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Part I - Appendix A: Anthropomorphism and Anthropodenial 
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Post Part I - Appendix A: Anthropomorphism and Anthropodenial
Part I - Appendix A: Anthropomorphism and Anthropodenial

Please use this thread for discussing Part I - Appendix A: Anthropomorphism and Anthropodenial, found on pages 59 through 68.



Sat May 02, 2009 1:00 am
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Post Proving intentionality and anthropomorphism
I took a couple of degrees in Anthropology and one of the hard and fast “no-nos” was speaking anthropomorphically. So I found this “appendix” interesting. I think it is often beneficial to carefully go against deeply rooted “rules” because otherwise we never explore why we have the rules and what they do for us.

As I understood it all those years ago, the rule against anthropomorphism was based on the idea that we humans have a very strong tendency to read the world as if it were fundamentally like us and then, when it doesn’t live up to our moral/intellectual/behavioural standards, to think the world to be a defective place. This most definitely gets in the way of understanding.

When you read colonial literature, or early ethnography, that’s often what you get. It’s as if they went out to get to know the “natives” and found instead deficient Englishmen (or Frenchmen, or Americans). So I think the rule against anthropomorphism a basically good one. It goes astray, however, if you go out to get to know the natives and force yourself to not think of them as anything like you – so therefore they are not yet proven to be human. That (as history shows) carries its own risks.

So I think that de Waal is right to reopen the question of its usefulness. On page 61 of my text he says:

“Inasmuch as the absence of intentionality is as difficult to prove as its presence, and inasmuch as no one has ever proven that animals differ fundamentally from people in this regard, it is hard to see the scientific basis for such contrasting assumptions.”

Proving intentionality’s presence…if you take the open mind of anti-anthropomorphism far enough, can we really prove human morality or intentionality? I know I say that hitting these keys was intentional, but can I prove it? And if I can’t what does that say?

I think there may be certain assumptions we simply have to make in order to facilitate understanding (although all assumptions must remain open to poking and prodding). Assuming "natives" are human is one and I suspect assuming that what we humans can do is predicated on what other primates can do is another.

Agree or not?


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Mon May 25, 2009 9:17 am
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Post Re: Proving intentionality and anthropomorphism
MaryLupin wrote:
As I understood it all those years ago, the rule against anthropomorphism was based on the idea that we humans have a very strong tendency to read the world as if it were fundamentally like us and then, when it doesn’t live up to our moral/intellectual/behavioural standards, to think the world to be a defective place. This most definitely gets in the way of understanding.


Thanks for this very interesting post, MaryLupin.

I'm not reading de Waal's book currently, but last week when my wife and I were at the Bronx Zoo we were quite taken with the African Wild Dogs. These pack animals and are said to be ruthless killers, but they also remarkably cohesive in their social groups. (I would imagine humans evolved much the same way during their hunter-gatherer phase.) Food sharing is a critical part of pack life. The dogs have been observed to care for their injured and sick, returning after a hunt to feed them or defend their access to a carcass. We might be tempted to see this behavior as altruistic, but is probably guided by Dawkins' "selfish gene." In my brief few minutes of research I've read that if the pack is on the move it will abandon those who cannot keep up. Survival is always the key.

William James (Henry James' brother) in his seminal book, Principles of Psychology (published 30 years after The Origin of Species), discusses our tendency to believe that human beings are above nature. We believe only animals are ruled by "instinct" and that humans are ruled primarily by "reason". But James took the opposite view, arguing that human behavior is more flexibly intelligent than that of other animals precisely because we have more instincts than they do, not fewer. We tend to be blind to the existence of these instincts, however, because they work so well, because they process information so effortlessly and automatically. This tendency of ours to make the "natural seem strange" seems to be the same anthropomorphism that MaryLupin describes above.

James' work is one of the keystones of modern evolutionary psychology. Here's an excellent web site.

http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html

William James wrote:
"It takes...a mind debauched by learning to carry the process of making the natural seem strange, so far as to ask for the why of any instinctive human act. To the metaphysician alone can such questions occur as: Why do we smile, when pleased, and not scowl? Why are we unable to talk to a crowd as we talk to a single friend? Why does a particular maiden turn our wits so upside-down? The common man can only say, Of course we smile, of course our heart palpitates at the sight of the crowd, of course we love the maiden, that beautiful soul clad in that perfect form, so palpably and flagrantly made for all eternity to be loved!

And so, probably, does each animal feel about the particular things it tends to do in the presence of particular objects. ... To the lion it is the lioness which is made to be loved; to the bear, the she-bear. To the broody hen the notion would probably seem monstrous that there should be a creature in the world to whom a nestful of eggs was not the utterly fascinating and precious and never-to-be-too-much-sat-upon object which it is to her.

Thus we may be sure that, however mysterious some animals' instincts may appear to us, our instincts will appear no less mysterious to them." (William James, 1890)


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Mon May 25, 2009 10:45 am
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Post Re: Proving intentionality and anthropomorphism
MaryLupin wrote:
On page 61 of my text he says:

“Inasmuch as the absence of intentionality is as difficult to prove as its presence, and inasmuch as no one has ever proven that animals differ fundamentally from people in this regard, it is hard to see the scientific basis for such contrasting assumptions.”

Proving intentionality’s presence…if you take the open mind of anti-anthropomorphism far enough, can we really prove human morality or intentionality? I know I say that hitting these keys was intentional, but can I prove it? And if I can’t what does that say?


Intentionality is a philosophical concept discussed by Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. Husserl asks how human intentions can be assessed as phenomena. Animal intentions can equally be assessed as phenomena. Yes, human intentions are formed by reason, but they also derive from instinct. Geo makes a good point regarding the dogs' altruism as evidence of a selfish gene. Dogs are intentional in caring for the weak, but this behaviour is compatible with a primarily instinctive/genetic rather than a primarily rational decision process.

A related word is to intentionality is 'intentional'. It is used to describe behaviour informed by a set of intentions, including social and political goals.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Husserl says
Quote:
Another important element that Husserl took over from Brentano is intentionality, the notion that the main characteristic of consciousness is that it is always intentional. While often simplistically summarised as "aboutness" or the relationship between mental acts and the external world, Brentano defined it as the main characteristic of mental phenomena, by which they could be distinguished from physical phenomena. Every mental phenomenon, every psychological act, has a content, is directed at an object (the intentional object). Every belief, desire, etc. has an object that it is about: the believed, the wanted. Brentano used the expression "intentional inexistence" to indicate the status of the objects of thought in the mind. The property of being intentional, of having an intentional object, was the key feature to distinguish mental phenomena and physical phenomena, because physical phenomena lack intentionality altogether.



Tue May 26, 2009 12:34 am
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Post Re: Proving intentionality and anthropomorphism
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Proving intentionality’s presence…, can we really prove human morality or intentionality?


Quote:
. . .Brentano is intentionality, the notion that the main characteristic of consciousness is that it is always intentional.


Yes, intentionality is an objective phenomenon -- the style that discloses the hidden background of attitude and values.



Tue May 26, 2009 7:00 am
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Post Anthropomorphism and anthropodenial
I loved this book, and I don't see anything wrong with anthropomorphism. I have five cats and I anthropomorphicize with them all the time. I attribute human thoughts and feelings to them; they all have different personalities and identities, just like people. They are my best friends. I don't think that you can really care about animal welfare if you think anthropomorphism is wrong or inappropriate. Those who feel uncomfortable with anthropomorhpism (and this does not apply to me), may have self-esteem or control issues whereby they need to believe that they are better or smarter than animals. They may consciously or unconsciously applaud the fact that they have complete control of their pets' lives. I am a microbiologist and not an animal researcher, so to me, it doesn't matter whether animals act like humans with intent or not. I argue that they are the best of companions (having been married and divorced), and I am sure that I have learned more from them than they have from me.

I think we have to discern the difference between anthropomorphism during a research study (where you are trying to find truth - how much and to what degree do animals think like us) and anthropomorphism in our daily lives with our pets. In my opinion, the more we consider animals to be like us, the better we treat and love them, and the more responsibility and obligation we feel towards them. And that is only a positive thing. I agree wholeheartedly with Gandhi that, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Even in the US, we have a long way to go.



Wed May 27, 2009 9:32 pm
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I can see an advantage in being careful about anthropomorphizing. We need to try to understand what, in a dog's nature, is distinct from ours and perhaps unique. We don't do justice to animals if we merely transfer human qualities to them. It may reflect our limitations, our lack of real knowledge and insight into other natures, when we try to make other animals too much like ourselves. The alternative to doing this should be something more subtle, though, than just saying that other animals are automatons, acting on command of instinct.

I thought de Waal did a good job in his essay of sketching out the development of anthropodenial. He didn't mention, though, the influence of Christianity, which in its separating of humans from all other animals created the belief that relatedness to animals was impossible. It was an affront to our cherished uniqueness to be told that we and apes have a common ancestor, and it still is an affront to many people.


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Sat Jun 20, 2009 10:00 pm
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