John Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Rationality

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Reviews the book, Rational Animals?, edited by Susan Hurley and Matthew Nudds (see record 2006-08631-000). The issue raised in this book–whether nonhuman animals can be shown to be rational–has its Western origins in Aristotle's supposition that mankind alone has reason and beasts, however clever, none. In time, a boost came from Descartes, and in modern times the differences between how ethologists, neurologists, and comparative psychologists go about their work reveals the continuing tacit power of Cartesian thought. The editors are well aware of the insidious power of methodologies that hide critical research assumptions and their introductory chapter, a review and critique of the chapters forthcoming, is a model of elucidation and opinion carefully controlled. They succeed admirably in showing the reader how the chapters relate to the issue of animal rationality in this monograph-length chapter of 83 pages. There are herein contributions that alone are worth the price of the book, while there are chapters that restate well-published research programs and those that offer only the shadow of consideration of the question posed clearly by the book's title. Read as narrative in the sequence provided, and with attention to the editors' notes, the chapters evoke excitement, for this book is, just perhaps, the first edited volume to offer the intelligence–and emotion–achieved by a well-constructed novel. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved)

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