The Dennes Room

Event Detail

Thu Feb 12, 2015
Howison Library, 4–6 PM
Philosophy Colloquium
Hayley Clatterbuck (University of Wisconsin - Madison)
Are Humans the Only Theorizers?: A Philosophical Examination of the Theory-Theory of Human Uniqueness

Abstract: One of the central problems in comparative psychology is to explain how humans came to have such exceptional cognitive abilities – we alone have sophisticated languages, cultures, tool use, and scientific reasoning – despite our recent common ancestry with our closest primate relatives. One promising explanation is provided by the theory-theory of human uniqueness, according to which humans alone evolved the capacity to theorize – to reason about theoretical entities, events, and relations in a way analogous to theory usage in scientific practice – and this capacity underlies many of our behavioral differences with other species. In this talk, I examine a tension at the heart of this account. I argue that a prominent argument that theory-theorists use to deny that animals are theorizers threatens to undermine their claim that theorizing plays a tremendously adaptive epistemic role in human cognition. After developing this challenge to the view, I draw on arguments from the philosophy of science to illuminate the roles that theories play and to suggest new avenues for testing for the presence of theories in other species.