This Round Goes to the Philosophers

From Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene:

I remember attending a lecture given by Beatrice and Allen Gardner about their famous ‘talking’ chimpanzee Washoe (she uses American Sign Language, and her achievement is of great potential interest to students of language).  There were some philosophers in the audience, and in the discussion after the lecture they were much exercised by the question of whether Washoe could tell a lie.  I suspected that the Gardners thought there were more interesting things to talk about, and I agreed with them…They were interested in conscious intention to deceive.  I am talking simply about having an effect functionally equivalent to deception (68).

Perhaps the philosophers were being silly in terms of their questioning, but it’s clear in hindsight that the question of whether a Chimpanzee is capable of conscious deception is very important indeed.  The ability to consciously deceive is closely connected to the ability to understand other minds, and the study of mindreading has been a very important topic in cognitive science since the late 70s.

In general, Dawkins’ book is extremely interesting, and definitely worth reading, but also too strident and self-assured.

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2 responses to “This Round Goes to the Philosophers

  1. In general, Dawkins’ book is extremely interesting, and definitely worth reading, but also too strident and self-assured.

    I think this is true of Richard Dawkins in general.

  2. Pingback: Do Unto Others (As An Academic Would Do Unto You) « Wintry Smile