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Four Paradigms in Comparative Psychology

Pence, David (2020) Four Paradigms in Comparative Psychology. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The following examines the development of comparative psychology and the evidence, arguments, and epistemological challenges that have characterized its approach to the question of animal rationality. I distinguish between four modes of research that come to prominence at different points in its history, the natural historical, strict behavioral, cognitive, and neurophysiological, analyzing each through a critical episode in its development and the set of claims associated with the approach. The first study concerns the field’s Darwinian origins and its early commitment to the fundamental similarity of human and animal minds. I argue from a close reading of Darwin’s notebooks that the critical break for the nascent field came not from an antecedent endorsement to evolutionary theory, as commonly supposed, but a set of political and philosophical commitments inherited from the Enlightenment. Next, I show how this approach proved vulnerable to attack from younger and more positivistic psychologists in the twentieth century. I analyze why the Darwinians were accused of employing less than scientific methods, explaining how this fact helped precipitate a shift toward more conservative standards of evidence and strictly lab-based research. From there, I consider how the behavioral tools of this era have left modern ‘cognitive’ research with nagging underdetermination issues. I argue that strictly behavioral methods cannot tell us what the nature of animal thought is but that other methods may. Finally, I consider the state of the rationality debate at present. Drawing on the most recent evidence from systems neuroscience, I argue that animals as distant as rats have the capacity to engage in basic forms of reasoning ventured by Darwin and suspected but never quite shown in the cognitive era.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Pence, Davidpence.evan@gmail.comdep600000-0002-0331-7164
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMachery,
Committee MemberChirimuuta,
Committee MemberAllen,
Committee MemberWu,
Committee MemberLennox,
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 2 June 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 2 July 2020
Access Restriction: 1 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 1 year.
Number of Pages: 199
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Animal Cognition; Comparative Psychology; Darwin; Animal Rationality; Psychical Research; Measurement
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 14:46
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2021 05:15


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