Comment on Roger Thomas' "Lloyd Morgan's Canon: A History of Misrepresentation"

 

Stephen Black
Bishop's University
Lennoxville, Québec


Alerted by Chris Green's recent note, I read Roger Thomas's fine review of misrepresentation of Lloyd Morgan's canon (available on HTP Prints at http://htpprints.yorku.ca/documents/docs/00/00/00/17/index.html).

 

I have both a comment and a query on this interesting essay.

 

First, I'm persuaded by Dr. Thomas's arguments that Morgan intended by his canon neither the use of Ockham's razor nor the rejection of anthropomorphism, two common claims made for his principle. Dr. Thomas based his conclusion on an examination of other writings of Morgan, which clarified his intent. Fair enough.

 

But what if the canon itself is examined without reference to ancillary material? It says "In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale".

 

If we ignore what Morgan really intended, what does it suggest? To me, it suggests that we should interpret animal behavior using Ockham's razor and rejecting anthropomorphism. This may well be the reason it has been so widely misrepresented by others: they were responding to what it appeared to say, rather than what Morgan intended. Moreover, I agree with what it says, and I support its use. So I have a dilemma. How can I cite Morgan's canon as a statement of an important principle in psychology when I now know that Morgan never intended to support this principle with that statement? Can I re-name it after myself?

 

And this brings me to my query about an issue not addressed in Dr. Thomas's article. If Morgan did not mean to support Ockham's razor or a rejection of anthropomorphism in his famous canon, what did he intend by his pronouncement?