UArizona Philosophy PhD Students, Rhys Borchert and Aliya Dewey, win PAMBA essay prize

March 3, 2023

The Philosophy of Animal Minds and Behavior Association (PAMBA) is pleased to announce the winners of the first PAMBA essay prize:

Rhys Borchert and Aliya Dewey
‘In Praise of Animals’

ABSTRACT: Reasons-responsive accounts of praiseworthiness say, roughly, that an agent is praiseworthy for an action if the reasons that explain why they acted are also the reasons that explain why the action is right. In this paper, we argue that reasons-responsive accounts imply that some actions of non-human animals are praiseworthy. Trying to exclude non-human animals, we argue, risks neglecting cases of inadvertent virtue in human action and undermining the anti-intellectualist commitments that are typically associated with reasons-responsive accounts. Of course, this could be taken as a reason to reject reasons-responsive accounts, rather than as a reason to attribute praiseworthiness to non-human animal action. We respond to two reasons that one might resist the implication that non-human animal action is praiseworthy. The first appeals to intuition: it’s too counterintuitive to attribute praiseworthiness to non-human animal action. In response, we argue that once the factors that determine an action’s praiseworthiness are disambiguated from the factors that determine whether an agent should be praised, the intuitive objection loses much of its force. The second appeals to empirical evidence: attributing praiseworthiness to non-human animal action involves a problematic kind of anthropomorphizing. First, we point out that this objection is mostly an a priori objection in a posteriori clothes: whether we give anthropomorphic vs. anthropectic explanations is a methodological choice, not an empirical one. Second, we argue that considerations from the cognitive modeling literature actually support anthropomorphic explanations over anthropectic explanations.

The PAMBA essay prize was created to support early career researchers interested in philosophical questions relating to the diversity of minds found across species. The winning paper will be published in Biology and Philosophy. The authors will also receive a travel bursary of up to 3000 CAD to present their work at the Inaugural Meeting of PAMBA, to be held in Madrid in April 26–28, 2023.

The jurors for this year’s competition were Colin Allen (University of Pittsburgh), Kristin Andrews (York University), Lori Gruen (Wesleyan University), and Richard Moore (University of Warwick).