Workshop on animal agency and cognition | Journée d’étude sur l’agentivité et la cognition animale (online | en ligne)

Quand :
27 avril 2022 @ 09:00 – 12:30 America/Toronto Fuseau horaire

CEERE - Centre européen d'enseignement et de recherche en éthique - Université de Strasbourg


Organisation | Organization : Francois Jaquet, Université de Strasbourg

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Long gone are the days when philosophers denied animals any mental life. Animals are no longer thought incapable of understanding—let alone speaking—a language, remembering past events, recognizing themselves in a mirror, using tools or acting deliberately. Over the last decades, researchers in animal cognition have demonstrated the presence of previously unsuspected mental capacities in our non-human cousins.

In this multidisciplinary workshop, the mental life of animals will be approached from the point of view of both philosophy and ethology, by representatives of both disciplines. Topics will include the concept of death in predators, the importance of agency for animal cognition research, the relevance of assent to interspecies justice, and the relationship between animal cultures and animal welfare.



Wednesday, April 27, 2022 | Time zone: EDT

09h00 – 09h10     Welcome

09h10 – 09h55     Susana Monsó (National Distance Education University), “Playing Possum: Animal Thanatosis and the Concept of Death”

09h55 – 10h40     Cédric Sueur (Université de Strasbourg) & Marie Pelé (Université catholique de Lille), “Animal Agency Can Accelerate Behavioural and Neuroscience Research”

10h40 – 11h00     Break

11h00 – 11h45     Angie Pepper (University of Roehampton) & Richard Healey (University College London), “When Assent is Not Enough – Animal Agency and Just Interspecies Relations”

11h45 – 12h30     Kristin Andrews (York University), “Why Animal Culture Matters for Animal Welfare”



Susana Monsó: “Playing Possum: Animal Thanatosis and the Concept of Death”

Abstract: Most of the philosophical discussion on animal concepts has moved at the abstract level, with very few in-depth analyses of specific concepts and specific animal behaviours. In this talk, I will show how the debate on concept possession in non-human animals can be advanced through the analysis of case studies, and for that I will focus on a particular case: a prey defence known as thanatosis, or death feigning. I will argue that thanatosis gives us evidence of conceptual abilities in predators, and more specifically of their possession of a concept of death. I will develop this argument in three steps. First, I will explain what thanatosis is and distinguish it from other defences that are probably evolutionarily related but much simpler. Then, I will argue that the form that thanatosis takes and its postulated evolutionary functions gives us strong reasons to believe that the predators of the animals that exhibit this defence mechanism possess at least some of the key abilities considered necessary for conceptual thinking. Lastly, I will delve into the semantic content of the concept that mediates predators’ responses to thanatosis and argue that it is likely that the concept in question qualifies as a minimal concept of death, as defined by Monsó (2022).

Cédric Sueur & Marie Pelé: “Animal Agency Can Accelerate Behavioural and Neuroscience Research”

Abstract: Despite increasing numbers of publications showing that many animals possess the neural substrates involved in emotions and consciousness, animals are still restrained and forced to take part in applied or fundamental research. However, these restraints stress animals and may result in false negatives or false positives. A change is needed in researchers’ work paradigm with animals to progress in behavioural and neuroscience research and thus gain access to hitherto inaccessible yet important scientific results. Animals interact in their own ways with the world and researchers need to adopt these ways, i.e. their agency, to perform better research and develop a better understanding of how the brain and behaviour evolve. We will discuss how animal agency can not only be the key to more wide-ranging and improved research in existing domains, but can also lead to new research questions resulting from anthropocentric view.

Angie Pepper & Rich Healey: “When Assent is Not Enough – Animal Agency and Just Interspecies Relations”

Abstract: We have argued that animals sometimes have rights to self-determination: rights that will be recognised as normatively authoritative within certain domains of action. We further argued that an animal assents to an activity or interaction when they wilfully affirm it. When this is so, their assent can enable permissible interactions consistent with their rights to self-determination. It was our (ambitious) contention that this account of assent “makes the project of interspecies justice possible” and “paves the way for the realisation of just interspecies relations.” In this talk, we examine and problematize the transformative potential of our account. In particular, we suggest that valid animal assent depends on animals being (i) competent decision-makers, and (ii) informed about the options available to them. Though we think these two requirements can be successfully satisfied in one-off interactions, we doubt that animals can assent to the human institutions, practices, and roles in which they find themselves. Consequently, we will argue that though assent can make some interpersonal human-nonhuman interactions permissible, it cannot legitimise the general practice of keeping animals as companions or the use of animal labour to satisfy human ends.

Kristin Andrews : « Why Animal Culture Matters for Animal Welfare »

Abstract: The growing recognition that other animals, like humans, are cultural beings invites us to take a fresh look at what counts as welfare for captive animals. When cultural capacities and practices important to captive animals are impeded or disrupted intentionally (because they appear “abnormal” or threaten health) or unintentionally (because they are not noticed) animal welfare can be negatively impacted. Given animal culture, good behavioral management will include a different way of looking at animals’ social relationships, a different way of looking at enrichment, and an appreciation of the community’s (perhaps distributed) body of knowledge. Broadening the concept of welfare beyond physical health and functioning, affective state, and “natural” behaviors to include something like cultural autonomy has significant ramifications for animal welfare practice and policy. It also raises the question of preserving diverse animal cultures and respecting animal cultural heritage, including recognizing the significant differences between captive and wild animal cultures. Finally, animal culture should lead us to re-evaluate the kinds of information scientists can gain from studying captive animals.

Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / Born Free Foundation / We Animals Media

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