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Anthropomorphism, Parsimony, and Common Ancestry


  • My thanks to David Baum, Michael A. Bell, Branden Fitelson, Matt Kopec, Daniel Schneider, Larry Shapiro, Karen Strier, David S. Wilson, and an Editor of this journal for useful discussion.

Philosophy Department, 5185 Helen C. White Hall, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


I consider three theses that are friendly to anthropomorphism. Each makes a claim about what can be inferred about the mental life of chimpanzees from the fact that humans and chimpanzees both have behavioral trait B and humans produce this behavior by having mental trait M. The first thesis asserts that this fact makes it probable that chimpanzees have M. The second says that this fact provides strong evidence that chimpanzees have M. The third claims that the fact is evidence that chimpanzees have M. The third thesis follows from a plausible Reichenbachian model of how a common ancestor is probabilistically related to its descendants. The first two theses do not, and they have no general evolutionary justification.