Baboon Metaphysics

From the University of Chicago Press website:

In 1838 Charles Darwin jotted in a notebook, “He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.” Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth take up Darwin’s challenge in Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind, throwing light on the roles of instinct and thought in baboon behavior and investigating the question of baboon self-awareness.

Excerpt from the book:

9780226102436What goes through a baboon’s mind when she contemplates the 80 or so other individuals that make up her group? Does she understand their social relations? Does she search for rules that would allow her to classify them more easily? Does she impute motives and beliefs to them in order to better predict their behavior? Does she impute motives and beliefs to herself when planning a course of action? In what ways are her thoughts and behavior like ours, and in what ways—other than the obvious lack of language and tools—are they different? These are questions that also vexed Charles Darwin.

We have taken our title from one of Darwin’s most memorable remarks. He wrote it on August 16, 1838, almost two years after returning from his voyage on the Beagle and 21 years before the publication of The Origin of Species. It was a time of vigorous intellectual activity, when Darwin read voraciously on many subjects, both within and beyond the sciences, and met and talked with many different people, from family friends to prominent literary and political figures. Despite this active intellectual life, however, it seems unlikely that he or anyone else had ever combined the words “baboon” and “metaphysics” in the same sentence. What was Darwin thinking?

More here.