion and zebra are different. He also might have formed some broad catagory of "animal" because he notices things that move. He would not be able to take the next step up and realize that animals and plants can both be catagorized as "living things".

As to your questions specifically

If a child chooses not to eat something, because the smell and taste are not to his liking, Did this act of not eating it indicates volition? (the ability to make a choice?)

Yet I don't see how any concept was involved, and it was not an instinct, too (in some cases it might be an instinct: because I think we are born with the tendency to find certain smells and tastes repelling).

So what is the concept involved in deciding not to eat something? Isn't it possible to decide not to eat something without thinking "this is tasty/not tasty"? (as a generalization of all tasty things). And if it is possible, why is it all of a sudden "not a choice"?

Of course not everything which acts selectively indicates the possession of free will, but also I don't think that an ability to conceptualize is present in each choice a man makes. Those are two separate things.

First, humans share the ability to learn by association with other animals. So food(or anything really) can be associated with any unpleasant object or circumstance. Also, with the taste example, people have varying degrees of sensitivity to different flavors and smells. Something which forms a positive reaction for one person might an unpleasant one for another. As an adult in possession of freewill, you can choose to make yourself eat unpleasant things. If they are good for you, or it would be impolite to turn down, for examples.

The ability to conceptualize is always present, whether or not he does conceptually think about sopmething might vary.

What is the relation between volition and the ability to conceptualize?

...

So to summarize: What is the relation between conceptualization and volition? Can one exist without the other, and why?

This answer really depends on what you mean. If volition means only the ability to make choices, then anything alive qualifies as so quite a few computers. If volition implies the possession of freewill by the objectivist defintion then not only conceptualization, but abstract conceptualization is necessary to make a volitional choice. If volition is the capacity to conciously and purposefully make a choice in light of alternatives, aware of all of the consequences and corollaries, then the capacity for highly abstract thought is necessary for it to exist. The ability to to form abstract concepts, I think, neccessarily allows volition to occur, But I am not certain about that yet.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I would guess that it is some combination of instinct and memorization of particular concretes.

Can you explain what you claim and suggest a more down to earth explanation for animal's ability to do this? (I mean explain how exactly you think this happens?)

Also: Animals are able to identify other new animals as belonging to a certain species and gender: a lion does not react the same to a male lion entering his domain and a zebra entering his domain, or a female lion. The lion is able to classify them even if it sees this particular concrete for the first time. This leaves out the "memorize particular concrete" explanation of yours.

No. Not a neuroscientist. By instinct, I mean that ability a horse has to stand up and run within minutes of birth. Not needing to develop balance of coordination first. Or a salmon swimming up river. I am quite unfamiliar with the science behind it, but knowledge that it exists is enough to philosophically determine that the salmon does not choose to swim up river, breed , and die because it has considered it's alternatives and thinks that that is the best one.

By "memorization of particular concretes" I meant that they are able to identify traits as you suggest, so long as it is on a perceptual level. Pavlovs dogs responding to tones develop an association to all individual tones that sound the same. I don't mean to imply each new tone is a whole new particular which must be learned and memorized.

Also: By observation you see that certain animals are able to sort entities to groups. This is a fact. From observing humans you have evidence that this behavior indicates an ability to conceptualize. Why assume then, that this behavior in animals does not come from the same cognitive ability as in humans?
Not from observing humans. I gather that knowledge by them explaining their ideas to me in abstract terms as well as introspection with regard to how my own brain works. I couldn't necessarily gather that by watching them wander around a mall.

Now, I'm guessing you would say "because animals fail to conceptualize in other areas of knowledge". But then my answer will be that you need to establish first that an ability to conceptualize must either exist for all fields of knowledge or not at all. And then if you try to establish it, I am going to give as a counter example the fact that some people are unable to conceptualize certain fields of knowledge, such as mathematics, yet are perfectly able to conceptualize social interactions.

So now that I've finished the argument for the both of us... :P:lol: ... Go right ahead and fill in the gaps (or correct me if I was wrong about the chain of arguments)..

You guessed wrong. ;) It is not because they fail to conceptualize in other areas of knowledge. Their failure is in regard to the depth of their conceptualization. They are stuck at first level concepts.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Are what they deal with concepts at all, or percepts?

In the process of concept formation there's a differentiation step and later an integration step. Both are necessary to form the concept. While animals might be able to note differences between certain things (i.e. differentiating one particular existent from another) where is the evidence that they are able to integrate many similar things into a single category that has a certain symbol in their mind (i.e. form the concept). Being able to just do the first part of this is not conceptual thinking at all, as far as I can tell. And I think it would be damned difficult to prove whether or not animals can use words (or other mental existents) to symbolize concepts; that is the problem of the person trying to prove that animals can do it, though.

I don't know if you can properly speak of concept formation if the last step is missing, and the integrated group is just floating around somewhere in the animal's consciousness. That's not a concept. If the three steps of concept formation are differentiation, integration and then marrying the concept to a symbol so it can be used, then I think for animals the difficulty lies either with the second step or the third step. I've not yet seen any convincing evidence that they can go through the entire chain, and just being able to differentiate is not sufficient.

I mean, bacteria can also differentiate between things that are good for them and things that are not good for them by using receptors (I'd say that's the cell's equivalent to sensory perception mechanisms), and they are damned good at it, too. Just because the bacterium doesn't seem to want to hang out in places where it really cannot survive very well does not mean that it has suddenly developed volition and is choosing to go somewhere else based on all the available data and a process of reasoning.

Link to post
Share on other sites
What is your justification for claiming that animals are conceptual beings, and have a conceptual faculty?

I was replying primarily to Ifat's example. A lion can identify other lions and differentiate them from zebra's. I don't believe that it can be known that they have a conceptual faculty but their behaviour appears to indicate the abilty of differentiation and integration of things at the perceptual level. If a lion recognizes all lion's as a typ of entity, different from all other entities, it seems' to me that this would be the formation of a concept. I can't say for certain what is responsible for this knowledge. If it is instinct or learned behaviour. To me it is not essential. The possession of concepts is not enough to make an rational animal. Rationality, I believe requires indefinite abstraction.

Link to post
Share on other sites
If a lion recognizes all lion's as a typ of entity, different from all other entities, it seems' to me that this would be the formation of a concept.
To show that a concept is formed, you'd need to establish the being did not have the concept at one point and later did have it. You are also confusing evidence with the thing itself -- a concept is not a form of overt behavior. Maarten's point about bacteria not wanting to hang out in unfavorable environments, should, in my opinion, be memorized. Bacteria cannot possibly be called conceptual beings, because they are not conscious. With that in mind, there is no evidence that lions have the concept lion, much less that it is "formed".
Link to post
Share on other sites
To show that a concept is formed, you'd need to establish the being did not have the concept at one point and later did have it. You are also confusing evidence with the thing itself -- a concept is not a form of overt behavior. Maarten's point about bacteria not wanting to hang out in unfavorable environments, should, in my opinion, be memorized. Bacteria cannot possibly be called conceptual beings, because they are not conscious. With that in mind, there is no evidence that lions have the concept lion, much less that it is "formed".

Oh, I see. There is quite a bit of evidence to support that many things(hunting tactics included) are learned. I don't have any specifics, but observe that only 14% of the 115 animals released by us into the wild to repopulate a species is successful. This of course implies that they are learning to identify things.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Are what they deal with concepts at all, or percepts?

Mainly percepts, but concept would seem to describe their ability to catagorize all lions as a type of thing. To be clear, I do not think that they are able to turn the concept lion into a unit. As martin pointed out, they differentiate them, and it seems to me, they hold them together as a type in some implicit way, but they do not take that next step of explicitly identifying lion as a particular species among many other species allowing for further abstraction.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sure, but learning is not the same as having or forming concepts. Thus, for example, lions do not learn how to distinguish other lions from other things in the world.

I'm not sure that I understand. Are you saying that a lion cannot tell the difference between another lion and a wildebeest?

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think a good way to think of how a perceptual consciousness works is to imagine what it would be like for you to not have your conceptual faculty. What you would have would be the equivalent of working with things and treating them as if they were a new phenomenon virtually unconnected from your past, and future. You would deal with things the same way you deal with individual people: "Charles" is not a concept but a particular concrete existent. Try to imagine what it's like to treat each thing you see, not as a type of existent, but as a particular new one. You see a shape against the sky and its moving toward you, its much bigger than you, it can be a man, a horse, an airplane, etc, but you see it as only a shape as against the expanse of sky, and you run, no matter what it actually is. You can not connect this experience to your past experiences with things of that type because you recognize no conncetion between this experience and your last experience because the two are two separate distinct occurences, and in your mind, those two things ARE two different things, they are not the same existent. Now on the other hand, you see a shape against the sky and you recognize it as a particular concrete that you are familiar with, you can connect your experiences with this particular existent with your past experiences with this particular existent, which is your mother. You see no connection between your mother (if she is a lion) and other lions, you see all the lions in your experience as particular distinct existents with no connection to your past and future other than the particular experiences you have had with each of them. Notice the pack mentality among these types of animals, where they aren't just hostile to other species, but to other packs of the same species, packs they have no intimate relationship with.

To be a perceptual animal is to be costantly bombarded with new things with no connection to things which are similar. You have to treat everything you see as "Charles" and a certain distinct thing, that doesn't even get an explicit name.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm saying that a lion doesn't learn what lions are. A lion can, to some extent, identify different individuals, but it doesn't know about "lions, generally".

Ok..I disagree with this. I do not believe a lion has to look at a gazelle, smell it, take a taste, and then determine that it would make a yummy dinner. They see the gazelle and they try to catch and eat it. I cannot say for certain if the lions identification of the gazelle as food comes from instinct, learned knowledge or a combination of both, but it seems clear to me that they don't reinvent the wheel with every new percept. They recognize that gazelles are food and elephants are not. That implies at least an implicit concept of them as seperate types of things.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I've seen lions eat elephants.

Under what circumstances though? In all likely hood, the elephant was sick, or alone, or small, or sufficiently out numbered. Generally, they avoid them. Which really helps my point. They engage in some act of identification. I think the differences between a human and animal brain ore more quantitative then qualitative.

Link to post
Share on other sites

They identify differences among entities for sure, but not similarities, as in: these two exstents are similar therefore I will treat them as a unit. They can realize that THIS particular elephant is too big to eat, but that does not mean they will treat all elephants that way, and you can see an illustration of this in how many pack hunters pick the smallest and weakest individual out of the herd.

Link to post
Share on other sites
They identify differences among entities for sure, but not similarities, as in: these two exstents are similar therefore I will treat them as a unit.

I agree that they do not reduce the group to a unit, but I am fairly certain, they have some sense of the similiarities of the things in those catagories. At least with regard to their implications to them. Edible or not, mate-able or not, etc., but I need to research that before I can say positively.

Link to post
Share on other sites
they hold them together as a type in some implicit way

What way is this? Are you sure it is not instinctual? That is, are you certain that their behavior can only be accomplished with conceptual thought?

People make this mistake with animals a lot. The thing is that animals do some amazingly complex things without a process of conceptual thought. That's how they're designed: to get by on being stupid.

This is why I recommend The Dog Whisperer; once you take away all of the mystery about what a dog is doing, you quickly see that their behavior is very, very simple. People often say of dogs: "Oh, he's doing x [conceptual behavior]." But the truth is that the dog isn't doing anything of the sort. It's actually doing something much, much simpler; something instinctual and perceptual. This is demonstrated when Caesar's methods work (and work very well, I might add).

Caesar often says that he rehabilitates dogs, but he trains people. This is because the people are trying to treat their dogs like people and of course disaster ensues.

Another thing that he says is that dogs "live in the moment." They don't have memory of the past in the same way that we do. Sure, they retain associations: that they will associate a particular stimulus with a particular behavior. But once the association has been corrected or broken, that's it; it's like the dog never even experienced that event. This is also demonstrated often on the show.

This is how nature works: using very clever but simple "programming" to accomplish complex tasks. Ants and cockroaches engage in all sorts of behaviors that we can't get robots to do, even though the computers we use are more powerful than insect brains.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I do not believe a lion has to look at a gazelle, smell it, take a taste, and then determine that it would make a yummy dinner. They see the gazelle and they try to catch and eat it. I cannot say for certain if the lions identification of the gazelle as food comes from instinct, learned knowledge or a combination of both, but it seems clear to me that they don't reinvent the wheel with every new percept.
Lions have instinctual, genetic knowledge that they should try to kill and eat medium-size herbivores in large herds, which they are most likely to be successful at killing. They will kill and eat anything, including other lions, because they also have an instinct to kill and eat anything. There is no evidence whatsoever that indocates that lions have concepts. You keep insisting that the alternative is to re-learn everything -- I'm saying they learn virtually nothing (except that senior male Simba can kick their ass in a fight). What they recognize is that some moving objects are likely prey and some are unlikely. No concepts and no volition was involved in the making of lions. Lions are completely incapable of identifying anything like a "species", and what they can so is automatically "gauge" the chances of making a kill, through instinctual mechanisms. This is a scale -- concepts are categories. That is the basic and stunning difference between humans and animals, the ability to make categorial distinctions, which only humans can do.
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...