The Harvard Review of Philosophy


published on September 26, 2018

Kristin Andrews

Do Apes Attribute Beliefs to Predict Behavior?

I defend a Mengzian version of the Social Intelligence Hypothesis, according to which humans think about one another’s beliefs and desires—and reasons for action—in order to solve our social living problems through cooperation, rather than through competition and deception, as the more familiar Machiavellian version has it. Given this framework, and a corresponding view about the function of belief attribution, I argue that while apes need not attribute propositional attitudes to pass the “false belief task,” we should not conclude that apes may be behaviorists. Rather, the Mengzian Social Intelligence Hypothesis perspective offers another interpretation of ape behavior, intermediate between behaviorist and propositional attitude schemas. I argue that the false belief task can be solved by individuals who have an agency schema which takes others to be minded beings who have goals, emotions, and perceptions, but who fail to consider propositional attitudes or reasons for behavior. I then argue that a true test of belief attribution in great apes would be one that shows they seek explanations in terms of reasons for behavior. However, no such test yet exists.