The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the thirteenth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. David Schwartz.


Human Nature, Ethics, and Ants

Human nature is a perennial topic of Western philosophy: What does it mean to be human? What distinguishes humans from other species, or from machines? The history of philosophy is filled with answers, the most famous being that humans are the political animal, the thinking animal, the self-conscious animal, the tool-making animal, the warring animal, and the linguistic animal. Of particular interest to my field, ethics and value, is the claim that humans are the ethical animal. That is, we are the only animal that has a sense of fairness and justice, can act altruistically, and that possesses the free will needed to choose moral duty over instinctual reaction.

While it has taken philosophers a long time to catch up, this way of thinking about humanity – that we are different in kind from all other species – began to crumble with the work of Charles Darwin. His idea of natural selection offered a plausible mechanism that confirmed the idea that species are not immutable ‘natural kinds’ but only temporal snapshots of an on-going developmental process.   This greatly upset many people because it implied that humans were not different in kind from all other species, the sole possessor of an immaterial mind. Rather, humans differ from other species only by degree of evolutionary development. So while only humans can do mathematics or write literature, this does not mean these abilities are super-natural or somehow transcendent of material processes. It does mean that understanding human nature now requires understanding our evolutionary history.

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Charles is like, “yeah lol ur wrong. Sorrynotsorry”

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the twelfth contribution in the series, submitted by Kevin Lande.


O Ant, Where Art Thou?

Do ants have any idea where they are and where home is at? When they go out into the world, do they grasp how far they have gone or what turns their path has taken? Desert ants (Cataglyphis) are able reliably to return to their homes, having left them in search of food. But the ability to reliably get back home does not imply that one has an idea, a mental representation or map, that specifies where in space home is located. Reflecting on why not helps us to get some purchase on a broader question: What sorts of abilities, or behaviors, indicate the presence of such mental representations? What abilities or behaviors indicate the presence of mind?

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Cataglyphis ant in search of home, maybe. Photo: José María Escolano

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the eleventh contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. David Detmer.


Giraffes Are Taller Than Ants, and Other Observations

Giraffes are taller than ants. I claim to know this. Moreover, I maintain that “giraffes are taller than ants” is an objective truth. It accurately reports on one aspect of what the world, quite apart from human subjectivity, is really like, so that anyone who denies it–anyone who thinks that ants are as tall as, or taller than, giraffes–is simply mistaken, wrong, incorrect.

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Geoff the Giraffe considers objective truths

Polydomy. It’s a thing. It’s a thing where a single ant colony occupies completely separate nesting chambers rather than a single nest site. Polydomy, in creating a more distributed nest structure, has been theorized to increase foraging efficiency and enhance acquisition of a more diverse set of resources. Yet, despite the prevalence of hypotheses and theoretical work relating to polydomy, little work to date has experimentally tested the impact of polydomy on foraging efficiency.

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Temnothorax ants in their acorn home. Photo: Alex Wild

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the ninth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Richard Polt.


On Formiciform Virtue: Plato’s Ants

As he imagines scenarios for the afterlife—which he’ll be entering within a few hours—Socrates speculates that if there’s reincarnation, those who have practiced “social virtue” should come back as members of “a social and orderly species” in their next life. Yes: they may be reborn as ants (Plato, Phaedo 82b).