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Agency, Rationality, and Epistemic Defeat (ARED)

Abstract
Can animals and infants form and revise beliefs in a rational way just like adult humans? What is the relation between human and animal rational agency? While philosophers often deny that infants and animals may properly be said to be rational, on the grounds that they appear to lack the ability to assess their reasons for belief and action, cognitivescientists show little hesitation in describing infants and animals as rational agents in roughly the same sense that pertains to human adults.ARED aims to create a conceptual framework common to philosophy and cognitive science by developing a characterization of epistemic agency and rationality that applies to all putative rational agents: human adults, infants, non-human animals, and the idealized subjects of many philosophical theories. It will integrate the original philosophical framework with new empirical research on the cognition of non-linguistic creatures that will seek evidence of forms of reflective agency in non-linguistic creatures. Should the experiments prove successful, they would support the ground-breaking hypothesis that the difference between human and animal rationality is a difference of degree, not kind.The philosophical part of the project will focus on how counterevidence mandates belief revision (rather than on how evidence supports belief). One important feature of theresearch will be the consideration of the acquisition of the ability to process so-called "undermining defeaters"--counterevidence suggesting that one's beliefs were not properly formed--as the crucial step in moving from unreflective to reflective agency. It will be argued that that is also the crucial link in understanding the relation between human and animal rationality. The empirical part of the project will seek evidence for the existence of a capacity to process undermining defeaters in non-linguistic children, pigs and dogs. Finding such evidence would support the claim that at least some non-linguistic agents are capable of forms of reflective agency very similar to those of adult humans.The philosophical and the empirical part will inform each other, and the experiments will be designed in the light of discussions involving philosophers, psychologists and ethologists based in Stirling and Vienna. Most of the philosophical work will be done at the University of Stirling, while the empirical studies will happen in Stirling (on infants), and at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna (on animals).ARED will contribute to the definition of an hitherto neglected area of interdisciplinary research on knowledge and cognition where epistemology meets developmental psychology and ethology, and it may have a wide range of possible applications beyond academia. The experiments on the cognition of pigs and dogs will deliver information relevant for the assessment of welfare in pig-farming and new techniques in dog-training. Evidence relevant to the question of how close animal rationality is to human rationality is important evidence relevant to ongoing debates about animal rights.
Kurzbezeichnung
ARED
Koordination an der Vetmeduni Vienna
Viranyi Zsofia
Koordination Gesamtprojekt
Giacomo Melis, Eva Rafetseder
Laufzeit
01.02.21-31.10.24
Programm
Future Leaders Fellowships
Art der Forschung
Grundlagenforschung
Mitarbeiter/innen
Viranyi Z.,
Beteiligte Vetmed-Organisationseinheiten
Messerli Forschungsinstitut, Abteilung für Vergleichende Kognitionsforschung
Gefördert durch
UK Research and Innovation, Polaris House, SN2 1FL Swindon, Großbritannien
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