Bekoff, M. and Allen, C. (forthcoming) Cognitive ethology: slayers, skeptics, and proponents. In R.W. Mitchell, N.S. Thompson, and H.L. Miles (eds.) Anthropomorphism, anecdotes, and animals: The emperor's new clothes? SUNY Press
Abstract
As a relatively new interdisciplinary science, cognitive ethology, broadly defined as the comparative and evolutionary study of nonhuman animal (hereafter animal) thought processes, consciousness, beliefs, or rationality, is under attack with respect to its scientific status. In this paper we identify three groups of people with different views on cognitive ethology, slayers, skeptics, and proponents. Our analyses are based on some published reviews of Donald Griffin's works in cognitive ethology and other clearly stated opinions concerning animal cognition. Slayers deny that there have been, or even could be, any successes in cognitive ethology because of the nature of the enterprise, its supposed near total reliance on anecdote, folk psychological explanations, and anthropomorphism. Skeptics share some of the same concerns as slayers, but are more open-minded and patient. Slayers and skeptics often claim that cognitive ethology only has a future if it is consumed by experimental cognitive psychology or neuroscience. Finally, proponents claim that there have been many successes in the comparative study of animal cognition, and are enthusiastic about the future of such investigations. Proponents argue that folk psychological explanations, anecdotes, and anthropomorphism can be integrated with empirical data in a rigorous fashion. We were especially surprised by the number and the strength of some of the attacks on cognitive ethology. Our purpose here is to bring attention to those attacks and to try to diagnose the sorts of arguments that underlie them. We are concentrating on the critics because categorizing their various motivations will allow those who are sympathetic to cognitive ethology to recognize common themes and provide appropriate responses.