This is the second post in a series; the first is here. In the first post, we discussed whether there are real morals, or only culturally relative ones. My belief is that there are at least two types of real morals, and I argued for one of them initially: what we might call "true virtue."
There's a second type I identify, which needs more argument to establish. In the comments to that first post, I asked for someone to explain how we know when an animal is thinking -- not just reacting from instinct. RCL took up the challenge.
What these answers come down to is this: we know the horse is thinking because we recognize what it is like to be a thinking animal from ourselves. T99 got it precisely:
Horses Thinking... *First of all I know you know!
As I said, observe Ms. Winema Toby Riddle...
1. Like many horses she knows when you put a kid on her and she takes care of them. While I'm out of town I'm leasing her to a friend. She was complaining to me that her two kids can't get her to trot. You know the answer don't you? My pal Paul told her the same thing I did, she knows they aren't balanced, she knows they're kids, she won't kick up because she's protecting them from themselves. When they ask right and they're set correctly she'll trot. Hell she'll take off at the least hint if you're in balance.
2. If I haven't been there for more the a few days; if I've just come by and worked her out and left for the last couple visits Toby's going to teach me some kind of lesson for the first 15 to 20 minutes guaranteed! She's always keeping score. Typical woman.
3. As a prey animal they're bred to be careful. They can imagine unspeakable danger from any rustle in the willows down a creek bed. Reaction only? Perhaps but it's thought and learning that enables them to put aside that reaction once they've gained confidence in their rider and through experience.
4. They can plan. They sometimes know what you're going to do before you do and they're ready for you. When they're being ornery they set you a trap. When you're working together they get there before you have to tell them.
5. We all know plenty of horses who can open any latch or get into some container or pantry that you'd never figure anyone could manuever with just teeth and lips.
I never know that anyone is "thinking," except insofar as they can communicate something to me that reminds me of the internal process I identify by the work "thinking." Horse and dogs do that to a limited extent by showing me that they are remembering things or have solve problems.Let's say you go hiking in Tallulah gorge, and you see a boulder on the high walls when you hike out, but find that same boulder on the ground when you come back. What caused the change? It was acted upon by something else. Maybe someone pushed it; certainly the force of gravity acted upon it. It didn't make a free choice to come down into the valley.
Living creatures can move, but the lower animals are no freer than the stones. They are being driven either by internal instincts or by outside influences: the sensation of light, or pressure (like a fly buzzing off to avoid a swat), or the smell of food, things like that.
We can generalize this by saying that unfree acts are acts where X does Y because Z acts upon them: the ice sublimates because the sun shines on it. Natural laws rule these kinds of actions.
We have the ability to make choices. At least some of the time, we think about alternatives and decide to do one thing over another: or we find that there is a problem in between us and what we want, and we think through a solution to the problem. We may be less free than we often think we are, but at least some of the time we reason things through and make a choice: for example, we encounter a difficulty with our engine, reason what is likely to be the problem, and go about arranging a fix.
My favorite example was Sequila, who decided she didn't want to go riding one day. She saw me coming with a rope, and then -- when I looked away to open the gate -- lay down in a hollow so I wouldn't be able to see her.
That's an impressive bit of reasoning! She not only formulated a stimulus-response (man with rope means go riding: I don't want to go riding) but hit upon a plan of action that showed she understood the limits of my vision. Horse vision is different from ours: they have a nearly panoramic view. If I had tried to hide from her that way, it wouldn't work, because looking at the gate wouldn't have precluded me from seeing her.
She wasn't responding to instinct; I'd never observed her to lie down before. She was thinking through a problem.
How do I know that? Because I recognize the process from having thought through problems as well.
It didn't work, by the way:
Immanuel Kant argued* that we can recognize this kind of reason only spontaneously: that is, only because we know it from ourselves. If someone were acting according to an order of reason that was different from ours, we wouldn't understand the rules, and probably wouldn't recognize it as reasoned behavior.
If we can recognize reason across species, then, the order of reason certainly exists across human cultures. If any morality tracks to reason, then, that part of morality is real: it is not cultural, but something arising from reality rather than human artifice.
Kant thought all morality could be demonstrated rationally. I don't agree; I find his critics persuasive who point out that it isn't really possible to generate positive duties from his categorical imperatives. If I may only act in a way that can be universalized without contradiction, I still don't have to act in any particular way.
It is possible, though, to generate some negative duties: that is to say, limits. "Thou shalt not" is a valid universal form for many moral questions. Thou shalt not steal, for Kant (as for your mother) because if everybody did it.... For Kant, the problem is that people steal to gain an advantage in property; but if everyone stole all the time, you couldn't guard the gains that you're trying to win. Theft cannot be universalized without destroying itself; it is therefore forbidden by reason.
So, here is a second type of real morality: "true limits" to go with "true virtues."
We still end up relying on culture for a lot of pretty crucial questions. However, these are good reasons to believe that at least some morality is embedded in the structure of the world.
* Readers interested in this point are referred, not to Kant!, but to Sebastian Rödl's Self-Consciousness. Like Kant, he doesn't extend his picture to non-human animals; but the persuasive arguments for why we recognize reason only spontaneously, and why the order of reason must be one, are just as strong pointed at higher animals like horses. We know they are thinking, because we recognize it.
Rödl would probably be unhappy with my use of his theory, as his theory hinges on language (a thing horses possess but only as body language, not the thought-formulating language that the philosophical tradition usually wants to insist upon). His tradition, though, probably requires him to accept my usage even if he doesn't like it. German Idealism is tied to Hegel's phenomenology of mind, which includes an account of what pre-language consciousness is like. In general I agree with Hannah Arendt's account of Hegel ("large parts of his work can be read as a running polemic against common sense"), but a German idealist can't easily walk away from it without giving a careful account of what he wants to replace it with. Further, in Hegel's defense, that the horse's development of mind ends just where he seems to believe that language would be required for further development. I have my own reasons for believing that thought and language are not as connected as modern philosophy usually assumes, but that (like proving the existence of free will) is another post for another day.