Rationality and metacognition in non-human animals [chapter]

Joëlle Proust
2006 Rational Animals?  
The project of understanding rationality in non-human animals faces a number of conceptual and methodological difficulties. The present chapter defends the view that it is counterproductive to rely on the human folk psychological idiom in animal cognition studies. Instead, it approaches the subject on the basis of dynamic-evolutionary considerations. Concepts from viability theory can be used to frame the problem in the most general terms. The specific selective pressures exerted on agents
more » ... rted on agents endowed with information-processing capacities are analysed. It is hypothesized that metacognition offers an evolutionary stable response to the various demands of the internal and external flows of information in a competitive environment. Metacognition provides a form of processreflexivity that can, but does not have to be redeployed through metarepresentations. Finally the claim that rationality so conceived involves normativity is discussed. There are currently many different ways of understanding the concept of rationality in its broadest sense, that is, in a sense that applies to non-human as well as human forms of behavior. Any attempt to characterise rationality in this sense faces two difficuties; one is to characterize rationality in a way sufficiently general to be genuinely non-anthropomorphic. The other is to 2 Field Code Changed find a criterion for a kind of behaviour being rational that does not require us to use the subject's linguistic report about her reasons for acting. Some philosophers 1 have chosen to proceed in a top-down manner, beginning with a conception of human rationality which they then adapt and apply to non-humans. They are committed by this approach to a form of global transfer of the defining features of human rationality into non-human contexts. This, in turn, raises a number of questions: what might be the closest equivalent in non-linguistic animals of reporting one's own reasons ? How might formal inference schemas, such as modus ponens, proceed in the absence of a linguistic vehicle? Is not instrumental behavior a shared form of rational agency? Is there not an "animal level" similar to our "personal level", that is, a subjective and conscious global access to the world? Others 2 work from the bottom up: they rely on evolutionary considerations to offer suggestions about how to understand rationality, in all animals (linguistic or not). In their view, rationality emerges from a set of representational and control devices that have evolved due to specific evolutionary pressures. According to this approach, rationality belongs to biology much more than to ordinary psychology. Any attempt to elucidate the concept of rationality requires us to understand how minds evolved, in particular to identify the dynamic constraints from which rational strategies emerged. Are the two approaches (the "interpretive" and the "architectural", as they were called by Sterelny, 2003) reconcilable? Do they just respond, as Susan Hurley suggests, 3 to different explanatory interests? The first aims at "making sense of animals", just as we need to make sense
doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198528272.003.0012 fatcat:koxjhm3o6zd3bl4by42k3sgeue