Monday, July 18, 2016

Our canine pets are animals, so we are animals

  1. Our canine pets are primary bearers of their mental states.
  2. Our canine pets are higher mammals.
  3. So, some higher mammals are primary bearers of their mental states. (1 and 2)
  4. Either (a) all higher mammals are primary bearers of their mental states or (b) no higher mammals are primary bearers of their mental states.
  5. Human animals are higher mammals.
  6. So, human animals are primary bearers of their mental states. (3, 4, 5)
  7. We are primary bearers of our mental states.
  8. If we are not human animals, then it is not both the case that we are primary bearers of our mental states and human animals are primary bearers of their mental states.
  9. So, we are human animals. (6, 7, 8).

Premise 1 holds because the master-pet relationship to a canine pet while not being interpersonal (since dogs are not persons) has the kind of intimacy that requires the relata to be primary things with minds.

In correspondence, Jeff McMahan denied that our canine pets are animals. He held that our canine pets are not dogs but are rather constituted by dogs, much as he holds that we are not human animals but are rather constituted by human animals. So McMahan will deny premise 2. But I think premise 2 is obviously true.

The remaining controversial premise is 4, which holds that all higher mammals are on par with regard to whether they are primary bearers of their mental states. But I think 4 is highly plausible in light of the similarities between the brains and behavior of higher mammals.

I thank Allison Thornton for helping me work out this argument.


Adam Omelianchuk said...

This is great! I just argued for something similar to this in a dissertation chapter. One question, though, is about McMahan's view: I thought he was a "brainist" like Parfit -- did he recently change his view to Baker's constitution view?

Alexander R Pruss said...

The argument works against views on which we are brains or souls just as well as against constitution views. But I may have misrepresented Jeff's view in my post. I don't think I have his email to me anymore, so I can't check. The constitution part may be my brain inserting something that wasn't there. But he definitely held that Rover wasn't an animal.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Poor Rover! Thank you for responding.

Philippe Bélanger said...

I don't understand #8. Why can't we be non-human animals who share with human animals the property of being the primary bearers of our mental states?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Then there are two individuals who think the same thoughts, and we can't know which of the two individuals you are--the animal and the person.

Philippe Bélanger said...

My previous comment should have said "non-(human animals)" instead of "non-human animals".

Why can't there can't be some property, other than being the primary bearers of one's mental states, that distinguishes us from human animals? #8 only works if we assume that it is the only possible difference. (Maybe this is a convention I am unaware of.)

Michael Gonzalez said...

I don't understand, Pruss. Who are we addressing in this argument? If someone denies that we are human animals, then they will presumably do so on the basis of identifying the primary bearer of mental states with something else (a soul, perhaps). If they do that, then they should, of course, consistently hold the same for all creatures (animal or otherwise) which have mental states (i.e. they will hold that the actual bearers of mental states are the souls in each case, and that these are associated with the organisms in question just as we are associated with our human organism). Swinburne would be an obvious example of this sort of view.

In other words, the only person who could possibly be addressed by this argument is the person who inconsistently holds that non-human animals are primary bearers of mental states (rather than their souls being the primary bearers) but that humans are not like that (in our case, uniquely, our souls are the primary bearers of mental states).

Alexander R Pruss said...


You are a primary bearer of your mental states. If the human animal that occupies the same location as you do is also a primary bearer of its mental states, and if its mental states are the same as yours (which seems very likely), then there are two beings--you and your animal--that are *primary* bearers of the same mental states. That seems just wrong.


I am pointing out that such a person has a serious cost to her view: She cannot say that her pet is a dog. For her pet is a primary bearer of mental states (since the pet-master relationship is between primary bearers of mental states), and yet on her view the dog, being an animal, is not a primary bearer of mental states.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Ah, I see! I was fuzzy on that part before (no pun intended). That is rather interesting. So, such a person would have to bite the bullet and say that their pet is an immaterial soul associated with that dog!

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Does this apply if your pet is feline? :-)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yeah, but perhaps less clearly. :-)

Alexander R Pruss said...

A paper with Andrew Bailey centered on Andrew's refinement of this argument has just been accepted by the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.