Cambridge University
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
PhD, 2013
London, London, City of, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
PhilPapers Editorships
Evolutionary Biology
  •  21
    Teaching & Learning Guide for: Animal Sentience
    Philosophy Compass 17 (11). 2022.
  •  137
    How we got stuck: The origins of hierarchy and inequality
    Mind and Language 37 (4): 751-759. 2022.
    Kim Sterelny's book The Pleistocene social contract provides an exceptionally well-informed and credible narrative explanation of the origins of inequality and hierarchy. In this essay review, we reflect on the role of rational choice theory in Sterelny's project, before turning to Sterelny's reasons for doubting the importance of cultural group selection. In the final section, we compare Sterelny's big picture with an alternative from David Wengrow and David Graeber.
  •  327
    Should Animal Welfare Be Defined in Terms of Consciousness?
    Philosophy of Science 89 (5): 1114-1123. 2022.
    Definitions of animal welfare often invoke consciousness or sentience. Marian Stamp Dawkins has argued that to define animal welfare this way is a mistake. In Dawkins’s alternative view, an animal with good welfare is one that is healthy and “has what it wants.” The dispute highlights a source of strain on the concept of animal welfare: consciousness-involving definitions are better able to capture the normative significance of welfare, whereas consciousness-free definitions facilitate the valid…Read more
  •  140
    Animal Consciousness: The Interplay of Neural and Behavioural Evidence
    with Andrew Crump
    Journal of Consciousness Studies 29 (3-4): 104-128. 2022.
    We consider the relationship between neural and behavioural evidence for animal consciousness. We critically examine two recent studies: one neural and one behavioural. The first, on crows, finds different neural activity depending on whether a stimulus is reported as seen or unseen. However, to implicate this neural activity in consciousness, we must assume that a specific conditioned behaviour is a report of conscious experience. The second study, on macaques, records behaviours strikingly sim…Read more
  •  737
    How Should We Study Animal Consciousness Scientifically?
    with Donald M. Broom, Heather Browning, Andrew Crump, Simona Ginsburg, Marta Halina, David Harrison, Eva Jablonka, Andrew Y. Lee, François Kammerer, Colin Klein, Victor Lamme, Matthias Michel, Françoise Wemelsfelder, and Oryan Zacks
    Journal of Consciousness Studies 29 (3-4): 8-28. 2022.
    This editorial introduces the Journal of Consciousness Studies special issue on "Animal Consciousness". The 15 contributors and co-editors answer the question "How should we study animal consciousness scientifically?" in 500 words or fewer.
  •  119
    Animal Sentience
    Philosophy Compass 17 (5). 2022.
    ‘Sentience’ sometimes refers to the capacity for any type of subjective experience, and sometimes to the capacity to have subjective experiences with a positive or negative valence, such as pain or pleasure. We review recent controversies regarding sentience in fish and invertebrates and consider the deep methodological challenge posed by these cases. We then present two ways of responding to the challenge. In a policy-making context, precautionary thinking can help us treat animals appropriatel…Read more
  •  64
    Built-in decision thresholds for AI diagnostics are ethically problematic, as patients may differ in their attitudes about the risk of false-positive and false-negative results, which will require that clinicians assess patient values.
  •  59
    The Hatching of Consciousness (review)
    History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43 (4): 1-12. 2021.
    Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Metazoa and Joseph LeDoux’s The Deep History of Ourselves present radically different big pictures regarding the nature, evolution and distribution of consciousness in animals. In this essay review, I discuss the motivations behind these big pictures and try to steer a course between them.
  •  351
    Sentience is the capacity to have feelings, such as feelings of pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort and excitement. It is not simply the capacity to feel pain, but feelings of pain, distress or harm, broadly understood, have a special significance for animal welfare law. Drawing on over 300 scientific studies, we evaluate the evidence of sentience in two groups of invertebrate animals: the cephalopod molluscs or, for short, cephalopods (including octopods, squid and cuttlefish) …Read more
  •  205
    Separating Conscious and Unconscious Perception in Animals
    with Andrew Crump
    Learning and Behavior 49 (4). 2021.
    In a new study, Ben-Haim et al. use subliminal stimuli to separate conscious and unconscious perception in macaques. A programme of this type, using a range of cognitive tasks, is a promising way to look for conscious perception in more controversial cases.
  •  144
    The Learning-Consciousness Connection
    Biology and Philosophy 36 (5): 1-14. 2021.
    This is a response to the nine commentaries on our target article “Unlimited Associative Learning: A primer and some predictions”. Our responses are organized by theme rather than by author. We present a minimal functional architecture for Unlimited Associative Learning that aims to tie to together the list of capacities presented in the target article. We explain why we discount higher-order thought theories of consciousness. We respond to the criticism that we have overplayed the importance of…Read more
  •  102
    In this BA dissertation, I deploy examples of non-causal explanations of physical phenomena as evidence against the view that causal models of explanation can fully account for explanatory practices in science. I begin by discussing the problems faced by Hempel’s models and the causal models built to replace them. I then offer three everyday examples of non-causal explanation, citing sticks, pilots and apples. I suggest a general form for such explanations, under which they can be phrased as ind…Read more
  •  97
    Teleological Explanation: Surveying the Landscape
    Dissertation, University of Cambridge. 2009.
    This MPhil dissertation presents a novel account of teleological explanations in biology. I outline the “shorthand approach” to such explanations, on which they are taken to convey implicit evolutionary explanations. “Selected effects” accounts of teleological explanation dominate recent literature, but they struggle to accommodate teleological explanations of complex traits built through cumulative selection. I articulate the general notion of a landscape explanation, which, applied to biology,…Read more
  •  316
    When faced with an urgent and credible threat of grave harm, we should take proportionate precautions. This maxim captures the core commitments of the “precautionary principle”. But what is it for a precaution to be “proportionate”? I construct an account of proportionality (the “ARCANE” account) that consists of five fundamental conditions (absolute rights compatibility, reasonable compensation, consistency, adequacy and non- excessiveness) and a tie-breaker (efficiency). I apply this account t…Read more
  •  135
    The Skilful Origins of Human Normative Cognition
    Analyse & Kritik 43 (1): 191-202. 2021.
    I briefly present and motivate a ‘skill hypothesis’ regarding the evolution of human normative cognition. On this hypothesis, the capacity to internally represent action-guiding norms evolved as a solution to the distinctive problems of standardizing, learning and teaching complex motor skills and craft skills, especially skills related to toolmaking. We have an evolved cognitive architecture for internalizing norms of technique, which was then co-opted for a rich array of social functions. Ther…Read more
  •  129
    I reflect on the commentaries on my ‘skill hypothesis’ from Andrews/westra, Tomasello, Sterelny, and Railton. I discuss the difference between normative cognition and the broader category of action-guiding representation, and I reflect on the relationship between joint intentionality and normative cognition. I then consider Sterelny and Railton’s variants on the skill hypothesis, which highlight some important areas where future evidence could help us refine the account: the relative importance …Read more
  •  607
    Materialism and the Moral Status of Animals
    Philosophical Quarterly 72 (4): 795-815. 2022.
    Consciousness has an important role in ethics: when a being consciously experiences the frustration or satisfaction of its interests, those interests deserve higher moral priority than those of a behaviourally similar but non-conscious being. I consider the relationship between this ethical role and an a posteriori (or “type-B”) materialist solution to the mind-body problem. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, if type-B materialism is correct, then the reference of the concept of phenomenal…Read more
  •  218
    The Cultural Evolution of Cultural Evolution
    Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 376 20200051. 2021.
    What makes fast, cumulative cultural evolution work? Where did it come from? Why is it the sole preserve of humans? We set out a self-assembly hypothesis: cultural evolution evolved culturally. We present an evolutionary account that shows this hypothesis to be coherent, plausible, and worthy of further investigation. It has the following steps: (0) in common with other animals, early hominins had significant capacity for social learning; (1) knowledge and skills learned by offspring from their …Read more
  •  346
    Global Workspace Theory and Animal Consciousness
    Philosophical Topics 48 (1): 21-37. 2020.
    Peter Carruthers has recently argued for a surprising conditional: if a global workspace theory of phenomenal consciousness is both correct and fully reductive, then there are no substantive facts to discover about phenomenal consciousness in nonhuman animals. I present two problems for this conditional. First, it rests on an odd double-standard about the ordinary concept of phenomenal consciousness: its intuitive non-gradability is taken to be unchallengeable by future scientific developments, …Read more
  •  460
    Toolmaking and the Evolution of Normative Cognition
    Biology and Philosophy 36 (1): 1-26. 2021.
    We are all guided by thousands of norms, but how did our capacity for normative cognition evolve? I propose there is a deep but neglected link between normative cognition and practical skill. In modern humans, complex motor skills and craft skills, such as toolmaking, are guided by internally represented norms of correct performance. Moreover, it is plausible that core components of human normative cognition evolved as a solution to the distinctive problems of transmitting complex motor skills a…Read more
  •  251
    Neural Organoids and the Precautionary Principle
    American Journal of Bioethics 21 (1): 56-58. 2021.
    Human neural organoid research is advancing rapidly. As Greely notes in the target article, this progress presents an “onrushing ethical dilemma.” We can’t rule out the possibility that suff...
  •  1393
    Science and Policy in Extremis: The UK’s Initial Response to COVID-19
    European Journal for Philosophy of Science 11 (3): 90. 2021.
    Drawing on the SAGE minutes and other documents, I consider the wider lessons for norms of scientific advising that can be learned from the UK’s initial response to coronavirus in the period January-March 2020, when an initial strategy that planned to avoid total suppression of transmission was abruptly replaced by an aggressive suppression strategy. I introduce a distinction between “normatively light advice”, in which no specific policy option is recommended, and “normatively heavy advice” tha…Read more
  •  163
    Over the past two decades, Ginsburg and Jablonka have developed a novel approach to studying the evolutionary origins of consciousness: the Unlimited Associative Learning framework. The central idea is that there is a distinctive type of learning that can serve as a transition marker for the evolutionary transition from non-conscious to conscious life. The goal of this paper is to stimulate discussion of the framework by providing a primer on its key claims and a clear statement of its main empi…Read more
  •  253
    Christian List has recently constructed a novel formal framework for representing the relationship between free will and determinism. At its core is a distinction between physical and agential levels of description. List has argued that, since the consequence argument cannot be reconstructed within this framework, the consequence argument rests on a ‘category mistake’: an illicit conflation of the physical and agential levels. I show that an expanded version of List’s framework allows the constr…Read more
  •  177
    The Meaning of Biological Signals
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 84 101348. 2020.
    We introduce the virtual special issue on content in signalling systems. The issue explores the uses and limits of ideas from evolutionary game theory and information theory for explaining the content of biological signals. We explain the basic idea of the Lewis-Skyrms sender-receiver framework, and we highlight three key themes of the issue: (i) the challenge of accounting for deception, misinformation and false content, (ii) the relevance of partial or total common interest to the evolution of…Read more
  •  278
    Dimensions of Animal Consciousness
    with Alexandra K. Schnell and Nicola S. Clayton
    Trends in Cognitive Sciences 24 (10): 789-801. 2020.
    How does consciousness vary across the animal kingdom? Are some animals ‘more conscious’ than others? This article presents a multidimensional framework for understanding interspecies variation in states of consciousness. The framework distinguishes five key dimensions of variation: perceptual richness, evaluative richness, integration at a time, integration across time, and self-consciousness. For each dimension, existing experiments that bear on it are reviewed and future experiments are sugge…Read more
  •  870
    The Search for Invertebrate Consciousness
    Noûs 56 (1): 133-153. 2022.
    There is no agreement on whether any invertebrates are conscious and no agreement on a methodology that could settle the issue. How can the debate move forward? I distinguish three broad types of approach: theory-heavy, theory-neutral and theory-light. Theory-heavy and theory-neutral approaches face serious problems, motivating a middle path: the theory-light approach. At the core of the theory-light approach is a minimal commitment about the relation between phenomenal consciousness and cogniti…Read more
  •  193
    The Place of Animals in Kantian Ethics (review)
    Biology and Philosophy 35 8. 2020.
    Kantian ethics has struggled terribly with the challenge of incorporating non-human animals as beings to which we can owe obligations. Christine Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures is a bold, substantial attempt to meet that challenge. In this essay review, I set the scene for the book’s core argument, offer a reconstruction of that argument, and reflect on its strengths and limitations, arguing that it is ultimately unconvincing.
  •  173
    In Search of the Origins of Consciousness (review)
    Acta Biotheoretica 68 (2): 287-294. 2019.
    The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul is a landmark attempt to make progress on the problem of animal consciousness. Ginsburg and Jablonka propose a general cognitive marker of the presence of consciousness: Unlimited Associative Learning. They use this marker to defend a generous view about the distribution of consciousness in the natural world, on which a capacity for conscious experience is common to all vertebrates, many arthropods and some cephalopod molluscs. They use this inferred distribut…Read more
  •  63
    Are Kin and Group Selection Rivals or Friends?
    Current Biology 29 (11). 2019.
    Kin selection and group selection were once seen as competing explanatory hypotheses but now tend to be seen as equivalent ways of describing the same basic idea. Yet this ‘equivalence thesis’ seems not to have brought proponents of kin selection and group selection any closer together. This may be because the equivalence thesis merely shows the equivalence of two statistical formalisms without saying anything about causality. W.D. Hamilton was the first to derive an equivalence result of this t…Read more