Of parrots and parsimony: reconsidering Morgan's canon


Morgan’s Canon is a specific restating of Occam’s Razor that dictates that any description of animal behavior should never call upon higher order psychological processes if the behavior could, fairly, be explained in terms of lower processes. Herein, the Canon is discussed both historically and in light of current research into animal behavior. A reconsideration of the principle of parsimony, taking into account current states of knowledge, is also considered. In short, it is argued that Morgan’s Canon, while a useful guideline, may have been over-enthusiastically applied in situations where the state of knowledge about a species would dictate that descriptions of its behavior in terms of higher order processes would be equally or more parsimonious. The potential benefits of reconsidering the Canon are then discussed.

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