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Analogical Justification for Animal Introspective Self-Consciousness

We commonly take for granted that other humans are conscious. This assumption can be
justified by an inductive argument called the argument by analogy (ABA). The ABA can be
used to logically infer from similar behavior (non-linguistic and linguistic) that other humans are
conscious in the same ways as we individually are. I will argue that since the ABA is one means
of justifying the existence of conscious states of other humans, and because we typically only
rely on behavior to infer the conscious states of other humans, we can reasonably use the ABA to
justify the existence of certain conscious states of particular animals based on behaviors that are
sufficiently similar to human behavior. So, by using the ABA to justify the existence of the
conscious states of animals, I contend that some animals are not only conscious but
introspectively self-conscious.

I. Core Concepts
Again, introspective self-consciousness (ISC) is the sort of consciousness that is the main focus
of the current project. The conception of ISC espoused here will consist of three distinct but
related core capacities:

ISC1: The capacity to be conscious of one’s mental states. This only requires that one be
capable of being conscious of one’s particular mental state or mental states. It does not
entail the ability either to distinguish mental state A from mental state B or to be
conscious of mental states as one’s own.

ISC2: The capacity for mental state deliberation. This implies that one is capable of
distinguishing two or more mental states from one another.

ISC3: The capacity to be conscious of one’s psychological self. This implies that one is
conscious of oneself as the subject of experience.

Let’s now consider the relationship between each of these. Logically speaking, ISC1 is a
necessary condition for ISC2 and ISC3. If one is incapable of being conscious of one’s own
mental states, then one could not engage in mental state deliberation and could not experience a
mental state as one’s own. Next, ISC2 and ISC3 are (individually) sufficient conditions for ISC1.
That is, if one is capable of ISC2 or ISC3, then one must possess ISC1. There is, however, no
necessary relationship between ISC2 and ISC3. It stands to reason that a being can possess ISC3
without possessing ISC2 and visa versa. It may seem that ISC2 is a necessary condition, but not
sufficient condition for having ISC3, but this need not be the case. From my perspective, I do not
deliberate between mental states and then pick out which mental states are mine. As a matter of
fact, I cannot even imagine what it would be like to experience a mental state as something other
than mine – I experience my mental states immediately as my own. Furthermore, there is nothing
about ISC3 that logically necessitates ISC2. Consequently, it seems possible (both physically and
logically) for a being to possess ISC3 independently of ISC2 and visa versa.
Now that we have a working definition for ‘introspective self-consciousness’, we can
consider the proposed method for justifying the claim that some animals possess introspective
self-consciousness: the argument by analogy.

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II. Argument by Analogy
While there may be other means of justifying the existence of ISC1-3 in others (both human and
non-human), I will focus narrowly on the use of analogical reasoning – specifically the argument
by analogy (ABA) – to justify the ISC1-3 of others. The ABA is one of the simplest inductive
arguments for it merely states (in its simplest form) that if two objects, A and B, are observed to
be similar with respect to certain characteristics, then A and B probably also have other
particular characteristics in common. Typically, the ABA takes the following form.

A has property X
B is similar to A
Therefore, B probably has property X

To make the ABA work for attributing ISC to others, we must demonstrate that the
observed similarities constitute a relational similarity. A relational similarity represents a strong
correlation between a set of elements possessed by two entities (e.g. certain types of behavior
and ISC). This means that ISC must be strongly correlated to some element (or set of elements)
possessed by the two entities being compared. Further, when used to infer the conscious states of
others, the ABA requires that we make a generalization based on one instance (one’s own
conscious states). That is, the ISC that I can be most certain of is my own; and based on my
knowledge about my ISC, I am able to correlate certain behaviors of mine (both non-linguistic
and linguistic behaviors) with my ISC. So, since the ABA (as used to infer the ISC of others)
requires making a generalization based on one instance – my own ISC – and I experience a
strong correlation between my Behavior Y and my ISC, I can rely on the behavior of others that
is similar enough to mine to infer that others possess ISC. For example:

I experience a strong correlation between my ISC and my Behavior Y


A exhibits Behavior Y
Therefore, A probably possesses ISC

In the above argument, the correlation exists between ISC and Behavior Y; and any being
exhibiting Behavior Y probably possesses ISC. I say “probably,” because the ABA cannot prove
that the argument’s conclusion is true; at most the ABA can give us reason to accept the
conclusion as probably true. With a clearer understanding of what makes the ABA work, I offer
the following formulation of the ABA, which will be used throughout the remainder of this
essay.

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There is a strong correlation between ISC and Behavior Y in me
Some animals exhibit Behavior Y
Therefore, some animals are probably introspectively self-conscious

III. Using the ABA to Infer Animal ISC


From a common sense perspective, many people typically assume that most of the animals that
they interact with on a frequent basis are not only conscious but self-conscious. However, there
are various concepts of self-consciousness and each may or may not appropriately apply to
particular animals. The greater the observed behavioral similarities between humans and
particular animals, the stronger the analogical argument supporting the claim that particular
animals are conscious in some of the same ways that humans are conscious – namely ISC. While
there are various characteristics (both physical and mental) that can be compared so as to
strengthen the similarities between humans and animals – such as evolutionary history, cerebral
components, brain size, brain complexity, reasoning skills, non-linguistic communication, and
memory (just to name a few) – I will focus only on neurophysiology and behavior.1

III. A. Neurophysiologic Considerations2


Neurophysiology plays a part in having mental states, but it does not play a part in knowing the
mental states of others. Neurophysiology is necessary for having mental states, but not sufficient
for having mental states.3 However, having a CCNS does not guarantee (or bring about the fact)
that one has mental states.4 Furthermore, knowing that others (individually) possess a CCNS is
neither necessary nor sufficient for knowing others’ mental states.5 And, knowing that others
have a CCNS does not guarantee that one knows the mental states of others.6 So,
neurophysiologic considerations are necessary (but not sufficient) for having mental states; and
such considerations are neither necessary nor sufficient for knowing (or justifying the existence
of) the mental states of others.

1
Some may object, here, by pointing out that this narrow focus weakens my case; the more robust the similarities
between humans and animals, the better the analogical argument. With this in mind, it would be helpful to offer a
more robust set of similarities, which would include neurophysiologic and evolutionary considerations, for these are
important aspects of the similarity upon which the analogical argument is based. However, as indicated at the
beginning of section II, mere similarity does not make the ABA work. Instead, we must demonstrate a correlation
(analogy) between the element(s) possessed by the entities being compared.
2
For the sake of simplicity, I will consider only neurophysiology and not evolutionary continuity (homology) since
the latter appears to offer support to the claim that humans and some animals have strong neurophysiologic
similarities.
3
For example, when dealing with living beings, one must have a complex central nervous system (CCNS) in order
to have mental states – if one does not have a CCNS, then one cannot have mental states.
4
For example, Tom is a human; and because he is human, he shares with me strong neurophysiologic similarities.
Tom has been medically pronounced to be brain-dead, and therefore cannot have mental states.
5
For example, very young children (typically) are completely oblivious of others’ neurophysiology but they are
capable of knowing the mental states of other humans (particularly their guardians).
6
For example, Jerry is a human who is in a coma. I can know that Jerry has a CCNS while not knowing any of his
mental states. (What I am arguing here is not that Jerry does not have mental states; just that I cannot know his
mental states.)

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III. B. Behavioral Considerations
I take behavior (both non-linguistic and linguistic) to necessarily imply an intentional or
conscious action.7 Based on this understanding of ‘behavior’, I contend that exhibiting behavior
is a sufficient (but not necessary) condition for having mental states, and that observing (or
knowing) others’ behavior is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for knowing the mental
states of others. Exhibiting behavior is not a necessary condition for having mental states,
because I can have (or experience) a mental state without behaving. However, exhibiting
behavior is a sufficient condition since behaving involves a conscious action, which necessarily
involves having a mental state.8 Observing the behavior of others is a necessary condition for
knowing their mental states, for behavior is the empirical foundation for both knowing others’
mental states and indicating to others the mental state(s) we individually are having.9
Furthermore, observing others’ behavior is sufficient for knowing their mental states.10 So,
behavior is both a necessary and sufficient condition for knowing (or justifying the existence of)
others’ mental states.11

7
I acknowledge that this is a contentious claim and given my space limitations, I will not defend this claim in the
current project.
8
Note: mental states can be either conscious or unconscious.
9
Consider Jerry’s case. Jerry may actually have (or be experiencing) metal states while exhibiting no behavioral
indication that he is having them; and in this situation, since he is exhibiting no behavior, there is no way for any
observer to know that Jerry is having mental states. What about doing a brain scan on him, which could reveal his
conscious activity? Even if Jerry’s brain scan came back positive for certain signature brainwaves that indicate that
he is introspectively self-conscious we would still need to establish a correlation between certain signature
brainwaves and mental states, and this can only be done through behavior.
10
For example, additional scans of Jerry’s brain indicate that he is in a persistent coma. However, if Jerry is able to
speak or blink his eyes (to communicate in Morris Code, for example) an observer can take this behavior as a
reasonable guarantee that Jerry is having mental states.
11
To reiterate, there is a strong correlation between certain kinds of my behavior (both non-linguistic and linguistic)
and ISC; and this can be justified by using my own ISC as a base case. And since behavior (both non-linguistic and
linguistic) is a sufficient condition for justifying (through the application of the ABA) the existence of mental states
in others – specifically ISC – I will focus only on behavior – particularly, two specific types of behavior. As a
reminder, the form of the ABA being applied here is as follows.
There is a strong correlation between ISC and Behavior Y in me
Some animals exhibit Behavior Y
Therefore, some animals are probably introspectively self-conscious

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III. C. Similar Behavior

III. C. 1. Using the Uncertainty Test to Attribute ISC1-2 to some Animals


What sorts of behavioral tests might provide justification for animal ISC1-3? As mentioned in
section I, the uncertainty test has proven useful in identifying which animals might be capable of
mental state deliberation specifically due to their ability to physically indicate their uncertainty.12
The uncertainty test aims to identify which animals are capable of the metacognitve task of
knowing that one is in the mental state of uncertainty. Metacognition, from a psychological
perspective, is a higher-order cognitive process in which one is capable of being aware of first-
order mental states. Uncertainty, in this case, is a first-order mental state and does not require
one to be conscious of one’s own uncertainty. Consequently, if I am uncertain, this is a first-
order mental state; knowing that I am uncertain is a second-order mental state; and knowing that
I know that I am uncertain is a third-order mental state.
To know that one is uncertain, one must not only be capable of mental state
consciousness (ISC1) but also capable of mental state deliberation (ISC2). To be conscious of
one’s uncertainty (a second-order mental state), one must be capable of being conscious of one’s
desire for option A and one’s desire for option B (both of which require mental state
consciousness) and be conscious of not being able to decide which option one desires most,
which requires the capacity for mental state deliberation. This seems to be a safe assumption
about how human subjects think about their uncertainty, for it is rare (if ever) that we are
conscious of our own mental state of uncertainty without also being conscious of the mental
states about which we are uncertain. However, can such an assumption be safely (reliably) made
about some animals?
While fully considering the merits and demerits of the uncertainty test is beyond the
scope of this paper, I appeal to it here to indicate one interesting aspect of this test, which

12
Consider the description of an uncertainty test. Both rhesus monkeys and bottlenosed dolphin have been issued
the uncertainty test, which requires the subjects to discriminate between two stimuli. The monkeys were asked to
discriminate between groups of dots that were either sparse or dense and the dolphin were asked to discriminate
between sound frequencies that were either high or low. These respective tests attempted to force the subjects to
make difficult perceptual discriminations without allowing them to report (in any way) on their uncertainty or cope
with the uncertainty. (J. David Smith, Jonathan Schull, Jared Strote, Kelli McGee, Roian Egnor, and Linda Erb,
“The Uncertainty Response in the Bottlenosed Dolphin (Tursiops truncates),” Journal of Experimental Psychology:
General 124, no. 4 (1995): 391.) The tests only allow the subjects to select (typically in the form of depressing a
lever or button) one of three options: dense/high, sparse/low, or uncertain. (Cognitive and comparative psychologists
have, over the years, determined which behaviors certain animals engage in when experiencing cognitive
difficulties, particularly uncertainty. Based on this information, researchers issuing the uncertainty test determined
that the animal subjects were uncertain by observing the animals’ behavior when selecting the ‘uncertain’ response.
Furthermore, the animals apparently do not interpret the ‘uncertain’ option as ‘middle’ or ‘medium’. According to
Smith et al., “If the animal were simply making a middle response to middle stimuli, no special behaviors would
occur.” That is, if the animal subjects interpreted the ‘uncertain’ response as ‘middle’, they would exhibit the same
behavior as when they select the ‘dense/high’ or ‘sparse/low’ options. J. David Smith, et al., “The Uncertainty
Response in the Bottlenosed Dolphin (Tursiops truncates),” 400.)

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suggests that the non-human subjects are conscious of their mental state of uncertainty.13 The
interesting aspect is that when human subjects were issued the same uncertainty test they
performed very similarly to their non-human counterparts.14 Further, the humans were allowed to
issue exit reports where they verbally reported on their experiences during the tests. Such verbal
reports indicated that the human subjects were conscious of their uncertainty when selecting the
‘uncertain’ option. This suggests that while the non-humans are not able to report on their
consciousness of their uncertainty, both human and non-human subjects were operating on the
same cognitive level.
If we accept that all subjects (human and non-human) were actually operating on the
same cognitive level during the uncertainty test, we can conclude (1) that all subjects were
operating at a second-order level where they were conscious of their uncertainty or (2) that all
subjects were merely operating on a first-order level of cognition were they were merely
uncertain. If we accept (1), we have to attribute both ISC1 and ISC2 to the non-human subjects.
This attribution is based on the fact that to be conscious of one’s uncertainty, one must be able to
deliberate between two or more mental states; and since one is able to engage in mental state
deliberation (ISC2), one is also able to be conscious of one’s mental states (ISC1). If we accept
(2), we have to deprive humans of ISC2. Whatever the conclusion, it is reasonable to demand
consistency when interpreting the behavior of all subjects, for all subjects performed very
similarly on their respective uncertainty tests.
So, it seems that the uncertainty test is capable of offering support to the claim that those
non-human subjects who score sufficiently similarly to humans on such a test can reasonably be
inferred to possess the capacity for both ISC1 and ISC2.

III. C. 2. The Possible Necessity of Language to Gain Epistemic Access to Animal ISC3
While the uncertainty test helps to establish a basis from which we can reasonably infer that
some animals are capable of ISC1-2, the test fails to establish a basis from which we can infer that
they are aware of their uncertainty as their own uncertainty. Unfortunately, I cannot imagine
what sort of non-linguistic behavior that could demonstrate one’s consciousness of one’s own
psychological self (ISC3) (this could be due to the author’s lack of imagination). It seems that the
only way that we (individually) know that others are conscious of their respective psychological
selves is through linguistic behavior. This does not in itself mean that those beings who are
incapable of linguistic behavior or who are capable of linguistic behavior but are merely without
such a form of communication (e.g. languageless humans) lack ISC3. The point is that while it is
possible for an animal to possess ISC3 without being able to linguistically communicate the
possession of such a capacity, it maybe impossible for us to attribute (through the ABA) ISC3 to
animals (or other beings) who lack the capacity for linguistic behavior.

13
To learn more about uncertainty tests and the debate concerning such tests see the following articles. J. David
Smith et.al, “The Uncertainty Response in the Bottlenosed Dolphin (Tursiops truncates),” 391-408; J. David Smith,
Wendy E. Shields, and David A. Washburn, “The Comparative Psychology of Uncertainty Monitoring and
Metacognition,” Behavior and Brain Sciences 26 (2003): 317-373; Robert R. Hampton, Aaron Zivin, and Elisabeth
A Murray, “Rhesus Monkeys (Macaca mulatta) Discriminate Between Knowing and Not Knowing and Collect
Information as Needed Before Acting,” Animal Cognition 7 (2004): 239-246; Derek Browne, “Do Dolphins Know
Their Own Minds?” Biology and Philosophy 19 (2004): 633-653; and Robert R. Hampton and Benjamin M.
Hampstead, “Spontaneous Behavior of a Rhesus Monkey (Macaca mulatta) During Memory Tests Suggests
Memory Awareness,” Behavioral Processes 72 (2006): 184-189.
14
J. David Smith et. al, “The Comparative Psychology of Uncertainty Monitoring and Metacognition,” 320-326.

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Some might further contend that in order to possess ISC3, one must be able to have ‘I’
thoughts, which are dependent upon the concept of ‘I’. The concept of ‘I’, from this perspective,
appears to logically entail a conceptual awareness of the psychological self as an ‘I’. If one lacks
the concept of ‘I’, then one cannot have a coherent conception of the self, thereby making it
impossible for one to be conscious of one’s own psychological identity. When attempting to
infer a being’s capacity for ISC3, the necessity of possessing the concept ‘I’ becomes a moot
point. Even if we accept, for argument’s sake, that one must possess the concept of ‘I’ in order to
be conscious of one’s psychological self, how is it that we know that an individual possesses the
requisite concept? Here again, it seems as though we are forced to rely on linguistic behavior.
So, we apparently have no option other than linguistic behavior that can be used to justify the
existence of others’ ISC3.15
Even if we can find instances where a languaged animal (e.g. primates using American
Sign Language) is able to communicate “I know that I am embarrassed by my actions” this
would not prove that the primate in question is introspectively self-conscious3. That is, because
the fact that a chimpanzee (or some other primate) makes “I think,” “I know,” or “I feel”
comments does not necessarily indicate that the chimp is conscious of her psychological self.
However, such self-referential statements uttered by humans are also only suggestive of
the speaker’s consciousness of her psychological self. Possibly the only way to strengthen the
linguistic evidence in favor of humans having ISC3 is to have extended conversations with them.
But even this would not prove that humans are conscious of their individual psychological
selves, for we could be speaking to an android programmed to replicate organic conversation.16
There seems to be no way to completely satisfy the skeptic in such a situation. The only way that
we know that we are talking to a human being in possession of ISC3 is to have extended
interactions with her; and only then will it become apparent that she is probably introspectively
self-conscious3. Furthermore, we come to attribute ISC3 to those humans that appear to respond
in relevantly similar ways that we individually do or would in particular contexts. This
attribution is justified by the ABA; and using the ABA in such a situation is logically legitimate
because we (individually) correlate certain mental states – namely ISC3 – with certain types of
linguistic responses. If we actually rely predominantly on contextually appropriate types of
linguistic behavior to infer the ISC3 of other humans, then we should use this same method to
infer the ISC3 of other non-human subjects; doing so will not prove that the non-human subjects
possess ISC3, but the aim of the current project is to justify (through the application of the ABA)
the claim that animals probably possess ISC1-3.

15
Some amazingly interesting examples of chimpanzees learning and using ASL have been described in Roger
Fouts’ book Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me About Who We Are. The examples described in Fouts’
book are more akin to anecdotal observations than scientific observations, representing interactions between the
Fouts family and the chimps that he studied and subsequently had relationships with. Even though Fouts
successfully taught several chimps ASL, this does not necessarily mean that these languaged chimps are capable of
ISC3. It could be that these chimps are only capable of reporting on their mental states (i.e. ISC1-2) and not conscious
of their psychological selves; it is also possible that these chimps were not even capable of ISC1-2. However, some of
the conversations recounted in Next of Kin seem to suggest that the chimps were conscious of their psychological
selves.
Some may claim that all that Fouts’ account can do is help to support the claim that some primates are
aware of their own emotional states, but does little to help support the claim that they are conscious of themselves as
the subject experiencing their own emotional states.
16
Such programs currently exist and are commonly referred to as “chatterbots.”

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IV. Conclusion
I have argued that he ABA can reliably be used to logically infer from similar behavior (non-
linguistic and linguistic) that other humans and some animals are conscious in some of the same
ways as we individually are. Since the ABA is one means of justifying the existence of mental
states of other humans, and because we typically only rely on behavior to infer the mental states
of other humans, we can reasonably use the ABA to justify the existence of certain mental states
of particular animals based on behaviors that are sufficiently similar one’s own behavior. So, by
using the ABA to justify the existence of the mental states of animals, I have argued that some
animals are not only conscious but introspectively self-conscious in some of the same ways as
humans. In particular, we can use the ABA to justify the claim that some animals are capable of
mental state consciousness, mental state deliberation, and possibly psychological self-awareness.

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