Laura Danón: Animals, tools, and concepts
Several animal species use or manufacture tools to reach their goals in natural and experimental contexts (Shumaker et al., 2011; Beck, 1980). However, it has been argued that different types of tool use and tool-making in the animal kingdom probably involve different cognitive skills (McCormack et al., 2011; Beck, 1980; Hunt et al., 2013; Call, 2013). This paper aims to contribute to the debate on the cognitive abilities underlying animal use and creation of tools by focusing on a frequently overlooked topic: whether the flexible tool-related behavior displayed by some non-human animal species involves conceptual capacities. More specifically, I will argue that we have compelling conceptual and empirical reasons to think that some animal species, such as elephants and chimpanzees, possess concepts that guide their flexible use and manufacturing of tools. To reach this goal, I will begin by presenting several requirements on concept possession that have been considered relevant in the philosophical literature: stimulus independence, recombinability, inferentiality, normativity, and aspectuality. Afterwards, I will present some empirical evidence of tool-related behavior in chimpanzees and elephants and argue that it gives us good reasons to claim that these animals satisfy all the requirements for concept possession previously discussed. Therefore, it can be argued that chimpanzees and elephants do not only have the cognitive abilities required for concept possession but also deploy them when using and building tools.
Laura Danón is an associate professor of Philosophy at UNC (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba) and an assistant researcher at CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas). She works mainly on Philosophy of mind, mostly focusing on the possibility of attributing concepts and mental contents to non-human animals.