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Hume, David - Animals have similar functions to humans



Type of Spiritual Experience


An important observation at the time, as animals were often called 'beasts' and treated appallingly, so this observation would have flown in the face of many of the more egotistical, unkind and unempathetic, not to mention unobservant , of his day

A description of the experience

Treatise of Human Nature/Book 1: Of the understanding by David Hume
PART III: Of knowledge and probability.
Section 16: Rules by which to judge of causes and effects
Of the reason of animals.
Next to the ridicule of denying an evident truth, is that of taking much pains to defend it; and no truth appears to me more evident, than that beasts are endow'd with thought and reason as well as men. ...........

We are conscious, that we ourselves, in adapting means to ends, are guided by reason and design [objectives/desires], and that 'tis not ignorantly nor casually we perform those actions, which tend to self-preservation, to the obtaining pleasure, and avoiding pain. When therefore we see other creatures, in millions of instances, perform like actions, and direct them to like ends, all our principles of reason and probability carry us with an invincible force to believe the existence of a like cause. .........

This doctrine is as useful as it is obvious, and furnishes us with a kind of touchstone, by which we may try every system in this species of philosophy. 'Tis from the resemblance of the external actions of animals to those we ourselves perform, that we judge their internal likewise to resemble ours; and the same principle of reasoning, carry'd one step farther, will make us conclude that since our internal actions resemble each other, the causes, from which they are deriv'd, must also be resembling. ........

Let us therefore put our present system concerning the nature of the understanding to this decisive trial, and see whether it will equally account for the reasonings of beasts as for these of the human species.

.....A dog, that avoids fire and precipices, that shuns strangers, and caresses his master, affords us an instance of the first kind. ...................As to the former actions, I assert they proceed from a reasoning, that is not in itself different, nor founded on different principles, from that which appears in human nature. 'Tis necessary in the first place, that there be some impression immediately present to their memory or senses, in order to be the foundation of their judgment. From the tone of voice the dog infers his master's anger, and foresees his own punishment. From a certain sensation affecting his smell, he judges his game not to be far distant from him.

Secondly, The inference he draws from the present impression is built on experience, and on his observation of the conjunction of objects in past instances. As you vary this experience, he varies his reasoning. .....

The source of the experience

Hume, David

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