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


Robert H. Wozniak
Bryn Mawr College

Bryn Mawr, PA

I too applaud Roger's analysis and very much appreciate his accurate citation of my intro to the reprint of Morgan's Introduction [cf., Wozniak (1993). Conwy Lloyd Morgan, mental evolution, and the Introduction to Comparative Psychology. In C.L. Morgan, Introduction to Comparative Psychology (pp. vii-xix). London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press; Toyko: Kinokuniya.].


For what its worth, here is a brief excerpt from that introduction that addresses Morgan's actual views (from pp. ix-xi):


"Morgan's Canon is not a principle of parsimony, it was not formulated as a guide to the description of behavior, it does not dispense with mental faculties, it is not an appeal to the observable, and it is not meant to be specific to animal psychology. Even worse, it is consciously anthropomorphic and based squarely on the adequacy of the psychologist's personal introspection.


"Within the broad context of Morgan's approach to the study of mental evolution and his concern with limitations on the psychologist's ability to know other minds, the famous Canon is best read as an admonition to psychologists to know their own minds.  For Morgan, mind is consciousness. Psychical states are states of conscious experience.  Scientists who wish to understand the conscious experience of animals can do so only by analogy to their own mental processes.


"The basis for this view is Morgan's assumption that the hierarchical organization of human consciousness is the outcome of an evolutionary process at least partially shared with lower organisms.  On this assumption, human consciousness contains multiple levels of psychical organization. Certain of these levels can provide a more or less adequate basis for analogical inference concerning the nature of animal consciousness.  To prosecute such analogies successfully, however, the psychologist must satisfy two requirements.


"The first requirement, which Morgan did not formalize, might be called the principle of adequate introspection.  According to this principle, psychologists must be sufficiently skilled in analytic introspection that they can distinguish higher from lower psychical organizations within the flow of their own conscious processes.  As Morgan puts it:


'It will thus be seen that in studying other minds through their objective manifestations, it is primarily essential that we should have, so far as is possible, a thorough and accurate acquaintance with the only mind we can study at first-hand and directly, namely our own.  Without this, anything like scientific interpretation is manifestly impossible...the first duty of a psychologist is to attain accurate and systematic acquaintance with the working of his own mind, as the cipher in terms of which all other minds must be read...' (pp. 44-45).


"The second requirement, which Morgan did formalize, is his famous Canon.  In the context of Morgan's overall argument, it is clear that the intent of the Canon was to provide psychologists with a guide to the use of their own introspections.  Rephrased to emphasize this function, it might just as easily have been stated as follows:  'In employing the results of personal introspection to draw analogical inferences about the nature of animal mind, the psychologist must strictly avoid interpreting an animal's actions in terms of his or her own higher psychical processes (e.g., reasoning) when lower processes (e.g., simple association of ideas) may be sufficient.'"