Pushmi-pullyu Representations and Mindreading in Chimpanzees

  • Laura Danón National University of Córdoba


Lurz and Krachun (2011) propose a new experimental protocol designed to discriminate genuine mindreading animals from mere behavior-readers and to give evidence in favor of the claim that chimpanzees are capable of attributing internal goals to others. They suggest that chimpanzees' variety of "internal goal attribution" consists in attributing to others basic intentional representations, baptized by Millikan as "pushmi-pullyu representations" (PPs). Now, Millikan (1996, 2004a, 2004b) distinguishes what I propose to call 'pure' PPs from more complex varieties of PPs, which allow their owners to respond more flexibly to their environments. But, what would happen if we tried to differentiate, analogously, between more or less sophisticated mind-readers in virtue of the sorts of PPs that they could attribute to others? What would attributing complex PPs consist in and how would such capacity increase the predictive powers of chimpanzee mind-readers? This paper offers an answer to these questions. Based on Millikan's work, I differentiate two varieties of complex PPs. Then, I examine what a basic mind-reader, only capable of attributing 'pure' PPs, would be able to do. After that, I distinguish two more sophisticated varieties of mindreading, each consisting in the attribution of one of the complex PPs previously presented, and I show how the ability to attribute complex PPs to others comes with more potent and flexible capacities to anticipate their behavior. Finally, I offer some reasons to think that attributing complex PPs is still simpler than full-blown mindreading and I briefly evaluate the prospects of extending this proposal to infant social cognition. 

Author Biography

Laura Danón, National University of Córdoba
Dr. in Philosophy, National University of Córdoba. Assistant professor, Department of Philosophy, National University of Córdoba.
How to Cite
Danón, L. (2017). Pushmi-pullyu Representations and Mindreading in Chimpanzees. Studia Philosophica Estonica, 9(1), 208-236. https://doi.org/10.12697/spe.2016.9.1.09