Today's post is by Michael Tye on his book Tense Bees and Shell-Shocked Crabs: Are animals conscious?.
I’m a philosopher at the University of Texas at Austin. I
encountered philosophy at Oxford and I’ve taught at Temple University, London
University, and the University of St Andrews as well as at Texas. I’ve
published widely on consciousness and I am associated with a view that has come
to be known as representationalism.
The book described below, published by OUP in
November 2016, remains neutral on the question as to the right view on the
nature of consciousness.
Do birds have feelings? What about
fish – can fish feel pain? Do insects have experiences? Can a honeybee feel anxious? If trees aren't conscious but fish are, what's the objective difference that makes a difference? How
do we decide which living creatures have experiences and which are zombies? Can
there be a conscious robot? This book advances philosophically rigorous,
empirically informed answers to these questions. To do this, an epistemological
framework suitable for tackling such issues is developed and then, in light of
recent empirical research, applied broadly. In particular, it is argued that is
rational to prefer the hypothesis that consciousness extends a considerable way
down the phylogenetic scale––farther than many would expect. This result has
both theoretical and practical implications.
The chapters are organized as follows.
Chapter 1 discusses
experience and its limits. How can one know whether an animal is having an
experience? It is suggested that what is needed to answer this question is not
a principle spelling out what experience is in objective terms (either via an a
priori definition or an a posteriori theory) but an evidential principle on the
basis of which one can justifiably attribute consciousness to animals.
Chapter 2 addresses the question of the
relationship between experience and consciousness. Chapter 3 takes up the
radically conservative view, held by some major historical figures, that only humans
can have experiences. This view is a mistake. The mistake has its origins in
religious conviction, mind-body dualism, and an alleged connection between
thought and language. This conservatism survives in certain contemporary views
that hold that experience is thought-like or conceptual.