Archives for category: Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Neuroscience is making advances in mapping our brain. In doing so, it questions our fundamental beliefs about our autonomy within the law. However, to date, it still has not been successful in undermining principles of justice that have underpinned Western legal systems and international treaties for the past centuries. This essay provides a study upon what difference neuroscience makes, or not, to the law.


Neuroscience is an advancement in cognitive studies which has up until a few decades ago relied mostly upon behavioural studies. Presently there are claims made by corporations involved in neuro-technologies that claim to be able to detect deception accurately, and also to assess whether people have tendencies towards criminality. To study the issue of whether neuroscience in this capacity will not make a difference to the law, this essay will study the history of the cognitive sciences in the law, the claims of Greene and Cohen (2004) that state neuroscience makes no difference to the law, the philosophical and ethical issues that are fundamental to society and the law, and the claims and criticisms made about neuro-technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This analysis concludes that for the foreseeable future neuroscience will make little difference to the law.

To assess whether neuroscience will not make a difference to the law it is necessary to look at the contributions that the cognitive sciences have made and whether they have helped to ascertain the responsibility of people under the law. The justice system relies upon defining the intentions of the defendant to judge whether they are guilty of breaching the law. To achieve this aim, often the cognitive sciences, such as psychology and psychiatry, are called upon for assistance. Eigen (2003, p.x) suggests that in the mid-nineteenth century it was not psychiatrists or legal professionals who identified the difference between insanity and the anomalous behaviour of unconsciousness, such as acts done whilst sleepwalking or from some other automatic reflex, it was the jury. It became necessary to have scientists ascertain the culpability of someone if there was a question of any mental disability, rather than have a non-professional jury assess this.

However, Eigen (2003, p.5) contends that during the nineteenth century, with more novel diagnoses becoming apparent at the courts, expert medical witnesses were at risk of twisting courtroom evidence and framing it within their own contexts. This threatened to displace the function of the jury and served as a critical point between the law and the emerging specialties and technologies of cognitive science.  According to Eigen (2003, p.6), there was an increasing judicial anxiety about insanity acquittals because of the growing diagnoses of different derangements that came before the courts explaining a person’s lack of accountability and moral agency. This is much like the contemporary dilemma with the use of new neuro-technologies and techniques that confront the law today in making assessments about people’s responsibility.  The question that arises is how much neuroscience should be included in the tools of the law for the aims of justice to be achieved.

Greene and Cohen (2004, p.1775) argue that neuroscience’s transformative effect on the law will come about by changing people’s understanding of the notion of ‘free will’. Free will is a problem because of our modern concept of the physical universe. They quote ( p.1777) Peter van Inwagen: “Determinism is true if the world is such that its current state is completely determined by i) the laws of physics, and ii) past states of the world. Therefore, if all is predetermined by physics then the idea of free will is an illusion.  However, although most philosophers and legal theorists accept determinism, many also find it compatible with free will. According to Greene and Cohen ( p.1777), compatibilists claim that free will is a persistent notion that is undeniable and that it is up to science to establish how it works. Greene and Cohen (p.1778) state that the standard legal account of punishment is compatibilist in order to allow for retribution. For Greene and Cohen (p.1779), neuroscience will not change the law because the law assumes a level of minimal rationality for people’s behaviour, rather than notions of free will. They go on to state that if neuroscience supports minimal rationality then there is no reason to think that it poses a threat to the determination of criminal responsibility (p.1779). Although new syndromes are announced as an excuse for criminal behaviour they will only have validity if they undermine one’s rationality in a significant way. Greene and Cohen (p. 1780) argue that neuroscience can be helpful in this way through being able to correlate behaviour with rationality and also helping people understand the mechanical nature of human action. Neuroscience promises to show the ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ of the mechanical process to be able to assess if someone truly deserves to be punished or if they are just a victim of their neuronal circumstances (p.1780). However, this type of technology may have profound impacts upon the ethical concepts that humans have formed over time in their societies, especially ones that pertain to the autonomy of the individual.

Philosophical and ethical thinking can help to align the law with the sciences through providing the tools with which to develop theories of responsibility and also assessing the ethics of new technologies (Tovino, 2007). Through the use of such studies, legislative, regulatory and judicial bodies can correlate legal processes with technological processes in an ethical manner, in particular when functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is combined with philosophical ethics (2007, p.44). This technology localizes changes in blood oxygenation in the brain and is used in neuroscience to map sensory, motor and cognitive function, and also physical and mental health conditions, behaviours and characteristics (p.44). The legal issues of fMRI extend beyond patient-physician relationships to confidentiality, privacy and research ethics (p.44).

Some have referred to fMRI as being too reliant upon interpretation to be reliable as evidence (Bizzi et al., 2009). As is noted by Tovino (2007, p.47), ‘Sometimes the difference between seeing higher activity in the parietal lobe compared to the occipital lobe is akin to deciding whether Van Gogh or Matisse is the more colourful artist’.  Tovino (p. 47) also includes a quote from Donaldson: ‘What constitutes a “significantly greater” activation is in a way in the eye of the beholder’. With commercial fMRI companies claiming up to 99% infallibility and areas of use to include risk reduction in dating, insurance verification and employee screening, privacy and confidentiality also become issues, especially if these claims are misleading (p.47). Tovino (p.48) quotes Greely and the U.S. Committee on Science and Law in stating that advances in fMRI threaten ‘to invade the last inviolate area of “self” and have been coined as ‘neuroprivacy’ issues.  Therefore, the questions that Tovino poses are: Is it deceptive to say that an fMRI test is objective, fully automated and infallible? (p.47), and: Will future fMRI tests require heightened confidentiality and privacy protections? (p.48).

These are important questions because of expressions of rights of freedom constructed in international treaties. In Stacy v Georgia, the seminal ‘privacy of thought’ case, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that, ‘also fundamental is the right to be free, expect on very limited circumstances, from unwanted governmental intrusions into one’s privacy’ (Glenn, 2005, p.61). That Court also states in Lawrence v Texas: ‘Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, expression and certain intimate conduct’ (2005, p.61). A fundamental principle of democracy is our accusatory system of criminal justice, which demands that the government in seeking to establish the guilt of an individual produce evidence against him/her by their own independent labours, rather than by compelling it from his/her own mouth (Miranda v Arizona, 1966 at 460) (Tovino, 2007, p.50).

However, some objections to fMRI being argued against on these self-incrimination grounds are that DNA, blood tests, mental examinations, urinalysis, fingerprints are all means of admissible evidence that are used in courts today, so why not fMRI (Tovino, 2007, p.51)? Some questions for counterarguments could be: Does this address the implications involved in seizing an individual’s ‘privacy of thought’? Is fMRI reliable and accurate in identifying or diagnosing physical and mental conditions, behaviours or characteristics? Are such tests as effective as DNA or blood and alcohol tests, or are there more effective methods of identifying target condition? Also, who would be the authority that could gather such data from a brain scan and what precautions and protocols should be followed (p.51)? Although neuro-imaging has been effective in showing courts the diminished responsibility of adolescents on death row (p.52), and discovering brain tumors that may affect responsibility (Burns, 2003, p.48), many lawyers still argue that data gathered from fMRI should not be legally admissible evidence (Tovino, 2007, p.53).

For some philosophers, the citation of neuro-technologies, such as fMRI, as evidence in law is problematic. Fine (2010, 281) states that the problem with advances in neurosciences is that ‘we still have minimal understanding of how neural structures contribute to complex psychological phenomena’. The complex nature of brain structure makes it difficult to attribute behavioural conditions or characteristics to it.  Statistics and data gathered from procedures that involve neuro-technologies may be inadequate or inappropriate (p.281), especially for making assumptions with which to convict someone. Too many assumptions are made about a structure that is extremely complex and massively interconnected to imply a psychological construct that leads to an individual’s imprisonment.

Fine (2010, p.281) contends that inferring a mental process from a significant oxygenation of a particular area of the brain is a reverse inference and fraught with too many difficulties to attribute specific brain functions to various brain regions. For Fine (p.281), the entire brain may not be involved in a particular function and ‘there is no one-to-one mapping between brain regions and psychological processes. Cognition arises through complex interaction of brain areas, with any single region being involved in a number of processes (p.281). This makes it ambiguous as to the amount of psychological implications that can be derived from the amount of activity in particular regions of the brain. Also data acquisition from fMRI is slow which limits psychological interpretations that can be inferred from brain events (p.282). Weisberg et al. (2008, p.20) states that neuroscience has an appeal that relies upon assumptions of infallibility which allows people to find circular explanations of psychological phenomena from information about brain responses acceptable. This is problematic in a courtroom where a judge or jury might accept such scientific evidence without further validation.

Deception detection is one of the areas hailed by those who use fMRI commercially as able to revolutionize testimony in court. However, there is some doubt as to the veracity of such claims. Kanwisher (2009, p.11) points to three exceptionally successful individual subject studies that have been conducted. These three studies analysed two sets of fMRI data that were used to distinguish lies form truth (p.11). However, according to Kanwisher (p.11) in two of the studies lies were not examined but target deception events. From the successful outcomes of these studies, with correct response rates of 90%, 76% and 89% respectively, it appears that classification and imaging methods are rapidly improving (p.11). However, Kanwisher (p.12) points out that this success rate may not be able to be reflected in the real world, and argues that lie detection within a laboratory environment is completely different to lie detection in the real world. Firstly, the subjects are making an instructed false response not a lie. Secondly, real life situations differ in that the stakes are much higher for the subjects. This could cause anxiety whether a subject was guilty or not (p.12). Also, a subject could be uncooperative and fMRI is useless if a subject moves at all (p.12). It would be impossible for such studies to even remotely mimic real life situations as they would need a subject population of defendants suspected of serious crimes. Also, the experimenter would need to know whether the subject was lying for verification of the test (p.12). Therefore it seems impossible to conduct studies to mimic real life situations for ethical and practical reasons.

As neuro-technologies become more advanced they could indeed show us, as Greene and Cohen assert, that our actions are predetermined. However, for an ordered society the law requires us to be responsible for our actions and for this it requires minimal rationality. Behavioural psychologists and psychiatrists are already able to assess people’s minimal, rational psychological states. Neuro-technologies, such as fMRI can also show physical disabilities within the brain. However, for the foreseeable future, to use fMRI  for such purposes as deception detection or to assess whether people have a tendency towards criminal behaviour is spurious. Therefore, neuroscience makes little difference to the law.







  1. Eigen, J.P., (2003) Unconscious crime: Mental absence and criminal responsibility in Victorian London, John Hopkins University Press, Maryland
  2. Green and Cohen, (2004), For the law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything, Princeton University, Princeton
  3. Tovino, S. A., (2007), “Functional neuroimaging and the law: Trends and directions for future scholarship”, American Journal of Bioethics , 7:9 , 2007 , pp.44-56
  4. Glenn, L. M. (2005), Keeping an open mind: What legal safeguards are needed? American Journal of Bioethics 5(2), p.60-61
  5. Burns, Jeffrey M; Swerdlow, Russell H. (2003), “Right orbitofrontal tumor with pedophilia symptom and constructional apraxia sign” Archives of Neurology , 60:3 , 2003 , 437-440
  6. Fine, C. (2010) “From scanner to sound bite: Issues in interpreting and reporting sex differences in the brain” Current Directions in Psychological Science , 19:5 , 2010 , 280-283
  7. Weisberg, D.S., Keil, F.C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E., & Gray, J.R. (2008), “The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 470–477.
  8. Kanwisher, N.  (2009), “The Use of fMRI in Lie Detection: What Has Been Shown and What Has Not”, Bizzi et al., 2009, Using Imaging to Detect Deceit: Scientific and Ethical Questions, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge MA


‘If only thou couldst feel as I do, and couldst get thee power of speech’

                                                                   (Od. 9.455-58)[1]

An important feature of the relationship between humans and animals since the early Neolithic age is one of reciprocity. In this line from Odysseus, Homer draws our attention to the close symbiotic relationship between a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd provides protection and the sheep provide sustenance and companionship in his lonely life[2]. However, Hesiod stated that it is the notion of justice that holds us apart from animals, with justice demanding that we do not prey on our own kind[3]. Lonsdale notes that Xenophon went further and argued that man is different because of his capacity to speak and reason, and also in his deep religiosity[4]. Yet, while the Greeks were deeply anthropocentric, the Egyptians did not have such a notion of division between human and animal. Humans were not considered superior and animals were considered the vehicle of earthly representation of the gods[5]. To consider ancient notions of the important attributes differentiating human and non-human it is necessary to review the literature left by ancient writers. These writers tend to relegate these attributes into three distinct types: rationality, intelligence and language, and argue for difference or deny it. The ancient argument that is most valid is the one propounded by writers such as Alexander, Plutarch and Porphyry and denies the superiority of humans, as it takes into account what we may not understand.

The first criterion that many ancient writers cite is the lack of rationality found in animals. In the 5th century BCE Alcamaeon of Croton wrote that humans have xunesis, an understanding which is the basis for rational thought. This allows language to develop which assists cultural maturity. He argues that animals do not have this facility and only have perception, or aesthesis, which humans have also[6]. Plato also states that the difference between humans and animals is human rationality and goes on to say that humans who do not use rational thought are no better than beasts[7]. Aristotle also denies animals reason but concedes that they have phronesis which is the knowledge needed to cope with their environment[8]. For Aristotle, humans live by skill and reason, whereas animals live by experience made up of impressions and memories[9]. In his protestation against his nephew Alexander’s assertion of the rationality of animals, Philo of Alexandria declares that, while animals might exhibit courage, only man has the understanding that enables him to form laws and governments, and to worship God[10]. Such a determination was later reflected even more vehemently by Augustine who stated that humans were made in God’s image and that animals were for their use. For Augustine, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” only referred to humans[11].

Other writers, such as Alexander, claimed that animals were very much like humans. Alexander said that there were two types of reason: logos endiathelos (reason within the mind) and logos proporikos (uttered reason), and that animals had both. Alexander used the ability of different animals to construct complex dwellings, especially some birds and bees, to prove reason in animals, and also contended that the deliberation of a dog in following its prey is proof of reason[12]. Plutarch and Porphyry also used such an argument, but Plutarch added that good rational thinking was not apparent in many humans and only came about through much education. He argued that because animals chose between useful and harmful and exhibited fear, hope and desire this proved their rationality[13]. Porphyry extended this further by stating that justice should be awarded to animals because both humans and non-humans are endowed with reason and practise justice[14]. However, Diogenes Laertius contended that the practice of reasoned thought in humans, especially after the fourteenth year, showed that humans have a governing principle, or hegemonikon[15], that allows one to express meaningful language and is considered to be the foundation of intelligence.

Intelligence is the second criterion that ancient writers advance when they assert the superiority of humans over animals. For Aristotle, man is deliberative in that he has intentionality; only man has the ability of recollection and reason which differentiates him intellectually from animals[16]. Philo thought that pleasure and self-preservation were the prime motivating factors of animals and that they did not need intelligence for these[17]. The Stoics stated that humans have no intellectual kinship with animals as they are irrational, and for this reason humans owe them no obligation of justice[18]. There are other ancient writers who disagreed with this view. Alexander asserted that animals do have a sovereign mind[19], while Plutarch contended that the cleverness and intellect animals use for their survival ought to be enough for us to treat them respectfully[20]. Plutarch also believed that humans shared kinship, or oikeinsois, through manner or lifestyle[21]. Lonsdale writes that Aristotle’s follower, Theophrastus, argued that animal sacrifice was wrong because humans and animals shared an intellectual kinship[22]. Further, Cicero thought that while humans were superior in that they had higher intentions, such as the pursuit of comfort, industry and sympathy for others, he conceded that some animals have such higher intentions and some intellect[23].

Higher intentions and intellect could be prerequisites for engaging in contractual behaviour, a foundation of justice. Epicurus stated that, as animals do not have the capacity for language, they do not have the capacity for forming tacit contractual agreements with an intention to respect one another’s interests[24]. Language is the third criterion for the moral status of animals. For Xenophon, humans were superior to animals both intellectually and physically, and this was manifested in the human capacity for articulate language[25]. This view was also reflected by Diogenes Laertius, who stated that the lack of intelligible language in animals proved their inferiority[26]. While Aristotle thought that animals did communicate through language, he countered that it was not based in semantics and therefore inferior to humans[27]. Philo took this argument further, stating that animal utterances are as meaningless as musical notes[28]. However, Lucretius argues that humans and non-humans do engage in tacit contractual agreements. This is illustrated by the guardianship of humans to animals and the return of services and products by animals, and does not require the understanding of languages for it to be beneficial to both parties[29]. Plutarch and Porphyry also argue that humans lack the capacity to understand the language of animals not that animal language has no meaning[30]; as the modern philosopher, Wittgenstein, stated: “If a lion could talk we would not understand him”[31].

Most of the arguments above that deny non-humans the capacity of reason, intelligence and communication result in the denial to animals of any moral obligation. The Stoic, Chrysippus, puts this argument as such: humans and non-humans have three things on common: senses, utterance and reproduction. Humans can also reason, whereas animals are only motivated by impulse. Therefore, humans need not consider the interests of animals[32]. As Aristotle stated, slavery is a natural phenomenon because it is natural for one human to rule over another and as animals are intended for human use it is natural for humans to rule over animals[33]. This denial of interest to animals culminated in Augustine’s use of Aristotle’s and the Stoics’ arguments to defend the use of animals to benefit human lives on the grounds that God gave humans animals in order to help them to salvation[34]. To attribute reason to animals was tantamount to denying Christian notions of humans being fit for the divine recreation of God[35]. The Egyptian practice of animals representing the gods on earth was sacrilegious to Christian sensibilities. Therefore, animals became ‘the other’ and the primacy of humans became paramount.

Rather than a symbiotic and reciprocal relationship based upon the interests of both humans and non-humans, this reliance on a criteria of reason, intelligence and language to assert an anthropocentric world view discounts and ignores all the ancient contentions that counter such a view. Porphyry, Plutarch and Alexander were right in using the many examples from their environment to show that other animals are very much like humans. They live in complex societies, they build complex dwellings, they make choices between good and bad, they exhibit hopes, fears and desires, and have autonomy. As Lucretius stated, humans and non-humans do engage in tacit contractual agreements when they breed animals for their products or services. However, these agreements can quickly degenerate into master/slave relationships when humans disregard the interests of animals. Also, just as some humans cannot understand the language of other humans from another society, so too it is with other animals. Therefore, arguments used by ancient writers to support the claim that animals are different to humans rely upon criteria that are not exclusive to human beings and have caused the suffering of animals for over two thousand years.


  1. Alcaemon of Croton, DK1a, Hermann Diels & Walther Kranz, eds, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th edn (Berlin: Weidmann, 1951-52)
  2. Aristotle, “Metaphysics”, from Newmyer, S.T., Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, (2011), Routledge Press
  3. Aristotle, “Parts of Animals”, from Pierre Louis, ed., Aristote; Les Parties des Animaux (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1956)
  4. Aristotle, “Politics”, Jean Aubonnet, ed., Aristote; Politique, Livres I et II (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1968)
  5. Augustine, “De civitate dei” [The City of God], from B. Dombart & A. Kalb, eds, Sancti Aurelii Augustini de Civitate Dei Libri I-X (Turnhout: Brepols, 1955 (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 47)
  6. Beck, J., (2012), “Why we can’t say what animals think”, Philosophical Psychology, 2012, 1-27, Routledge Press
  7. Chryssipus, “SVF”, from Johannes von Arnim, ed. Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta (Stuttgart; Teubner, 1964; reprint of the edition of 1905)
  8. Cicero, “De finibus bonorum et malorum” [On the Ends of Good and Evil], from Claudio Moreschini, ed., M.Tullius Cicero Scripta Quae Manserunt Omnia Fasc. 43: De Finibus Bonorum et  Malorum (Munich and Leipzig: Saur, 2005)
  9. Diogenes Laertius, “Lives of the Philosophers”, from H.S. Long, Diogenis Laertii Vitae Philosophum (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964)
  10. Epicurus, kuriai Doxai [Soveregn Maxims] XXXI and XXXII, as cited in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers X. 150 [from the life of Epicurus], from Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge Press
  11. Gilhus, Ingvild S. (2006) “The religious value of animals” in Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas , Gilhus, Ingvild S. , 2006 , 93-113
  12. Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Works and Days. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd, 1918
  13. Homer, The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919
  14. Lonsdale, S.H., (1979), “Attitudes Towards Animals in Ancient Greece”, Greece and Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol.26, No.2, (Oct., 1979), 146-159
  15. Lucretius, “De rerum natura” [On the Nature of Things], from Joseph Martin, ed., T. Lucreti Cari de Rerum Natura Libri Sex (Leipzig: Teubner, 1963)
  16. Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge Press
  17. Philo of Alexandria, “On Animals”, from Newmyer, S.T., Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, (2011), Routledge Press
  18. Plato, “Laws”, Burnet, J., ed., Platonis Opera (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901-1902; rept. 1962-1967)
  19. Plutarch, “De esu cranium” [On the Eating of Flesh), from Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge PressPlutarch, “On the Cleverness of Animals”, from Newmyer, S.T., Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, (2011), Routledge Press
  20. Plutarch, “De Stoicurum repugnantis” [On the Self-Contradictions of the Stoics], from Michel Casevitz & Daniel Babut, eds, Plutarque: Ouvres Morales XV (Sur les Contradictions Stoiciennes, etc.) (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2004)
  21. Porphyry, “On Abstinence from Animal Flesh”, from Jean Bouffartigue, Michele Patillon, Alain Segond and Luc Brisson, eds, Porphyre; De l’Abstinence (Paris: Les Belle Lettres, 1977-1995)
  22. Wittgenstein, L., (1973), Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell
  23. Xenophon, “Memorabilia” [Recollections of Socrates], from E.C. Marchant, ed., Xenophontis Opera Omnia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967)

[1] Homer, The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919

[2] Lonsdale, S.H., (1979), “Attitudes Towards Animals in Ancient Greece”, Greece and Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol.26, No.2, (Oct., 1979), 149

[3] Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Works and Days. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd, 1914

[4] Lonsdale, Attitudes Towards Animals in Ancient Greece, Greece and Rome, (1979), 156

[5] Gilhus, Ingvild S. (2006) “The religious value of animals” in Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas , Gilhus, Ingvild S. , 2006 , 99

[6] Alcaemon of Croton, (DK1a)

[7] Plato, Laws, 766a

[8] Aristotle, Politics 1332b3-8

[9] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 980a28-981a4

[10] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals, 85

[11] Augustine, De civitate dei [The City of God] , 1.20

[12] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals, 17; 45

[13] Plutarch, On the Cleverness of Animals, 960D-E

[14] Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Flesh III. 13.1-3

[15] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VII.55 [from the life of Zeno the Stoic]

[16] Aristotle, History of Animals, 488a20-26;588a16-18-588b3

[17] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals 44

[18] Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge Press, 28

[19] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals 29

[20] Plutarch, On the Cleverness of Animals, 960D-E

[21] Plutarch, De Stoicurum repugnantis [On the Self-Contradictions of the Stoics] 1038B

[22] Newmyer, (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, 28

[23] Cicero, De finibus bonorum et malorum [On the Ends of Good and Evil] II. 109-110

[24] Epicurus, kuriai Doxai [Soveregn Maxims] XXXI and XXXII, as cited in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers X. 150 [from the life of Epicurus]

[25] Xenophon, Memorabilia [Recollections of Socrates] 1.4.11-14

[26] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VII.55

[27] Aristotle, Parts of Animals 660a35-660b2

[28] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals, 98

[29] Lucretius, De rerum natura [On the Nature of Things] V. 855-877

[30] Plutarch, De esu carnium [On the Eating of Flesh] 994E; Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Flesh III.2-4

[31] Wittgenstein, L., (1973),Philosophical Investigations,  Oxford: Blackwell, XXxi

[32] Chryssipus, SVF 2.821

[33] Aristotle, Politics 1256b15-23

[34] Augustine, De civitate dei, 1.20

[35] Gilhus, (2006) “The religious value of animals” in Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas, 99


The capacity to be able to ascertain and attribute mental states to others, and also ourselves, is called mindreading or theory of mind (ToM). It is an essential ability that is needed for proper social interaction and moral competence. Children have usually developed the basics of mindreading by the age of five. They understand that others have desires, emotions and beliefs, and that these may be different from their own. We also tend to understand another’s behaviour through understanding our own, or through introspective reasoning, for example: I am happy, therefore I smile/ They smile, therefore they are happy. These are assumptions of mental states and are evident in children even before they can reason articulately.

An alternative view to the introspective ToM is Gopnick’s and Wellman’s (1992) argument which suggests that the concepts of mindreading and mental states are the premises of a theory. Knowledge of ours and other minds is reconciled by this type of understanding and is known as Theory Theory (TT). TT states that children who are learning about other minds are engaged in the construction of this theory with its attendant set of laws, and argues that children apply a theoretical understanding of the world in an attempt to make meaning out of other minds (Gopnick & Wellman, 1992, p.148). As theories do not always have evidence at hand and consequently can be falsified, so too can a child change its reasoning as it develops a theory of mind about other people. This leads to children having distinctive interpretations of evidence and therefore having differing views of the world.

Gopnick and Wellman (1992, p.149) contend that in this way a child’s theory of mind develops and transitions from one view of the mind to another so that by 5 years they have a representational view rather than a mentalistic one. At first, two year olds think about the world in terms of desires and perceptions. By three, children begin to have representational mental states that include using the terms think, know, remember, believe, pretend, and dream. By five, children develop a more thorough representational view where the representations become propositional. Gopnick and Wellman (1992, p.153) posit that at this stage a child’s view of the world is fully intentional. Therefore, they argue that the transitional mental states of children aged between 2 and 5 show all the indicators of a theory change, as a theory shifts as new evidence emerges and new predictions are able to be made (1992, p.158).

The alternative view to TT is simulation theory (ST) which holds that we mentally simulate the mental processes of others to be able to generate similar processes within ourselves. We practise this theory when we empathise with another through placing ourselves in another’s position and use this information to assess another mind’s state. Gopnick and Wellman (1992, p.160) disagree with this view on the grounds that it relies upon a person not erroneously misinterpreting their own mental state, whereas TT allows such false interpretations and the consequential corrections that may be made. They think that a young child’s errors of interpretation are incorrectly termed ‘egocentric’ and that ST disregards that very young children are quite able to attribute to others mental states that differ from their own (1992, p.164).

However, objections to both theories could be that ST can be automatically achieved through neural mechanisms that associate similar behaviours and TT may be considered only a tacit theory if indeed ToM turns out to be false. It could be that beliefs and desires are simply automated workings of the mind. If this is the case, then only neuroscience has the ability to explain the workings of the mind.


  1. Gopnik, Alison; Wellman, Henry M. “Why the child’s theory of mind really is a theory” Mind and Language , 7:1 and 2 , 1992 , 145-171