Animal cognition: An aristotelean-thomistic perspective

James M. Stedman, Matthew Kostelecky, Thomas L. Spalding, Christina L. Gagné

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The relationship between human and non-human animal cognition has been a troublesome one for psychology from the very beginning of the modern era of the discipline. In this paper, we briefly trace the history of thinking on this matter, showing that there have always been difficulties, as mainstream views have tended to extremes, either complete discontinuity (e.g., Descartes) or complete continuity (e.g., Watson). Even in the case of those who push for complete continuity, there have been wildly different interpretations, ranging from extreme anthropomorphizing to extreme examples of treating humans as “just” animals. We present for consideration the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach to this question, and review those areas of research that convincingly demonstrate continuity, and those where the continuity is more questionable. We conclude that the Aristotelean-Thomistic approach provides principled claims of continuity and discontinuity that align nicely with the current research by taking seriously Aristotle's famous definition of the human as a “rational animal,” avoiding both the Cartesian separation between rational and animal, as well as the modern attempt to remove the rational from the definition entirely.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-214
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Mind and Behavior
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Animal cognition
  • Aquinas
  • Aristotle
  • Dualism
  • Functionalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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