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AnimalsA History$
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Peter Adamson and G. Fay Edwards

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780199375967

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199375967.001.0001

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Morgan’s Canon

Morgan’s Canon

animal psychology in the twentieth century and beyond

(p.293) Chapter Eleven Morgan’s Canon

Helen Steward

Oxford University Press

The rule called “Morgan’s Canon,” introduced by the ethologist Conwy Lloyd Morgan at the end of the nineteenth century, states, “In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale.” It has since been subjected to repeated criticism and is now considered more or less discredited as a scientific rule. This chapter returns to the Canon to ask whether there is anything to be said for Morgan’s proposal, correcting certain misapprehensions about the original intent of the Canon and arguing that it may point toward a salutary “cautious agnosticism” with respect to animal minds.

Keywords:   Morgan’s Canon, animal psychology, philosophy of mind, animal behavior, philosophy of science

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