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Anthropomorphism as Cognitive Bias

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Philosophers and psychologists have long worried that the human tendency to anthropomorphize leads us to err in our understanding of nonhuman minds. This tendency, which I call intuitive anthropomorphism, is a heuristic used by our unconscious folk psychology to understand nonhuman animals. The dominant understanding of intuitive anthropomorphism underestimates its complexity. If we want to understand and control intuitive anthropomorphism, we must treat it as a cognitive bias and look to the empirical evidence. This evidence suggests that the most common control for intuitive anthropomorphism, Morgan’s Canon, should be rejected, while others are incomplete. It also suggests new approaches.

Cognitive Sciences
Philosophy of Science , Volume 84 , Issue 5 , December 2017 , pp. 1152 - 1164
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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Thanks to Lauren Olin, John Doris, and Carrie Figdor for reading drafts of the article, to Danny Povinelli and Marta Halina for helpful conversations, and to participants at presentations at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Nevada, Reno, Colby College, Bates College, and of course the 2016 Philosophy of Science Association meeting in Atlanta.


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