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Lloyd Morgan's Canon: A History of Misrepresentation

Thomas, Roger K. (2001) Lloyd Morgan's Canon: A History of Misrepresentation.

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Almost from the beginning and continuing in the present, Morgan’s canon (best known from Morgan, 1894), a guideline for interpreting animals’ psychological processes based on evolutionary development, has been misinterpreted and, therefore, misrepresented. Misrepresentation has occurred in at least five ways. Perhaps, the three most frequent ways have been to represent Morgan’s canon as being closely related or equivalent to the law of parsimony, Ockham’s razor, and/or a simplicity criterion, i.e., that the simplest interpretation is to be preferred. The fourth and fifth misrepresentations have been to represent Morgan’s canon as having been written to oppose anthropomorphism or George Romanes’ use of anecdotes. The canon appeared on page 53 (Morgan, 1894), and beginning on page 54, Morgan explicitly disassociated the canon from a simplicity criterion and, thus, implicitly, from the law of parsimony and Ockham’s razor. He then argued, in essence, that anthropomorphic reasoning was the only way humans could explain animals’ psychological processes. In 1890 and in 1894, Morgan wrote favorably about Romanes’ collection and use of anecdotes, and Morgan’s revised version of the canon in 1903 included an apparent effort to clarify the canon to prevent some of the misinterpretations. Spanning 1928-1998, there have been at least 13 additional published efforts, often intense, to correct misinterpretations of Morgan’s canon (see Tables 1 and 3). Nevertheless, spanning 1896-2001, Morgan’s canon was misrepresented continuously, as may be seen in the 27 examples shown in Tables 1 and 2 and as may be seen in the 10 (or 11) examples of misrepresentation in recent (1991-2001) history of psychology textbooks shown in Table 4. The misrepresentations fit well with the Zeitgeist associated with the rise of experimental animal psychology and Behaviorism. The Zeitgeist of present cognitive psychology is becoming more favorable to Morgan’s canon as he intended it.

EPrint Type:Other
Keywords:Morgan's canon, animal cognition, anthropomorphism, anecdotes, law of parsimony, Occam's razor, Ockham's razor, C. Lloyd Morgan, George John Romanes
Subjects:Chronology > 20th Century
Geography > Europe
History > Intellectual
Psychology > Animal/Comparative/Ethology
Psychology > Cognition
Psychology > Evolution
Psychology > Methodology
Theory > Epistemology
Theory > Philosophy of Science
ID Code:17
Deposited By:Thomas, Roger K.
Deposited On:15 August 2001

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