• Title: Animal Consciousness
  • Author: Christopher R. DeFusco
  • Released: 2005-02-18
  • Language: English
  • Pages: 284
  • ISBN: 1413469914
  • ISBN13: 978-1413469912
  • ASIN: 1413469914
About the Author Christopher R. DeFusco has taught philosophy as an adjunct professor at several universities and has published original articles on ethics and epistemology. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University, a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy from the West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in Philosophy from Temple University. His areas of specialization are the Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. What is it like for my dog to chew on a steak bone? Does he taste the saltiness of the residual meat? Does he feel the sandpaper-like texture of the partial skeletal structure? What does it smell like, for him? When he drinks his water, does he feel the coolness of the liquid? If he bites his tongue, does he experience the same feeling of pain that I do? Does he love and fear? Does he get angry or sad? Does he imagine? Does he dream? When he barks does he think that he is communicating? How does he interpret the barking of other dogs, if at all? How does he learn or know that "sit!" means sit? What is it like for him to be the creature that he is? Since these questions, and others like them, are only answerable in the context of conscious beings, they are essential to the topic of animal consciousness and are therefore, at the heart of this project. There is little controversy in the contention that animal consciousness is an extremely controversial subject. Yet, for those of us who have spent time with animals the question as to whether some non-human creatures are conscious is not a question at all. The question instead is how their experiences could be classified in any other manner. It is the compelling intuition - that water quenches the squirrel’s thirst just as it does my own, that the hawk’s experience of the wind over its body is akin to mine when I ride my bike, that the dolphin’s feeling of movement through the ocean is similar to mine when I swim underwater, that the elephant’s feelings from the loss of a kin is like my feeling of loss from a similar event, that my dog imagines and dreams just as I do - that has motivated the pursuit of this project. But why consciousness? History reveals that philosophers, physicians, and plain run-of-the-mill-folk, have randomly cited a variety of characteristics and attributes to rationalize the maltreatment of animals. For example, Rene Descartes (1596-1650) claimed that animals were automatons, not conscious beings. He cited language as the differentiator between conscious humans and mechanistic animals. In other words he equated language with consciousness. Unwittingly, such a position also excludes pre-linguistic children and mutes from being considered conscious entities. Moreover, language is a species-specific human ability and so to use language as the line of demarcation between consciousness and automatonism is to fall victim to circular reasoning. When generalized, such reasoning involves selecting a unique human characteristic or ability and then excluding animals because they don’t have that characteristic; a self-fulfilling prophecy as it were. Ultimately, this kind of reasoning was and continues to be used to justify abuse without moral concern; no consciousness therefore no pain, no pain therefore no moral consideration. Descartes’ arguments fail on a number of fronts that are discussed in later chapters of this treatise, although it must be said here that his theories are certainly not responsible for all of the abuses suffered by animals since his time. The value of considering his arguments – like the one above - is that they illustrate a glaringly obvious shortcoming in any analysis of this type. Beyond circular reasoning, these arguments focus on a particular trait in an attempt to identify a similarity or difference, and then proceed to an oversimplified and often times invalid conclusion. In reality, the complexities and subtleties of the entities under consideration are immeasurable. Therefore, in order to have any chance of deriving valid conclusions about these creatures, the criteria for such comparisons must likewise be as complex and subtle. That is the reason why consciousness is the focus of this endeavor. Clearly, consciousness is a very difficult phenomenon to delineate, just because it does characterize the complexity and subtlety of the creatures under consideration. And yet consciousness is a phenomenon that virtually guarantees a certain level of moral consideration. Therefore, in an effort to encompass and capture the germane complexity and subtlety of the phenomenon under discussion, along with due consideration to ethics, ten criteria have been developed to evaluate the possibility of consciousness in a given creature. These criteria are presented in Part II of this text and consist of behavioral considerations, emotional evidence, evolutionary science, evolutionary continuity, neurophysiologic research, morphological considerations, learning abilities, mental state ascriptions, cognition, and communicative abilities among other relevant factors. For me, it is clear that many animals, fish, birds, and possibly some insects possess a mental kinship with us; in particular that many are conscious. And consciousness provides indisputable justification for moral treatment. For consider, what more can one claim as grounds for inalienable moral rights than to claim that one is a conscious being? That is why I believe that consciousness is the key to establishing a coherent and justifiable position in favor of the ethical treatment of animals. The focus of this book is limited to the first half of that ultimate goal; the assessment of non-human consciousness. A case for the ethical treatment of animals is beyond the scope of this undertaking, but my hope is that the arguments and evidence contained herein will serve as grounds for such a future moral theory.

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