24. “Only to someone’s face can one say …”

Posted on September 20, 2007

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A person has an intention, a cat has an intention, even an ant one might suppose has an intention.  Watching a fish in a tank, it is in some sense aware … But can one be certain of this?  Perhaps one wants to say that really animals are just organic machines.  (As Descartes seemed to think of them – indeed, somewhat improbably it has to be said.)  What is the evidence?  A dog doesn’t see things as I see them.  And yet aren’t there shared areas of feeling?  There are situations in which I respond to the dog as I might to a person.  With laughter, with anger, with sympathy, and so on.  The dog exhibits pain behaviour.  Emotion … When it comes to an ant the shared experience seems much less.  But even then …

An ant has no face.  But a dog does.  A visible expression.

Were I ever to have a conversation with an ant – I want to say – its expression would be invisible to me.  I wouldn’t know what it was thinking … Even could I see it clearly.

… But after a while, couldn’t I learn to recognise signs? 

“But what on earth would you talk about?”  Well, but what on earth is it that we normally talk about? (Imagine a slightly unusual dream and in the dream speaking to an ant and the ant seeming to make sense – good sense – even if on waking nothing of what was mentioned can be remembered.)

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Posted in: Evolution