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A Victorian Scrapbook

A Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles Compiled by George Burgess (1829-1905)

Victorian Science and Nature

Have Animals Reasoning Power?

By Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873), Swiss Palaeontologist, glaciologist and geologist.

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Transcript from original newspaper article: -

HAVE ANIMALS REASONING POWER?

PROF. Agassiz, in a recent lecture in Boston on the “Elephant,” said: “It is a favourite saying that men are governed by reason, animals by instinct; but I believe that is all wrong. There is no distinction of kind between the two, but only of degree.

Have Animals Reasoning Power“As we come to higher animals, we find the brain larger in proportion to the size of the body. But this does not prove a different kind of activity of these parts, but only different intensity.

“Now let us see if there is any difference in the mode of action of the brains of men and animals. Every sensation, to be felt, must produce a reaction. All animals see, hear, taste, and smell as well as we do; therefore, the reaction must be the same, and the operation, as far as the body is concerned, is the same. Next, our perceptions influence our actions through the operations of the mind; and in the animals the same influence upon their actions is to be seen; here, again, is perfect similarity. Although the difference of the intensity of these actions may be great in different animals, yet the principle is the same.

The animals gratify their appetites, and so do we, and in the same manner. For instance, everybody has seen dogs playing only for the pleasure of playing, just as men often do. And what right have we to assume that the motive which influences them is not the same as that influencing us? Again, animals have memory, just as we have; and they can trace the connection between cause and effect, and this is reason.

But I will go further; only mind can communicate with mind; and if animals have no mind we could have no inter-course with them. Animals can be trained, and this proves the existence of reason; a connection seen between cause and effect. The means of training animals are the same as those employed for training children; certain sounds are used as signals. This supposes a perfect logical process, tracing the sequence of effect from its cause.”