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Are animals honest

  1. Dec 7, 2010 #1
    do animals lie are they dishonest ,or is this just kept for humans ,,,i know its a strange question
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 7, 2010 #2
    Different animals have evolved different strategies to help with their survival and well being some of which deceive others,perhaps predators.Pretending to be dead(playing possum) comes to mind but can this deception be called a lie?
  4. Dec 7, 2010 #3


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    Chimps have been observed engaged in dishonesty.

    As yet, a dissembling fruit fly has never been observed.
  5. Dec 7, 2010 #4
    then comes the next question is deception a lie ,in some instances it is in others it isnt in the case of when my dog robs my sausage from the table when my back is turned and then hides it under his bed real quickly, when i turn back around i know where it is but he will sit on his bed and not move ,in this instance its just survival or is he a dishonest thief .
  6. Dec 7, 2010 #5
    Your dog deserves a big juicy bone.He is obviously protecting you against the perils of sausages and too much cholesterol.:smile:
  7. Dec 7, 2010 #6
    ha ha very funny i like it
  8. Dec 13, 2010 #7
    Animals are spoiled because their ignorance is taken for granted. If they were held accountable for their lies, they would either be banished or intolerable.
  9. Dec 14, 2010 #8
    For any animal to lie they would first need to be able to form the abstract concept. My dog is very bright and appears to be able to form basic abstract concepts. She understands a very large (500+) group of words in English and a few dozen body gestures. She also has ways of communicating with me (body gestures), however, I only understand about a dozen of these.

    Does she understand that she imparts untrue statements for her personal gain and does she understand how I may perceive it? I would have to say yes, in my opinion.

    Is this proof that animals can lie, dissemble, confabulate or deceive? I would have to say no, because it's possible these behaviours have developed from learned responses.

    Sounds like a very good study for someone to undertake.
  10. Dec 14, 2010 #9
    To actually lie requires consciousness. Animals are honest in that their natures are apparent. Humans have natures as well, but we can make an effort to choose certain facets to display. Look into 'social engineering'.
  11. Dec 14, 2010 #10
    That's not social engineering there, bud.
  12. Dec 14, 2010 #11
    You don't have to define lying as conscious lying. A lot of lying is done unconsciously by humans in the form of instrumental speech. I.e. people say things to achieve instrumental goals without even bothering to consciously reflect of if they're telling the truth or not. They are just invoking a behavioral pattern they have learned. Oftentimes a store clerk will wish you a nice day as you leave. They probably didn't think about whether they honestly wanted you to have a nice day or not. They're just saying those words as a behavioral habit. In fact, they may have absolutely no interest in you having a nice day, in which case it's a lie. But they didn't THINK about whether their lie was true or not before saying it, so they did it unconsciously. This is basically how animals communicate, imo. They use instrumental expressions to pursue their interests/desire/will. They learn behavioral patterns that are likely to maximize their success. They are not concerned with honesty because they don't have a conscience, imo, only fear of being punished for doing things wrong and hope of being rewarded for good behavior. This doesn't mean that they can't be very clever in their behaviorism and instinctively learn ways of manipulating you in your conscience by studying the rewards and dangers that are in it for them. I.e. they can learn patterns in your behavior and manipulate you to their advantage.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2010
  13. Dec 15, 2010 #12
    so we can say that animals are honest ,but manipulative that makes my dog even more intelligent than i thought ,thanks again
  14. Dec 15, 2010 #13
    "do animals lie are they dishonest" ?

    Obviously so. Predation depends greatly upon deception. Or do you think that some synaptic activity is required that goes through some reinforcing loop in recognition of the fact (often called conscious awareness)? Even invasive viral particles rely on stealth.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2010
  15. Dec 15, 2010 #14
    Good point. I think the real question is whether it is possible for animals to experience conscience and distinguish truth from lies/deception. I don't think they can. I think they're purely interest-driven instrumental pragmatists.
  16. Dec 15, 2010 #15
    This article cites three examples of animal (chimpanzee, monkey, jay) behaviour that might be called (cognatively) devious. More on the jays http://www.psychol.cam.ac.uk/pages/staffweb/clayton/Scrub_jays.html [Broken].

    Hare, Call, Tomasello (2005): http://email.eva.mpg.de/~tomas/pdf/Chimpanzees%20deceive%20a%20human%20competitor_06.pdf [Broken], Cognition 101 (2006) 495–514. (PDF).

    Unfortunately no link or citation for the following claim, but the second example might be googleable, although I haven't found it yet:

    I assume the mean capuchin monkeys, rather than capuchin monks... A different examples involving capuchin monkeys.

    Anecdotes and experiments said to suggest deceptive behaviour by http://www.bio.davidson.edu/people/vecase/behavior/Spring2009/Foley/deceptionprimates.htm [Broken]. (Even the primate who designed this page has attempted to conceal its content!)

    I think the writers of these articles are using words like deception to mean behaviour that depends on an assessment about what a particular animal knows at a particular instant, and exploits its ignorance.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  17. Dec 15, 2010 #16
    I get the impression you think all those dumb animals are not conscious. Surprise me with a good definition of 'conscious.'
  18. Dec 15, 2010 #17
    I didn't say they have no consciousness. I said they have no conscience. Conscience is when you think about something you do being wrong and feel bad about it. I think animals only feel bad/ashamed when they are punished or afraid of punishment. The punishment could be shame (i.e. "bad dog!") and shame/pride demonstrates that animals have egos (i.e. sense of self) but I don't think they have sufficient reflective ability to understand why something is right or wrong and feel good or bad about it on that basis (many humans don't either, imo). It's just too complicated for animals and many humans, I think, to really deeply understand that lying or some other action is unconscionable. Mostly both humans and animals just try to get away with what they can and not worry about the consequences for anyone except themselves. It is a survival strategy generally, I think.
  19. Dec 17, 2010 #18
    Far out. You've introduced me to a new word.

    But you're wrong. This is exactly what shame is. We people only feel ashamed when we are socially shunned or raise it's incarnation in our own minds. It is the feeling of social rejection. It is exactly that. Social animals both dowl and experience shame just as we do. There is no experience of shame in a environment devoid of others or their incarnations. Shame is a element of mutable human ethics. If you believe in a god, it can also be an element of morality.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2010
  20. Dec 17, 2010 #19
    I have encountered these views many times now, but they do not cease to astonish me. I am experienced enough now to be under no illusions about how much people will not agree with me, but it is nonetheless abundantly clear to me: In terms of the OP, only humans are honest and only humans are dishonest, because only humans are capable of either. Wile E Cayote is sly, he is cunning, but he is not dishonest, because he has not the understanding of what he does and why.

    Would you hold a male lion criminally responsible for his behaviour when he kills the cubs of the rival male he has just defeated? Of course not. But it is perfectly reasonable to hold a human being criminally responsible for murderous behaviour, because the human being chose to behave that way. The human being had the capability to make a different choice.
  21. Dec 17, 2010 #20


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    Got to disagree here. Dogs are capable of dishonesty. They are not very good at keeping up the facade under examination, though, and tend to cave in pretty early (unlike the perps on Law and Order). Still, they do things that they think they might be able to get away with, and carry on, until they know that you are onto them.
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