Previous research has shown that animals can remember specific events, use tools and solve problems. But exactly what that means – whether they are making rational decisions or simply reacting to their environment through mindless reflex – remains a matter of scientific dispute.
Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, argues in an article published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research that a wide range of animal species exhibit so-called “executive control” when it comes to making decisions, consciously considering their goals and ways to satisfy those goals before acting.
He acknowledges that language is required for some sophisticated forms of metacognition, or thinking about thinking. But bolstered by a review of previously published research, Buckner concludes that a wide variety of animals – elephants, chimpanzees, ravens and lions, among others – engage in rational decision-making.