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Why the question of animal consciousness might not matter very much

By Peter Carruthers

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According to higher-order thought accounts of phenomenal consciousness (e.g. Carruthers, 2000) it is unlikely that many non-human animals undergo phenomenally conscious experiences. Many people believe that this result would have deep and far-reaching consequences. More specifically, they believe that the absence of phenomenal consciousness from the rest of the animal kingdom must mark a radical and theoretically significant divide between ourselves and other animals, with important implications for comparative psychology. I shall argue that this belief is mistaken. Since phenomenal consciousness might be almost epiphenomenal in its functioning within human cognition, its absence in animals may signify only relatively trivial differences in cognitive architecture. Our temptation to think otherwise arises partly as a side-effect of imaginative identification with animal experiences, and partly from mistaken beliefs concerning the aspects of common-sense psychology that carry the main explanatory burden, whether applied to humans or to non-human animals.


Deborah Maron

Date 2005
Publication Title Consciousness: Essays from a Higher-Order Perspective
ISBN/ISSN ISBN-13: 9780199277360
Publisher Oxford Scholarship Online
Language English
Notes This excerpt was found through OpenDOAR and is published in the Digital Repository for the University of Maryland It may also be found in Oxford Scholarship Online:
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals
  2. Animals in culture
  3. Belief
  4. Cognition
  5. Comparisons
  6. Decision making
  7. identification
  8. Mammals
  9. Meaning
  10. perceptions
  11. systems
  12. visual system