The Philosopher/Theorists of Animal Research and Their Shiny New Theories
An Animal Rights Article from


David Irving
July 2016

From The Cruel Science: Animal Research from Aristotle to the 21st Century
By David Irving

Chapter 12 - The Philosopher/Theorists of Animal Research and Their Shiny New Theories:

The work of animal cognition scientists and ethologists are persuasive in showing that animals are conscious, feeling, thinking beings which experience suffering and joy in their lives just like human beings. Yet even as the arguments supporting the nonrationality of animals begin to give way because they cannot be logically or scientifically supported, a new breed of philosopher/theorists and professional animal research advocates has emerged to buttress the same ancient theories which justify animal experiments based on the same ancient claims that animals lack consciousness, do not experience pain to any significant degree, and therefore have no inherent rights.

Using Language to try to Defeat the Animal Rights Movement

Grasping that they might be losing the debate, this new group of animal research supporters has become adept at inventing erudite highly sophisticated sounding arguments which they present in peer journals and books aimed at a professional audience as a means of promoting animal research. To read their work often requires a familiarity with subjects like philosophy, psychology, biology, and/or linguistics. Writings like these impress policy makers and help maintain institutional policy toward animal research in government agencies like the NIH and the university and biomedical research system which supports and relies on animal research. Consider, for example, the following two paragraphs taken from the beginning of an article written by Professor Peter Carruthers, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland. (Professor Carruthers’ work will be discussed in greater detail in subsequent chapters.)

2. Against First-Order Representationalism

One major difficulty with first-order-representationalist accounts in general, is that they cannot distinguish between what the world is like for an organism, and what the organism's experience of the world is like for the organism. This distinction is very frequently overlooked in discussions of phenomenal consciousness. People will move (sometimes in the space of a single sentence) from saying that an account explains what colour is like for an organism with colour-vision, to saying that it explains what experiences of colour are like for that organism. But the first is a property of the world (or of a world-perceiver pair, perhaps), whereas the latter is a property of the organism's experience of the world (or of an experience-experiencer pair). These are plainly distinct.

We therefore need to distinguish between two different sorts of subjectivity [1] - between worldly-subjectivity and mental-state-subjectivity. In fact we need to distinguish between phenomenal properties of the world, on the one hand, and phenomenal properties of the subject's experience of the world, on the other. First-order representationalism may be adequate to account for the former; but not to explain the latter, where some kind of higher-order theory is surely needed. Which of these two deserves to be called “phenomenal consciousness”? There is nothing (or nothing much) in a name; and I am happy whichever reply is given. But it is the subjectivity of experience which seems to be especially problematic - if there is a "hard problem" of consciousness, it surely lies here. And a first-order theory can plainly make no progress with it.

The paragraphs above have not been taken out of context from a random source in order to show how dense and esoteric this author’s writings can be or to find an example that sounds like gobbledygook. These are the opening two paragraphs of an article titled “Animal Subjectivity” which follow a short introduction so that the author obviously presupposes an understanding by the audience of the material he presents. The article was written for the purpose of discussing what the author refers to as the “phenomenal consciousness of animals.” Professor Carruthers has also written a book titled Phenomenal Consciousness.

Language like the above intended for a specialized audience evokes comparisons with the use of Latin in the Medieval church as a useful tool for distancing the clergy from the parishioners and the public thus preventing them from participating in the kinds of policy making the clerical decision-makers were undertaking to manage their affairs. Being abstract is one of the tools writers in support of animal research rely upon in writing for both peer journals and for the general public. It serves as a method for manipulating the information flow about animal research in an attempt to control the future destiny of animals. These writings influence the decision makers who set priorities in regard to animal research including its promotion, funding, and policy setting and also serve to keep the public in the dark and from storming the brigades. An examination of the subject matter in the writing above, however, consciousness in animals (which will be undertaken in chapter 13), reveals that it simply dresses up the same old theories with fancy new names, surrounding them with complex arguments that obfuscate and make them difficult to understand.

The Language of Animals

One popular theory that has been in circulation for centuries that present-day philosopher/theorists continue to try to prop up, states that animals lack consciousness because consciousness requires language. In 1998 Euan MacPhail, a British psychologist, wrote The Evolution of Consciousness, a book that hones in on the subject. The media eagerly awaits books like this and jumps on board as soon as they are published as though the authors have latched onto some new and exciting theory never heard before. When MacPhail’s book came out, reviewers described it as an intellectual tour de force and a book that proves that animals lack consciousness. But MacPhail’s book, based entirely on speculation, proved no such thing. He contended that there is no proof that any nonhumans possess consciousness and that it is the use of language itself by the infant growing up that creates a sense of self that is the necessary condition for consciousness. An examination of the historical record comparing the human animal to the nonhuman animal, however, reveals the insufficiency of this theory.[2]

Anthropologists and archaeologists tell us that our human ancestors did not have the anatomical capability for uttering language prior to 150,000 or so years ago. If this is true, the only logical inference that can be drawn is that if language is a requirement for consciousness then prehistoric humans who did not speak language could not have been conscious beings and further that consciousness is a construct that without language does not exist.

It follows from this kind of argument that consciousness only began once human beings started speaking words and that before language existed humans were just one of countless other species of living creatures mindlessly running around the jungle, all possessing not a shred of awareness of what they were, who they were, where they were, or what they were doing. Simple observation, such as taking note of the artifacts left behind by prehistoric human beings, shows that this could hardly be true. Further, when an event or an action occurs in an environment—say a threat from another species—human beings, who possess language, might cry out with words like “watch out!” or “help!” A dog, being unable to speak words, might respond with barks or growls. A lion with a roar. A little monkey with a chittering, fearful sound. A bird with a squack or a cheep. But all of these species along with humans would be having a similar experience which could only register in the mind “consciously.”

While philosopher/theorists for animal research continue to paraphrase and rearrange the wording of their definitions for consciousness and invent new criteria for trying to prove that animal consciousness does not exist, such as that language is a requirement for consciousness, human consciousness surely existed for millions of years before the advent of language. It is only logical that human consciousness prior to language must have been similar to how other species consciously experienced their environments, taking into account the many variations that exist between species. This makes common sense. And “common sense,” the author submits, is made not through language, but in a place in the mind where words do not exist but for which many words do exist to describe it, including intuition, perception, awareness, spontaneous realization, insight, sixth sense, mental acuity, instinct, hunch, and many more.

The archaeological and anthropological evidence shows that way before the invention of language human beings were communicating with each other in a sophisticated manner such as through making tools and weapons, building shelters, cooking, and using pigments, possibly for body adornment or for the purpose of creating rock art.

It is clear that no matter how factual and scientific the evidence offered in opposition to their theories may be, animal researchers and their supporters will continue to ignore all evidence that disproves their theories while they recycle the same ancient ideas about animal consciousness, polishing them up to make them appear new. This is the manner in which they keep theories alive such as that animals lack consciousness or that language is a requirement for consciousness.

Animal researchers from the days of Aristotle to the present have made the mistake of assuming that the human word-reliant process called language is what thought consists of with little reference to the different levels of perception which words attempt to convey. Because only human beings are capable of using language to describe different levels of perception, animal researchers have wrongly assumed that animals do not perceive the exterior and interior world around and within them. In assuming that animals do not possess consciousness because they do not possess language, these researchers have overlooked the function of language, which is to communicate these inner and outer perceptions, the interactions of which produce consciousness..

Animals perceive the world around them just like human beings do, taking into account their species-specific variations. The major difference is that animals do not have the anatomic capability to funnel their perceptions into articulated, representational sounds in order to organize and express them in the succinct manner that language permits. Even so, animals are able to use and combine their individual perceptions of both their outer and inner worlds in ways that have meaning for them. These perceptions become a part of their consciousness in the same way as happens with human beings such as when a dog knows what is about to happen when the dog’s companion keeper picks up a stick from the ground in preparation for throwing it for the dog to fetch. The dog’s knowledge in such an event is an expression of the dog’s consciousness of exterior events. When the author’s cats come to him to communicate that they want him to pick them up and hold them because they want his affection and love, this is an expression of their consciousness of interior events. Memory is involved, obviously, just as it is with human beings.

Pre-20th century philosophers and physiologists like Aristotle and Immanuel Kant did not have the archaeological evidence available today that would have told them the story of how sixteen or so earlier species of humans occupied the earth for about seven million years without the ability to speak words. As for how the latest species to appear on the planet, Homo sapiens, fits into the puzzle, it was only after wandering around Africa for 50 to 100 thousand years or so after their arrival some 250,000 years ago that they began articulating words and fashioning them into language after, it is theorized, an anatomical change (the dropping of the larynx) permitted them to do so.[3]

Clearly, humans did not just suddenly become “rational” beings capable of thinking once they acquired the use of language. Like every other species of animal, thinking for the human animal consisted of the interaction of nonverbal perceptions contained in the mind prior to acquiring language skills. Depending upon their anatomic structure and whether they were land, sea, or air animals, animals (including humans) communicated through a variety of techniques that included a diversity of vocalizations, calls, noises, gestures, changes in the pitch of vocally produced sounds, facial expressions, eye contact, head posture, body language, scents and smells, and, far from least, intuition and sensitivity toward intention. Whoever thinks that animals do not have a sensitivity toward intention only has to approach a dog in a manner the dog might perceive as threatening. The author suggests caution should the dog being approached be on the large side with a strong protective sense toward his/her companion keeper.

Armed with today’s archaeological and anthropologic information, it should be self-evident, just as Hume observed, that animals have always been conscious creatures able to think just like human beings have always been able to think before they acquired the ability to utter sounds in the coherent and systematic way called language. Consciousness and its expression is consistent with all species of animals, including humans, in that it occurs but differs according to the individual characteristics of species and what and how they communicate. This can be partially understood in the case of nonhuman animals by observing their reactions to events in their environments.

The major difficulty in measuring consciousness between nonhuman animals and human animals is that human animals possess language which makes it easier to measure consciousness through the medium of words. The absence of some kind of verbal language presents an obstacle in understanding nonhuman consciousness, comparatively speaking, because nonhuman animals (with the exception of parrots, hummingbirds, songbirds, bats, and cetaceans—a subject that will not be addressed here) cannot express themselves through words. Some animals, of course, whales and dolphins, communicate with each other through other kinds of complex vocal sounds.

What is Animal Consciousness?

A general idea of what animal consciousness might be like can be obtained comparatively speaking by examining human consciousness minus language. This can be achieved easily enough by silently observing a given situation without verbalizing (with thoughts) what is happening in the visual field being observed. It quickly becomes apparent that everything in this visual field has meaning that is instantly understood according to past experience. If a bird flies across the sky, the observer understands that he/she has just seen a bird flying across the sky. Or, if we could go back in time to walk the forest floor 175,000 years ago before the advent of language and observe a fellow member of our Homo sapiens species using a rock as a hammer in constructing a roof for a dwelling, we would understand the exact meaning of what we were observing, though we might do no more than utter some kind of nonverbal sound to express the experience. The same applies to animals. When the author’s three cats observe him preparing their dinner, they know exactly what he is doing and watch with the keenest interest sometimes uttering a chorus of cat meows. They understand everything they see all day long with a similar sense of perception. When a bird flies across the sky animals observe it in the same way as Homo sapiens except that what they see is experienced according to species-specific characteristics. A cat watching the bird might instantly be absorbed in the desire to “catch it.” A human might observe the beauty of the bird in flight.

Is it possible that a cat might also marvel at the beauty of a bird’s flight in its own way? Questions like this cannot currently be answered without speculation because the evidence does not exist to answer these kinds of questions accurately. The study of animal aesthetics, however, contributes to an understanding of what may go on inside the minds of animals in regard to aesthetic appreciation of their environment. It has been observed, for example, that Bowerbirds “arrange objects of selected shapes and colors on their bower as a means of attracting a partner.” [4] Human beings do the same in a variety of ways including the clothing they select to wear when they go courting. On such occasions, humans are careful to dress in a manner that pleases them aesthetically based in part on color. The prospect that Bowerbirds have an aesthetic appreciation of the objects and their colors they arrange on their bowers as they search for a mate is a distinct possibility. Similarly, the idea that a cat can appreciate the beauty of a bird in flight should not be ruled out.

Homo sapiens were fortunate to develop the ability to create different sounds to communicate the wide varieties of experience that occurred within their fields of interior and exterior perception. They were able to use these articulated sounds and to systematically organize and develop them into language. Thus when humans saw a neighboring human building a roof, as in our prehistoric example, they would have fashioned the word “roof” as a partial means for describing the experience. The word “bird” would have sufficed to describe living creatures with flapping protuberances that glided across the blue expanse above that they learned to call “sky.” Such words as “roof,” “bird,” and “sky” were descriptive of events that occurred in their exterior field of perception. To describe their interior field of perception, they would have fashioned a different set of words such as “love” to describe amorous emotions toward other Homo sapiens. But words like roof, bird, sky, and love are only simple symbols used in an attempt to describe deeper levels of exterior and interior perception. Assigning individual vocalizations to perceptions and then combining them with other vocalizations describing various perceptions drawn from a large repertoire of exterior and interior perceptions and then organizing them in a coherent way produces language. This is an obvious oversimplification, but it illustrates how words are used to describe the interior and exterior worlds of perception that reside in the mind. It is the combining of these perceptions verbally that animals are incapable of doing because they are anatomically capable of articulating only a few individual sounds into coherent expressions of their perceptions. Nevertheless, their minds are far from empty and animals have their own language for communicating their perceptions to each other. If we listen and pay close attention, we are certain to learn a little more about what they are saying.


  1. Peter Carruthers, “Animal Subjectivity,” PSYCHE, 4(3) (April, 1998), 
  2. George Mandler, Consciousness Recovered: Psychological functions and origins of conscious thought, (Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing, 2002), 70
  3. As previously noted, it has been theorized that language began when the high position of the larynx in the vocal tract dropped creating an expanded pharynx (the five inch tube that starts at the nose and descends to the esophagus) which would allow the tongue the freedom of movement necessary for articulating vowel and consonant sounds. An ongoing debate continues as to when this would have occurred. This author presently accepts the argument that it would have started about 150 thousand years ago and took an additional 100,000 years for humans to really develop language that was adequate to express the interior and exterior worlds of their life experience.
  4. Gisela Kaplan.and Lesley J. Rogers “Elephants That Paint, Birds That Make Music: Do Animals Have an Aesthetic Sense?” Cerebrum, The Dana Foundation, October 1, 2006. 

I believe the AR movement must begin to recognize that we do have the necessary scientific proof and irrefutable logic to defeat the deceitful attempts of those members of the science community who define animals as secondary life forms which human beings are free to exploit however they choose. These lying so-called scientists rightly deserve our scorn, contempt, and absolute refutation of their pseudo concepts and ideas. It is time for the larger world of science to disown them for their untruthful, dishonest work which does not even employ the scientific method to test their wild theories. Nor, for that matter, have they ever.

For more, please read The Cruel Science: Animal Research from Aristotle to the 21st Century.

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