2 Cognitive Ethology: The Comparative Study of Animal Minds
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2 Cognitive Ethology The Comparative Study of Animal Minds NATURALIZING ANIMAL MINDS Cognitive ethology is the comparative, evolutionary, and ecological study of nonhuman animal (hereafter animal) minds, including thought processes, beliefs, rationality, information processing, and consciousness. It is a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of science that is attracting much attention from researchers in numerous, diverse disciplines, including those interested in animal welfare (Cheney and Seyfarth, 1990; Ristau, 1991; Griffin, 1992; Allen and Bekoff, 1995, 1997; Bekoff and Allen, 1997; Bekoff and Jamieson, 1996). Cognitive ethology can trace its beginnings to the writings of Charles Darwin, an anecdotal cognitivist (Jamieson and Bekoff, 1993), and some of his contemporaries and disciples. Their approach incorporated appeals to evolutionary theory , interests in mental continuity, concerns with individual and intraspecific variation, interests in the worlds of the animals themselves, close associations with natural history, and attempts to learn more about the behavior of animals in conditions that are as close as possible to the natural environment where selection has occurred. They also relied on anecdote and anthropomorphism to inform and motivate more rigorous study. In addition, cognitive ethologists are frequently concerned with the diversity of solutions that living organisms have found for common problems. They also emphasize broad taxonomic comparisons and do not focus on a few select representatives of limited taxa. Many people inform their views of cognitive ethology by appealing to the same studies over and over again (usually those done on nonhuman primates) and ignore the fact that there are many other animals who also show interesting patterns of behavior that lend themselves to cognitive studies. Comparative cognitive ethology is an important extension of classical ethology, because it explicitly licenses hypotheses about the internal states of animals in the tradition of classical ethologists such as Nobel laureates Niko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz. However, although ethologists such as Lorenz and Tinbergen used terms such as intention movements, they used them quite differently from how they are used in the philosophical literature. Intention movements refers to preparatory movements that might communicate what action individuals are likely to undertake next, and not necessarily to their beliefs and desires, although one might suppose that the individuals did indeed want to fly and believed that if they moved their wings in a certain way they would fly. This distinction is important, because the use of such terms does Reprinted from Bekoff, M. 1998. Cognitive Ethology: The Comparative Study of Animal Minds. In W. Bechtel and G. Graham (eds.), Blackwell Companion to Cognitive Science. Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, England, pp. 371–379, by permission of Blackwell Publishing. not necessarily add a cognitive dimension to classical ethological notions, although it could. In his early work Tinbergen identified four overlapping areas with which ethological investigations should be concerned: namely, evolution (phylogeny), adaptation (function), causation, and development (ontogeny), and his framework also is useful for those interested in animal cognition (Jamieson and Bekoff, 1993). The methods for answering questions in each of these areas vary, but all begin with careful observation and description of the behavior patterns that are exhibited by the animals under study. The information provided by these initial observations allows a researcher to exploit the animal’s normal behavioral repertoire to answer questions about the evolution, function , causation, and development of the behavior patterns that are exhibited in various contexts. Donald R. Griffin and Modern Cognitive Ethology The modern era of cognitive ethology, with its concentration on the evolution and evolutionary continuity of animal cognition, is usually thought to have begun with the appearance of Donald R. Griffin’s (1976/1981) book The Question of Animal Awareness: Evolutionary Continuity of Mental Experience. Griffin ’s major concern was to learn more about animal consciousness; he wanted to come to terms with the difficult question of what it is like to be a particular animal (for critical discussion of Griffin’s agenda see Jamieson and Bekoff, 1993). While Griffin was concerned mainly with the phenomenology of animal consciousness, it is only one of many important and interesting aspects of animal cognition (Allen and Bekoff, 1997). Indeed, because of its broad agenda and wide-ranging goals, many view cognitive ethology as being a genuine contributor to cognitive science in general. For those who are anthropocentrically minded, it should be noted that studies of animal cognition can also inform, for example, inquiries into human autism. METHODS OF STUDY Ethologists interested in animal minds favor research in conditions that are as close as possible to the natural environments in which natural selection occurred or...