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DALE JAMIESON AND MARC BEKOFF 3 On Aims and Methods of Cognitive Ethology 1. INTRODUCTION1 In 1963 Niko Tinbergen published a paper, “On Aims and Methods of Ethology ,” dedicated to his friend Konrad Lorenz. This essay is a landmark in the development of ethology. Here Tinbergen defines ethology as “the biological study of behavior”and seeks to demonstrate the “close affinity between Ethology and the rest of Biology” (p. 411). Building on Huxley (1942), Tinbergen identifies four major problems of ethology: causation, survival value, evolution , and ontogeny. Concern with these problems, under different names (mechanism, adaptation, phylogeny, and development), has dominated the study of animal behavior during the last half century (Dawkins, et al. 1991; Dewsbury 1992). With his emphasis on the importance of innate structures internal to animals , Tinbergen was resolutely antibehaviorist. Yet he remained hostile to the idea that ethology should employ any form of teleological reasoning or make reference to “subjective phenomena” such as “hunger” or the emotions. He wrote that teleological reasoning was “seriously hampering the progress of ethology” and that “[b]ecause subjective phenomena cannot be observed objectively in animals, it is idle to either claim or to deny their existence” (1951, p. 4).2 Since the 1976 publication of Donald Griffin’s landmark book, The Question of Animal Awareness, a growing band of researchers has been attempting to study the cognitive states of nonhuman animals (for samples of this work see Bekoff & Jamieson 1990, and Ristau 1991). Although vigorous debate surrounds this research, cognitive ethology as a field has not yet been clearly delineated, adequately characterized, or sufficiently explained. Our goal in this paper is to attempt for cognitive ethology what Tinbergen succeeded in doing for ethology: to clarify its aims and methods, to distinguish some of its varieties, and to defend the fruitfulness of the research strategies that it has spawned. This paper is divided into five main parts. In the first part we briefly sketch the history of ethology and explain the motivation behind the cognitive turn. Next we discuss the groundbreaking work of Donald Griffin and the rise of Reprinted from Jamieson, D., and M. Bekoff. 1993. On Aims and Methods of Cognitive Ethology. Philosophy of Science Association 2, 110–124. © 1993 by the Philosophy of Science Association. All rights reserved. cognitive ethology. In the third section we distinguish two varieties of cognitive ethology (“weak” and “strong”) and provide some reasons for preferring the latter to the former. The fourth part of the paper is a discussion of one area of research in cognitive ethology: social play. Finally we make some concluding remarks. 2. THE STORY OF ANIMAL BEHAVIOR During the third quarter of the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin was the most important contributor to the foundations of animal behavior (Boakes 1984, Richards 1987). Darwin argued for mental continuity between humans and other animals, and claimed that “the lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery” (Darwin 1871, p. 448).3 According to Darwin monkeys are capable of elaborate deceit (1896), insects can solve problems, and many animals can deliberate about what to do (1871, 1896). Darwin’s approach can be characterized as “anecdotal cognitivism.” He attributes cognitive states to many animals on the basis of observation of particular cases rather than controlled experiments or manipulations. Darwin’s follower, George Romanes, followed in this tradition although he was more critical than Darwin of various cognitive attributions to nonhuman animals. Even Lloyd Morgan, mainly remembered for his canon—“in no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty , if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale” (Morgan 1894, p. 53)—accepted the DarwinRomanes view of the continuity of mental states. Indeed, as Rollin (1989) points out, Morgan’s canon is not only consistent with the view that animals have mental states, it actually presupposes it. Behaviorism arose in part as an attempt to overcome the anecdotal approach and to bring rigor to the study of behavior. Controlled experiments rather than field observations provided the primary data, and basic concepts were supposed to be grounded in direct observation. Against this background, animal consciousness came to be seen as “... mystical, unscientific, unnecessary , obscure, and not amenable to study” (Rollin 1989, p. 68). Jacques Loeb, who was active from about 1890–1915, was an influential foreunner of behaviorism in biology. Although he believed that consciousness was an emergent property of...


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