Why should we call them non-human animals?

Why should we call them non-human animals?

Why should we call them non-human animals?

by Miriana Maio

Non-human animals or animals? Which term should we use? Why should we use one instead of the other? Presumably, “non-human animals” is the appropriate way to refer to animals, as we have many things in common. To be precise: “there are vast differences between animals and humans – as well as some surprising similarities” (Birch, Hayward, and Malim, 1996, p. 2).

These similarities are found, for instance, in communication (i.e., redundancy, productivity, turn- taking, acquisition, memory) (Rossano and Kaufhold, 2021, pp. 22–26). I would say that the traditional view that sees non-human animals as machines is almost overcome.

Nowadays, it is widely known that non-human animals are intelligent sentient beings and should not be underestimated. Godrey-Smith (2016) wrote that they are good at multiple things (pp. 50—51). Their intelligence may differ from humans; however, they can do incredible and complex things. Also, non-human animals have a high level of awareness: theory of mind, self-recognition, and intentionality (Marchesini, 2007, § 7). Aren’t those complex cognitive capacities?

Not to mention that non-human animals can also discriminate between objects and non-objects*, as well as distinguish between edible and inedible food (Andrews, 2020, p. 122). Having a language does not necessarily mean being intelligent (Dupre, 1996, p. 331). As it happens, non-human animals are not linguistic creatures, but through symbolic communication, they communicate with their counterparts and are able to acquire new information and use it in novel situations (Rossano and Kaufhold, 2021)**.

They are not automata. Non-human animals have endowments that they use with creativity and intelligence when necessary (Marchesini, 2022). Even humans have such endowments and use creativity to survive in a world with plenty of obstacles. The tabula-rasa theory doesn’t apply!

Creativity means being able to face challenges by adapting one’s behaviour and making use of the abovementioned endowments as tools. In addition, it means being prepared to learn new skills to survive and solve new problems (Marchesini, 2022).

Humans and non-human animals can acquire new information, store it and retrieve it when needed. For example, a grey parrot acquired new labels referring to shapes and objects (Pepperberg, 2021). Dogs, in particular a few talented Border collies, were able to acquire new toy names (see Fugazza et al., 2021).

Non-human animals are underestimated, but they are incredibly similar to humans. Apart from communication, non-human animals and humans share similarities concerning social behaviour as well. Many non-human animals need to establish social relationships, as humans do. Indeed, social deprivation has consequences, i.e., impairment of mind maturation (Marchesini, 2022, pp. 108— 109).

Furthermore, the role of mothers in the animal kingdom is equally essential. As Marchesini (2022) says: “the mother plays a central role in fostering the young’s experiences (learning facilitation) and in passing on information or behavioural models” (p. 101)***.

Having said that, do you keep believing that non-human animals and humans are utterly distant from each other? Comment down below if you have doubts, feedback or even criticism to express.

*Pigeons were able to discriminate between a tree and a non-tree (see Hernstein, Loveland & Cable, 1976 and Watanabe, Sakamoto & Wakita., 1995).

**For a recent discussion, see Marchesini (2022). ***Marchesini (2022) quoted John Bowlby’s studies.



Andrews, K. (2020). The animal mind. An introduction to the Philosophy of animal cognition (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203712511


Birch, A., Hayward, S., &, Malim, T. (1996). Comparative Psychology. Human and animal behaviour: a sociobiological approach. (1st ed.). New York: Macmillan Publishers. https://www.perlego.com/book/3008500/comparative-psychology-human-and-animal-behaviour- a-sociobiological-approach-pdf

Dupré, J. (1996). The mental lives of nonhuman animals. In M. Bekoff & D. W. Jamieson (Eds.), Readings in animal cognition (pp. 323–336). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Fugazza, C., et al. (2021). Word learning dogs (Canis familiaris) provide an animal model for studying exceptional performance, Sci Rep 11, 14070 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021- 93581-2**

Godfrey-Smith, P. (2016). Other minds. The octopus and the evolution of intelligent life. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hernstein, R. J., Loveland, D. H., & Cable, C. (1976). Natural concepts in pigeons. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 2(4), 285–302. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/0097-7403.2.4.285

Marchesini, R. (2007, May 6). Quello che pensano le altre specie. Arianna Editrice. Retrieved August 27, 2022, from https://www.ariannaeditrice.it/articolo.php?id_articolo=10833

Marchesini, R. (2022). The creative animal. How every animal builds its own existence. London: Palgrave Macmillan Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-07414-1

Pepperberg, I. (2021). Symbolic communication in the grey parrot. In A. Kaufman, J. Call & J. Kaufman (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of animal cognition (pp. 56–73). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108564113.005

Rossano, F., & Kaufhold, S. (2021). Animal communication overview. In A. Kaufman, J. Call & J. Kaufman (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of animal cognition (pp. 5–35). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108564113.003

Watanabe, S., Sakamoto, J., & Wakita, M. (1995). Pigeons’ discrimination of paintings by Monet and Picasso. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 63(2), 165–174. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.1995.63-165

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