Syllabus for History & Philosophy of Comparative Psychology & Ethology, Spring 2010 — version 2010-01-07
Valid CSS! Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional HPSC X755 — History & Philosophy of Comparative Psychology & Ethology
Meeting time: Mondays 10:30:-1:00; Location: Goodbody 107
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Instructor: Colin Allen <> Goodbody 113 hrs tbd | Eigenmann 801 hrs tbd

Course Description

As with biology generally, the study of animal behavior was revolutionized in the 19th Century by Darwin's theory of evolution. Because Darwin recognized that human mental powers were a potential point of difficulty for his ideas of common descent and gradual differentiation, he and his followers were keen to stress mental continuity between humans and other animals. In their zeal to promote the idea of mental continuity, early comparative psychologists left themselves open to the charge that they were too reliant on anecdotes and anthropomorphic thinking.

The rise of behavioristic psychology in the early 20th Century, particularly among American scientists, fostered distrust of claims about inner psychical causes of behavior, and distrust of field observations as a source of knowledge about animal learning and memory. The quest to discover general laws of learning by experimental methods also moved comparative psychology into a laboratory setting, and effectively limited the range of species studied. In contrast, ethologists, beginning in Europe after the First World War, insisted on the importance of naturalistic observations, and on comparing a variety of species with a view to identifying differences in behaviors that were attributable to specific adaptations to particular niches.

In this course we will study the philosophical and scientific contexts in which these different approaches to animal behavior emerged, and the different approaches to Darwinian continuity that result. A major goal of the course is to relate ongoing debates to their historical antecedents, and students will be encouraged to pursue research projects which deepen our understanding of the philosophical disputes by examining the sources of the presuppositions of key participants in those disputes.

Books & Readings

Most of the readings will be drawn from the three books listed immediately below. Additional readings will be provided electronically via links in the schedule further below. The reading list for the version of this course taught 4 years ago may be useful. (The e-reserve password will be announced via OnCourse.)

TitleFrom Darwin to behaviourism: psychology and the minds of animals
AuthorRobert A. Boakes
PublisherCambridge University Press, 1984 (re-issued 2008)
ISBN:0521280125, 9780521280129
TitlePatterns of behavior: Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and the founding of ethology
AuthorRichard Burkhardt
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press, 2005
ISBN0226080900, 9780226080901
TitleThe simian tongue: the long debate about animal language
AuthorGregory Radick
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press, 2007
ISBN0226702243, 9780226702247


This is a 4 credit hour course. Grades will be based on:

  • participation in classroom discussions,
  • one short reaction piece, 1-2 pages, discussing some aspect of the readings for Weeks 2 and 3 (due by email Jan 17);
  • approximately 7 forum postings -- the designated student should post a discussion starter about some aspect of the next day's readings no later than 11 a.m. on the Sunday before class, everyone else should post a follow-up no later than 10 a.m. Monday morning;
  • in class presentation of an independent review of an influence between a scientist and a philosopher asserted by Boakes, Burkhardt, or Radick, based upon reading at least one original essay by each -- scheduled for March and April;
  • a 1-page paper abstract/topic proposal to be posted on the forum by March 21;
  • final paper due at the beginning of finals week, May 3 (aim for 5,000-8,000 words).


Statement for Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a Federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact IU Disability Services for Students.

Statement about Academic Misconduct

University rules concerning academic misconduct will be rigorously enforced in this class. See IU Code of Ethics, Part II for details. You will also be required to review materials and take the test at IU School of Education plagiarism tutorial. The College of Arts and Sciences also provides a guide to "Plagiarism: What it is and How to avoid it"