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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Michael Joel Schrift, DO, MA (University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine)
Description: We are on the verge of a paradigm shift regarding the issue of whether humans are the only rational living entity on planet Earth. Immanuel Kant's influential moral theory included autonomy as a necessary property to be the kind of being whose interests are to count directly in the moral assessment of actions. He believed that morally permissible actions are those actions that could be willed by all rational individuals in the circumstances. Kant believed that while both animals and human beings have desires that can compel them to action, only humans are capable of standing back from their desires and choosing which course of action to take, as manifested by our wills. He thought that animals lack this ability, that they lack a will, and therefore are not autonomous. Rene Descartes believed that all of animal behavior could be explained in purely mechanistic terms, and that no reference to conscious episodes was required for such an explanation. Humans, on the other hand he believed, are capable of complex and novel behavior and that this behavior is not the result of simple responses to stimuli, but is instead the result of our reasoning about the world as we perceive it. Also, human beings are capable of the kind of speech that expresses thoughts and that only human beings can engage in the kind of speech that is spontaneous and expresses thoughts. This extremely interesting and informative book documents the advances in psychology as well as in philosophy that challenge the idea of the unique rationality of humans. Written and edited by a distinguished group of philosophers and behavioral scientists, this book is a welcome contribution to this emerging new view of the uniqueness of humanity.
Purpose: The purpose of the book is outline for the reader the theoretical issues and controversies that bear on the attributes of animal rationality. The editors aim "to bring leading empirical work with different species together for comparison, and to bring philosophical arguments about rationality into contact with empirical evidence...." Indeed, the editors and chapter authors have succeeded in their aim and have produced an intriguing book.
Audience: The intended audience includes students and researchers in various disciplines; in particular, philosophers of mind and cognitive neuroscientists.
Features: The introductory chapter is essentially a summary of the book and provides the theory and evidence involved in the question of animal rationality. The remainder of the book addresses the types and levels of rationality, rational versus associative processes, metacognition, social and cognition behavior, mind reading and behavior reading, and the last chapter focuses on symbolic representation and language as a window on rationality. Each chapter ends with pertinent and timely references.
Assessment: This is an excellent, informative book on animal rationality. Vitalism has its last stand with the issue of consciousness. This book helps you see that there are hardly any threads left (if at all) for Vitalism to hang on to.