Integrative Biophilosophy

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Methodological signatures of approaches in animal research

Project management: Dr. Martin Böhnert

Project description

How do we know if animals can think? In extension of the current debate on human-animal relations, the project analyses the conditions and contexts of the scientific acquisition of our knowledge of animals.

Current discussions within animal philosophy and also within various branches of human-animal studies revolve around three central questions: Whether we can attribute a spirit to animals, what the difference between humans and animals is, and how humans should behave (morally right) towards animals. So far, however, in the attempt to find answers to these questions, little or no consideration is given to the mediated character of our knowledge of animals. This knowledge is mediated first of all in so far as we usually derive our knowledge of animals from empirical research without reflecting on the conditions and contexts of the production of this knowledge. However, it is also mediated in so far as the sciences themselves only gain their insights in a methodically mediated form.

These methods, as well as the theories, concepts and models of empirical research on animals, have not yet been made the subject of the above-mentioned research field of animal philosophy. The project is intended to close precisely this gap. I have developed a new approach that opens up a new field of research, raises its own questions, and also provides fruitful and new insights. In accordance with the above-mentioned three central questions of the current debate on animal philosophy, the concern of my work could also be formulated as an overarching fourth question: "How do we know whether animals have a mind?

More specifically, the aim is to identify the methodological, ontological and epistemological presuppositions of individual research approaches on the basis of exemplary selected controversies in said research fields. The analysis tool used for this purpose was developed in close connection with the points of conflict in empirical research. It allows individual research approaches to be identified and systematically compared on the basis of the sum of their respective assumptions - I call them their respective methodological signature.

Publications and talks

Selected publications

  • Böhnert, Martin (2020): Methodologische Signaturen – Ein philosophischer Versuch zur Systematisierung der empirischen Erforschung des Geistes von Tieren. Paderborn: Mentis.
  • Böhnert, Martin; Hilbert, Christopher (2018): „»Other minds than ours« – A controversial discussion on the limits and possibilities of comparative psychology in the light of Lloyd Morgan’s work“. In: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 40(3), 27.07.2018,
  • Köchy, Kristian; Wunsch, Matthias; Böhnert, Martin (2016): „Philosophie der Tierforschung. Die methodologische Signatur von Forschungsprogrammen“. In: Böhnert, Martin; Köchy, Kristian; Wunsch, Matthias (Hrsg.): Philosophie der Tierforschung. Bd. 1: Methoden und Programme. Freiburg: Karl Alber, S. 9-21.

Selected talks

  • „Zur Plausibilität wissenschaftlicher Tatsachen am Beispiel der Erforschung des Geistes von Tieren“, Forschungskolloquium der Moritz-Schlick-Forschungsstelle, Universität Rostock, 25.06.2019
  • „Methodologische Signaturen – Ein philosophischer Systematisierungsversuch von Forschungsansätzen in der kognitiven Verhaltensforschung“, CAST-Kolloquium (Centre for Anthropological Knowledge in Scientific and Technological Cultures), Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 20.12.2018

Selected lectures

  • "On the plausibility of scientific facts using the example of research into the minds of animals", Research Colloquium of the Moritz-Schlick Research Unit, University of Rostock, June 25, 2019.
  • "Methodological Signatures - A Philosophical Systematization Attempt of Research Approaches in Cognitive Behavioral Research," CAST Colloquium (Centre for Anthropological Knowledge in Scientific and Technological Cultures), Ruhr University Bochum, Dec. 20, 2018.

Reviews of "Methodological signatures - A philosophical attempt to systematize the empirical study of the mind of animals"