Harriet Ritvo, professor of history at MIT and author of The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age (Harvard, 1987).
The Hidden Life of Dogs, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (Houghton Mifflin, 1993). "Thomas, a novelist and anthropologist, makes a scientifically and intellectually informed case for anthropomorphism. She asserts that dogs have motives that we can understand, and she talks about dog love and friendship in terms we use to describe our own social relations, including marriage. Thomas argues her case in the way that it has traditionally been argued--anecdotally, though she is very much aware of the mixed reputation of anthropomorphism and anecdotal writing. Too often, people who consider themselves serious thinkers ignore both, although neither is unusual. She chooses not to write as a scientist, and even conceals the degree of her expertise; in a way, both her argument and her method are a modern sequel to Darwin's."
Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People, by Dale Peterson and Jane Goodall (Houghton Mifflin, 1993). "This book is an exploration of the ways humans and apes come into contact--in literature, scientific experiments, circuses, households--and amounts to an argument that people do certain troubling things to animals because they are unable to recognize the continuity of mental process between humans and other species. It speculates about, among other things, whether Caliban was a chimpanzee--which is not a wild idea, considering that up until the eighteenth century, scientists were unclear about the boundaries of the human species (they excluded some humans and included some apes). Though the authors come from very different backgrounds (Goodall is a scientist, albeit an eccentric one, and Peterson teaches writing), unlike most coauthored works the book preserves both their voices, allowing for a dialogue between a scientific perspective and a more humanistic one."
Amusements philosophiques sur le language de bêtes, by Père Bougeaint. "Father Bougeaint, an approximate contemporary of Descartes, begins by announcing that he will spend his spare weekend doing a number on Descartes by proving that animals have language. He describes puppies playing and making false attacks on each other and asks, 'How could they not be laughing?' It's quite charming to read, and all the modern arguments worth a damn are there. Bougeaint trod very carefully to avoid implying that animals have souls (an idea that didn't fly with the Catholic church), but a later edition includes an author's retraction, so I guess they must have gotten to him."
Animal Minds and Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate, by Richard Sorabji (Cornell, 1993). "Sorabji is a classical philosopher whom detractors refer to as an argument collector, but he's the only real scholar this field has. He starts Animal Minds by examining philosophical treatments of animals in ancient Greece--revealing, for instance, the complexities and political elements of Aristotle's views, which we tend to think of as a flat-out denial of animals' ability to reason. From there he goes on to current thinking and argues that the animal-rights movement is philosophically incoherent (although he does feel strongly that animals should be treated better). His philosophical analysis is so thorough that anyone who's thinking about these issues has an obligation to read this book. He's wrong about my work, but he's wrong in such an interesting way that it's okay."
Nop's Hope, by Donald McCaig (Crown, 1994). "This is a dog novel [for children] in which a dog talks to its handler when no one else is around. It talks in 'thees' and 'thous,' and a reader has to ask why it does that--but, then again, the gap between that and the way people and dogs usually talk to each other isn't much greater than the difference between the way people talk to each other in life and the way they talk in most novels. It's about time someone started locating the really worthwhile children's stories about animals that are not just ASPCA propaganda. McCaig is a no-nonsense dog trainer, so Nop's Hope has the tremendous advantage of having been written by someone who actually works with dogs."
Daniel Dennett, director of the Tufts Center for Cognitive Studies and author of Consciousness Explained (Little, Brown, 1991).
Through Our Eyes Only? The Search for Animal Consciousness, by Marian Stamp Dawkins (W.H. Freeman, 1993). "Dawkins, an ethologist in Oxford's zoology department, has written several books that describe her investigations into what animals care about, what they mind, what they'll work through obstacles to get. In this book, she gives the lie to the lazy skepticism that assumes we can never know what it's like to be another animal: we can, she says, we just have to do the work to find out. Dawkins's experiments often have surprising results, such as her discovery that hens have relative preferences (they like bedding to scratch around in, but they'll work less hard to get it than they will for food). This study also has a very serious purpose: helping people get the facts about what's humane and what's cruel."
Machiavellian Intelligence: Social Expertise and the Evolution of Intellect in Monkeys, Apes, and Humans, edited by Richard Byrne and Andrew Whiten. (Oxford, 1988). "There's a lot of interest among ethologists right now in deception and manipulation as practiced between members of the same species--in competition for mates or food, usually--because the attempt to create a false belief requires the knowledge that an organism can be wrong. That manipulation of another's perception has to involve a particularly sophisticated intelligence. So researchers are looking for "strong" cases of deliberate deception, when an animal appears to dream up a strategem for deceiving another. "In previous works, Byrne and Whiten gathered all the field notes people had taken on the deviousness (what they call the "Machiavellian ploys") of primates. This book contains reflections by these researchers on the difficulties of conducting this sort of inquiry. The book raises more questions than it answers, but it has pointed the way to a number of successful experiments. It's an inquiry very much in flux, but it is the place to go to see the state of the art."
David DeGrazia, assistant professor of philosophy at George Washington University and author of Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status (Cambridge, 1996).
The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain, and Science, by Bernard Rollin (Oxford, 1990). "Early forms of behaviorism promoted the implausible idea that animals had no conscious life, and Rollin, a philosopher at Colorado State University, takes on this idea quite effectively. He shatters several of the myths that stand in the way of attributing rich emotional and cognitive life to higher animals (though I think he misinterprets Wittgenstein's philosophy of language) and discusses what it means for scientists to develop theories denying that animals suffer when they (the scientists) need animals to experiment upon. Most notably, Rollin examines the self-serving ideology of value neutrality. That's a value judgment in itself, says Rollin; let's acknowledge that values permeate science and start looking at a wider variety of evidence."
How Monkeys See the World: Inside the Mind of Another Species, by Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth (Chicago, 1990). "This is very much a book by scientists (Cheney and Seyfarth teach biology and psychology, respectively, at the University of Pennsylvania), but it's also substantially informed by philosophy of mind. It begins with the question of what it's like to be a vervet monkey, and asks what kinds of social and family knowledge vervet monkeys have to have. Cheney and Seyfarth discuss, for example, the fact that vervets have different alarm calls, which seem to be semantic, to warn each other of different kinds of danger. What, then, can we attribute to these monkeys in terms of mental processes? The writers also set up controlled experiments to explore the phenomenon of vervet deception--how these monkeys falsely imply the presence of danger to get other monkeys' food, for example. It has been clear for a while that monkeys can express certain things about, and thereby manipulate, their environment, but these experiments do not indicate that they actually have an understanding of other monkeys' mental states."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.