Pushmi-pullyu Representations and Mindreading in Chimpanzees


  • Laura Danón National University of Córdoba




mindreading, animal cognition, pushmi-pullyu representations, the logical problem


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. 


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Laura Danón, National University of Córdoba

Dr. in Philosophy, National University of Córdoba. Assistant professor, Department of Philosophy, National University of Córdoba.


Apperly, I. and Butterfill, S. (2009). Do humans have two systems to track beliefs and belief-like states?, Psychological Review, 116: 953-970.

Behne, T., Carpenter, M., Call, J. and Tomasello, M. (2005). Unwilling versus unable: infants understanding of intentional action,

Developmental Psychology, 41: 328-337.

Bermúdez, J.L. (2003).Thinking without words, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Buttelmann, D., Carpenter, M. and Tomasello, M. (2009). Eighteen-months-old infants shows false-belief understanding in an active helping paradigm, Cognition, 112:37-342.

Call, J. (2007). Past and present challenges in theory of mind research in nonhuman primates, Progress in Brain Research, 164: 341-353.

Call, J. and Jensen, K. (2006). Chimpanzees may recognize motives and goals, but may not reckon in them, Novartis Foundation Bulletin, 278: 65-70.

Call, J. and Tomasello, M. (2008). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later, Trends in Cognitive Science, 12: 187-192.

Call, J. and Tomasello, M. (1999). A nonverbal false belief task: the performance of children and great apes, Child Development, 70: 381-385.

Davidson, D. (2001). Rational Animals, in Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective, Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Duhau, L. (2006). Thinking conceptually. Dissertation, University of King College.

Hare, B., Call, J. and Tomasello, M. (2001). Do chimpanzees know what conspecifics know?, Animal Behavior, 61: 139-151.

Glock, H-J. (2000). Animals, thoughts and concepts, Synthese, 123: 35-54.

Kaminski, J., Call, J. and Tomasello, M. (2008). Chimpanzees know what others know, but not what they believe, Cognition, 109: 224-234.

Krachun, C., Call, J. and Tomasello, M. (2009). Can chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) discriminate appearance form reality?, Cognition, 112: 435-450.

Krachun, C., Carpenter, M. and Tomasello, M. (2009). A competitive nonverbal false belief task for children and apes, Developmental Science, 12: 521-535.

Luo, Y. and Baillargeon, R. (2007). Do 12.5-months-old infants consider what objects others can see when interpreting their actions?, Cognition, 105: 489-512.

Lurz, R. (2011). Mindreading animals: The debate over what animals know about other minds, MIT Press, Cambridge MA.

Lurz, R. and Krachun, C. (2011). How could we know whether nonhuman primates understand others internal goals and intention? Solving Povinelli’s problem, Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 2: 449-481.

Meltzoff, A.N. (1995). Understanding the intentions of others: re-enactment of intended acts by 18-months-old children, Developmental Psychology, 31: 838-85 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137788/

Millikan, R. (1996). Pushmi-pullyu Representations, in Tomberlin, J. (Ed.) Philosophical Perspectives, 9: 185-20 Ridgeview Publishing, Atascadero CA.

Millikan, R. (2004a). Varieties of Meaning, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA.

Millikan, R. (2004b). On reading signs: some differences between us and the others, in Oller, D.K. and Gruebel, U. The Evolution of Communication Systems: a Comparative Approach, The MIT Press: Cambridge MA.

Onishi, K. and Baillargeon, R. (2005). Do 15-months-old understand false-beliefs?, Science, 308: 255-268.

Penn, D.C. and Povinelli, D.J. (2007). On the lack of evidence that chimpanzees possess anything remotely resembling a ‘theory of mind', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 362: 731-74 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2346530/

Povinelli, D. and Vonk, J. (2003). Chimpanzee minds: Suspiciously Human?, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7: 157-160.

Povinelli, D. and Vonk, J. (2006). We don’t need a microscope to explore the chimpanzee’s mind, Mind and Language, 19: 1-28.

Sodian, B., Thoermer, C. and Metz, U. (2007). Now I see but you don't: 14-months old can represent another person’s visual perspective, Developmental Science, 10:199-204.

Southgate, V., Senju, A. and Csibra, G. (2007). Action anticipation through attribution of false belief by two-years old, Psychological Science, 18: 587-592.

Tomasello, M., Call, J. and Hare, B. (2003). Chimpanzees understand psychological states: The question is which ones and to what extent, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7: 153-156

Tomasello, M. and Call, J. (2006). Do chimpanzees know what others see or only what they are looking at?, Hurley, S. and Nudds, M. (Eds.) Rational Animals?, Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behne, T. and Moll, H. (2005). Understanding and sharing intentions: the origins of cultural cognition, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28: 675-691.

Wellman, H. (2014). Making minds: how theory of mind develops, Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Zawidzki. T. (2011). How to interpret infant socio-cognitive competence, Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 2: 483-497




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