- Title: What were the animals thinking? The differences between theory and practice in early modern ideas
- Date: Friday, 13th October 2023
- Time: 6pm – 8pm
- Location: Campus Central (CC.3.04)
- Speaker: Prof Erica Fudge
- Topic: Animal intelligence in the modern world, history, philosophy
- About the Lecture: In early modern thought a philosophical orthodoxy, emerging out of Aristotelian and Christian ideas, held that animals were incapable of thinking like humans; that they lacked the crucial immaterial essence, the rational soul, that gave ‘mankind’ (it was definitely men who were the assumed focus) its special status. The beasts, so the argument went, responded only instinctively to sensory prompts, whereas humans could go beyond those prompts into the realm of the abstract, and could imagine, reason, remember. At the same time as this set of assumptions about animal (lack of) reason was so dominant in printed discussions, however, there was an alternative perspective. When we turn from the library to the field – from theory to practice – something very different can be found. James VI and I, for example, was convinced his hunting hounds could perform abstract calculations; and the great horse trainer William Cavendish knew his horses were capable of acts of memory, and that, in fact, training was premised on that capacity. And then there were the cows. This talk will trace these different perspectives, and show how far theoretical discussion missed out ideas of animal capacity that were so visible, and vital, to those who worked and lived closely with them. It will make the case that the early modern past was not only the site of beast-machines and human exceptionalism, but was also home to conceptions and experiences of animal thinking and skill that was crucial to successful cross-species collaboration.