Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Thinking with Animals

Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism

Lorraine Daston
Gregg Mitman
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Thinking with Animals
    Book Description:

    Is anthropomorphism a scientific sin? Scientists and animal researchers routinely warn against "animal stories," and contrast rigorous explanations and observation to facile and even fanciful projections about animals. Yet many of us, scientists and researchers included, continue to see animals as humans and humans as animals. As this innovative new collection demonstrates, humans use animals to transcend the confines of self and species; they also enlist them to symbolize, dramatize, and illuminate aspects of humans' experience and fantasy. Humans merge with animals in stories, films, philosophical speculations, and scientific treatises. In their performance with humans on many stages and in different ways, animals move us to think.

    From Victorian vivisectionists to elephant conservation, from ancient Indian mythology to pet ownership in the contemporary United States, our understanding of both animals and what it means to be human has been shaped by anthropomorphic thinking. The contributors to Thinking with Animals explore the how and why of anthropomorphism, drawing attention to its rich and varied uses. Prominent scholars in the fields of anthropology, ethology, history, and philosophy, as well as filmmakers and photographers, take a closer look at how deeply and broadly ways of imagining animals have transformed humans and animals alike.

    Essays in the book investigate the changing patterns of anthropomorphism across different time periods and settings, as well as their transformative effects, both figuratively and literally, upon animals, humans, and their interactions. Examining how anthropomorphic thinking "works" in a range of different contexts, contributors reveal the ways in which anthropomorphism turns out to be remarkably useful: it can promote good health and spirits, enlist support in political causes, sell products across boundaries of culture of and nationality, crystallize and strengthen social values, and hold up a philosophical mirror to the human predicament.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50377-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION The How and Why of Thinking with Animals
    (pp. 1-14)
    Lorraine Daston and Gregg Mitman

    We are animals; we think with animals. What could be more natural? The children’s section of every bookstore overflows with stories about animal heroes and villains; cartoons and animated feature films show the adventures of Bambi, Mickey Mouse, and the Road Runner to rapt audiences; countless pet owners are convinced that their dogs and cats understand them better than their spouses and children; television wildlife documentaries cast the lives of elephants and chimpanzees, parrots and lions, in terms of emotions and personalities that appeal to human viewers around the world. The reflexive assumption that animals are like us, despite obvious...


    • CHAPTER 1 Zoomorphism in Ancient India: Humans More Bestial Than the Beasts
      (pp. 17-36)
      Wendy Doniger

      Ancient Indian Sanskrit texts are rich in anthropomorphism, projecting human qualities upon animals, but they more particularly abound in zoomorphism, imagining humans as animals. Anthropomorphism, though more common than zoomorphism in India (as elsewhere), tells us comparatively little about animals; an anthropomorphic text assumes a basic identification, such as lion as king, and then, although the object of discourse is, theoretically, an animal, the text imagines the animal as behaving the way the human does, betraying the fact that it is interested only in kings and not at all in lions. Zoomorphism is more complex: although this time a human...

    • CHAPTER 2 Intelligences: Angelic, Animal, Human
      (pp. 37-58)
      Lorraine Daston

      It is notoriously difficult to imagine one’s way into another person’s way of thinking, feeling, being. It is allegedly impossible to imagine one’s way into the lived experience of other life forms—not only that of bats and Martians, but even of dogs and monkeys. Tolstoy’s imagining of the inner life of Anna Karenina pales beside the prospect of reconstructing from within what it is like to be an ape—or an angel. Yet the specter of impossibility has not discouraged some doughty writers from the attempt: consider two examples by authors of genius, John Milton and Franz Kafka. Here...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Experimental Animal in Victorian Britain
      (pp. 59-82)
      Paul S. White

      During the Victorian age, a greater variety of animals peopled Britain than perhaps at any period before or since. Zoos and menageries, formerly the possession of private societies and estates, began to open in the 1830s, enabling the populace to view exotic species that had previously been seen only in print.¹ Animal husbandry and breeding, a preoccupation of great landowners in the Georgian period, became a consuming passion for large networks of collectors and fanciers. Pet ownership, confined largely to the upper classes before the nineteenth century, became a widespread middle-class phenomenon.² Work animals were as prominent in the streets...


    • CHAPTER 4 Comparative Psychology Meets Evolutionary Biology: Morgan’s Canon and Cladistic Parsimony
      (pp. 85-99)
      Elliott Sober

      For many scientists, “anthropomorphism” is the name of a factual mistake and an intellectual failing. Anthropomorphism is often defined as the error of attributing human mental characteristics to nonhuman organisms; people are said to fall into this error because they are sentimental and uncritical. It is a revealing fact about current scientific culture that the opposite mistake—of mistakenly refusing to attribute human mental characteristics to nonhuman organisms—does not even have a ready name. The ethologist Frans De Waal has suggested the somewhat ungainly phrase “anthropodenial” to label this second type of error.¹ Will this phrase take hold as...

    • CHAPTER 5 Anthropomorphism and Cross-Species Modeling
      (pp. 100-118)
      Sandra D. Mitchell

      “Anthropomorphism” has long been considered a bad word in science.¹ It carries the stale dust of nineteenth-century anecdotal evidence for the continuity of humans with nonhuman animals. Darwin claims that “there can, I think, be no doubt that a dog feels shame … and something very like modesty when begging too often for food.”² But anthropomorphism is neither prima facie bad or necessarily nonscientific. It can be both, but it need not be either.

      There has been a recent resurgence of interest in anthropomorphism, attributable to two developments—the rise of cognitive ethology and the requirements of various forms of...


    • CHAPTER 6 People in Disguise: Anthropomorphism and the Human-Pet Relationship
      (pp. 121-136)
      James A. Serpell

      Sometime ago, I received an e-mail message from a middle-aged woman (whom I shall call Alice) living in Philadelphia with her elderly mother, and a Maltese terrier (whom I shall call Sweetpea):

      Dear Dr. Serpell, I have a 4 year-old Maltese Terrier who knows things no dog knows. She knows all of the letters of the alphabet. When I put the letters in front of her, she will show me with her paw any letter I ask for. She knows the letters in order from A to Z, and she will pick them out even if they are upside down....

    • CHAPTER 7 Digital Beasts as Visual Esperanto: Getty Images and the Colonization of Sight
      (pp. 137-172)
      Cheryce Kramer

      What do we have here? A stuffed-iguana hat? An attention-seeking punk? Our attention is drawn into the image in search of an answer. The eye travels up the profile, around the reptilian tail, along the arched back, past limpid feet, to the scaly head, and down the neck. Each element contributes a fragment of information from which meaning can be configured.

      The photographer contends that we are to read this pose as “a statement of arch-individuality.” The message, at a level of affirmative identification, is roughly: I’m a nonconformist free spirit, I wear whatever I like and I pull it...


    • CHAPTER 8 Pachyderm Personalities: The Media of Science, Politics, and Conservation
      (pp. 175-195)
      Gregg Mitman

      To become an elephant: a fictional idea when Romain Gary published his internationally best-selling novel in 1958, this became an important scientific question a decade later among a generation of elephant researchers inspired by Gary’s novel to pursue their own single-minded cause to save the African elephant. The Los Angeles premiere of the Discovery Channel’s forty-minute large-format film, Africa’s Elephant Kingdom, in May 1998, drew upon thirty years of ethological research to bring viewers an intimate portrait of elephant family life and social relations told through the eyes of Old Bull, a sixty-year-old male elephant in Amboseli National Park who...

    • CHAPTER 9 Reflections on Anthropomorphism in The Disenchanted Forest
      (pp. 196-222)
      Sarita Siegel

      The Disenchanted Forest is a documentary film that I made in 2002, broadcast to over 250 countries worldwide on standard and satellite television via National Geographic International and National Geographic US. The film takes viewers on a journey chronicling the rehabilitation of formerly captive orangutans in Indonesian Borneo. The film explores the drama, knowledge, and wonderment embodied in interactions between human and nonhuman species. Audiences are transported deep into the Bornean rainforest where Dr. Anne Russon has studied orangutan intelligence and psychology for fourteen years. Dr. Russon understands intimately how infant orangutans suffer at the hands of the illegal pet...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 223-230)
    (pp. 231-231)