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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 38, 2013

Michael R. Miller
Pages 89-114
DOI: 10.5840/jpr2013386

Descartes on Animals Revisited

It has long been maintained that Descartes believed animals are nothing more than complex living machines. Throughout the centuries many have criticized Descartes for holding such a doctrine, for it has been used by others to justify a total disregard for the well-being of animals. However, a trend in Cartesian scholarship suggests that Descartes’s reputation for justifying cruelty to animals is undeserved because Descartes apparently lacked confidence in the truth of his own doctrine. This paper reviews the arguments calling for a revision of the standard interpretation, examines Descartes’s statements about animal intelligence and consciousness, considers his treatment of animals, and reaffirms the standard interpretation.

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