Animal Thought by Stephen Walker PDF

By Stephen Walker

ISBN-10: 0710090374

ISBN-13: 9780710090379

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Extra resources for Animal Thought

Sample text

There is generally plenty of diversity in instinctive behaviours in individuals of the same species, and within the same individual there are ‘different instincts at different periods of life, or at different seasons of the year’. Any of these sources could provide a range of variation wide enough that ‘one or the other instinct might be preserved by natural selection’. Natural selection is blind to all considerations of fitness for function except those of survival and reproduction. The fact that instincts are ‘liable to mistakes’ is used by Darwin, like cases of anomalous bodily ‘structures and vestigial organs, to counter theories of unique creation, and to ‘support the contention that aesthetically unfit and partially adapted specie’s can survive.

44 The Origin thus explained more of the facts than its predecessors, but does not in itself contain much by way of exciting speculations about human ancestry. The Descent of Man, first published in 1871, certainly did. It was immediately followed by The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), which was equally blunt about human evolution; after this Darwin concerned himself almost exclusively with plant life. It is a measure of Darwin’s genius that he not only cut the Gordian knot of contemporary evolutionary theories, by giving, in natural selection, a simple and elegant account of how and why gradations and radiations of species could result in the observed diversity of organic life, but also, in the concept of sexual selection, he elaborated his theory by discussing factors whose importance was not fully appreciated until the 1960s (see O’Donald, 1980).

Darwin’s attitude to anecdotal reports of animal behaviour, and to the behaviour of his own dogs and cats, is one of amiable credulity. Although he is concerned that his correspondents are ‘careful observers’, he does not believe in doubting ostensibly reliable reports, and indeed felt that too much scepticism of this kind would hold back the progress of science. His acceptance of rather weak evidence in favour of human-like mental attributes in animals seems to be at least partly due to a desire to support his contention that human intellectual abilities do not provide an exception to the theory of evolution.

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Animal Thought by Stephen Walker


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