Reply to Black and Wozniak on "Lloyd Morgan's Canon: A History of Misrepresentation"


Roger K Thomas
of Georgia
Athens, GA

The comment and discussion on Cheiron (and off line) this week related to my paper on HTP Prints, "Lloyd Morgan's Canon: A History of  Misrepresentation" [] has been read with humble appreciation.  In the light of the history of misrepresentation, Stephen Black rightly asked, what did Morgan intend, and Rob Wozniak contributed substantial, discussion beyond what my paper addressed.


This is to discuss a different matter related to Stephen's question, namely, "the psychological scale" to which Morgan's canon was intended to be applied.  Before I do and in case there is anyone out there who doesn't remember Morgan's canon..."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." (Morgan, 1894, p. 53)


Essential to understanding what Morgan intended regarding the canon is understanding "the psychological scale."  However, Morgan was neither concise nor precise about what he meant by the psychological scale.  The explication of Morgan's views on the psychological scale when he wrote the canon would require a lengthy paper which, minimally, should draw from his books, Animal Life and Intelligence (1891) and Introduction to Comparative Psychology (1894).


Morgan's views about the psychological scale are far more complicated than what follows here, but chapter titles in Introduction to Comparative Psychology (e.g., X-XVI) and related text bear on the meaning of the psychological scale.


X.     The Sense Experience of Animals

XI.    Automatism and Control

XII.   Instinct and Intelligence


["Intelligence, as I use the word in this work, is founded on experience; it involves the association of impressions and ideas, and it implies a power of control over the motor responses." (Morgan, 1894, p. 215).  For Morgan, intelligence appears to be similar to what is meant today by associative learning.]


XIII.  The Perception of Relations

XIV.  Do Animals Perceive Relations?

XV.   Conceptual Thought

XVI.  Do Animals Reason?


To choose one example, apparently, Morgan considered "The Perception of Relations" to be  higher on the psychological scale than "Instinct and Intelligence," although Morgan did not necessarily consider Instinct or Intelligence to be simpler or more parsimonious processes; for example, the neural mechanisms (see below) serving Instinct or Intelligence might be just as complex as those serving the Perception of Relations.


However, any consideration of the foregoing must be strongly tempered by something else that Morgan wrote in reference to a chart in Romanes' (1883) Mental Evolution in Animals.  The chart included Romanes' hypothesized "Products of Intellectual Development" which corresponds somewhat with Morgan's view of "the psychological scale."  Morgan wrote:


"I ought not to pass over without notice the psychological scale which Mr. Romanes introduces in a table prefixed to "Mental Evolution in Animals."  It would be unjust to criticize this too closely, for it is admittedly provisional and tentative.... I question, however, whether anyone can produce a scheme which any other independent observer will thoroughly endorse.  And I am inclined to think that the wisest plan is to tabulate the kinetic manifestations which we can actually observe rather than the metakineses of which we can have no independent knowledge."(1891, p. 478)


[Notes: 1. To simplify the presentation here, I did not fully represent Romanes' chart above and I omitted one sentence from Morgan's statement just quoted.  However, I believe I have accurately represented Morgan's point.


2. Romanes' chart has been reprinted at least twice; see Robert Boakes' From Darwin to Behaviourism, 1984, p. 29 and David Murray's A History of Western Psychology 1988, pp. 266-267.]


Considering the importance of "kinetic manifestations" and "metakineses" to Morgan's regard for Romanes' chart, elsewhere in Animal Life and Intelligence, Morgan discussed these at length.  The quotation that follows shows the gist of that.


"According to the monistic hypothesis [which Morgan embraced], every mode of kinesis has its concomitant metakinesis, and when the kinetic manifestations assume the form of the molecular processes in the human brain, the metakinetic manifestations assume the form of human consciousness....parallel to the evolution of organic and neural kinesis there has been an evolution of metakinetic manifestations culminating in conscious thought." (Morgan, 1891, p. 467; everything after the bracket was italicized in the original)


In short, Morgan questioned the practicality of Romanes' scale of intellectual development and anyone else's, presumably including one Morgan himself might construct.  Nevertheless, regarding Morgan's canon, he felt the need to express a guiding principle regarding use of "the psychological scale" even though the physical and psychological facts to define it were mostly hypothetical and poorly understood.  What is clear is that Morgan's canon, as he intended it in 1894, was not about parsimony, Ockham's razor, or simplicity nor did it oppose anthropomorphism or the use of anecdotes.