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 thirty-ninth contribution in the series, submitted by Joshua Blanchard.


The Metaethical Implications of Myrmecology

Metaethics is the subfield of moral philosophy having to do with the metaphysics, epistemology, semantics, and psychology of the moral domain. Whereas familiar questions of normative moral philosophy include, “What are the basic moral principles?” and “Do the basic moral principles demand that I move to Canada?”, a representative question in metaethics would be, “Is morality objective?”

Metaethics is often confused with myrmecology, but for administrative purposes it is essential to keep the two apart. Myrmecology is the subfield of natural philosophy having to do with the smallest of animals – ants. In what follows, we will consider what myrmecology tells us about three debates in metaethics.

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 thirty-eighth contribution in the series, submitted by Liam Kofi Bright.


The Value Free Ideal for Scieants

It’s not easy running a colony. Eggs need to be laid, food needs to be gathered, tunnels need to be dug – lots of work, by lots of ants, over lots of time. Of course as Antistotle taught us, the ant is by nature a political insect, so such living together is something we are generally well adapted to. But despite our generally being a eusocial bunch, we still occasionally have our disagreements, alas, and where we do we often form political factions based on our competing visions of the world. Should any ant ever be allowed to disobey the Queen’s slightest whim? Should we ruin that picnic? Does the zombie threat justify marshal law until our soldiers can get this threat under control? These are matters about which reasonable ants can disagree, and such sociopolitical debates among those who take rival views on these matters are a mainstay of colony life.

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 thirty-seventh contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Ross Cameron.


Ants in Time

The A-Theory (short for ‘Ant Theory’) says that there is a special moment in time: NOW. Harry the ant has just found a delicious crumb of bread. According to the A-Theory, there is something special about present events (like Harry’s finding the crumb), as opposed to past ones (like the crumb’s having been dropped by the race of clumsy giants), or future ones (like the congratulations Harry will receive from the colony). The dropping of the crumb has been and gone, and the congratulations of the colony are as yet simply something to look forward to: what is now is merely the finding of the crumb. Ants believe in the specialness of the now: there is some sense in which the present happenings are more real than past ones which merely happened, and future ones which merely will happen.

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 thirty-sixth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Eric Schwitzgebel from one of his publications.


The Antarean Antheads

On the surface of a planet around Antares lives a species of animals who look like woolly mammoths but who act much like human beings. I have gazed into my crystal ball and this is what I see: Tomorrow, they visit Earth. They watch our television shows, learn our language, and politely ask to tour our lands. It turns out that they are sanitary, friendly, excellent conversationalists, and well supplied with rare metals for trade, so they are welcomed across the globe. They are quirky in a few ways, however. For example, their cognitive activity takes them on average ten times longer to execute. This has no overall effect on their intelligence, but it does test the patience of conversation partners unaccustomed to the Antareans’ slow pace. They also find some tasks easy that we find difficult and vice versa. They are baffled and amused by our trouble with simple logic problems like the Wason Selection Task (Wason 1968) and tensor calculus, but they are impressed by our skill in integrating auditory and visual information.

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 thirty-fifth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Megan Wallace.


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Certain reflective ants spend their lives asking deep, meaningful questions such as: Do ants have free will? Do ants have souls? Does ‘good’ mean the greatest happiness for the greatest number of ants? Is it morally permissible to use other ants as a means to an end? Is there an ant such that no ant is more fantastic than it? And so on.

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 thirty-fourth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Kenny Easwaran.


Mutualistic Anteractions

Individual ants do amazing things. They lift huge objects, bring food to the nest, bite gigantic creatures, sacrifice themselves for others, and lay eggs to start a colony. Ant colonies also do amazing things. They find food at a distance, drive off mammals and poison trees, plan when and where to make new colonies. The behavior of the colony is constituted by the behaviors of the individuals, but are there also cases in which the behavior of an individual is constituted by the behavior of the colony?

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Ants doing an amazing thing – building a bridge. 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 thirty-second contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Kieran Setiya.


Ant-I-Intellectualism

We often get ants in our kitchen: relentless black ones scurrying from place to place with an air of purposive intelligence. Betraying no hint of indecision, they seem to know exactly what they are doing.

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This is an ant, looking all relentless and purposeful. 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 thirty-first contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Anne Pollok.


Antropology, or, what we can learn from ants and a fiction called Diotima

I do not know much about ants. But, come to think of it, I doubt that any of us do – if we take “knowing” in a richer sense. As Wittgenstein holds, even if a tiger could speak our language, we still wouldn’t be able to understand him and his language games. This holds even more true for ants. Whom could and should we even address – who is playing the language game (or, better and more loosely, behaving game)? Even the term ‘individual’ as an addressee of a conversation (and whom we could even attempt to understand) becomes questionable here – and that is even before we start swearing because of those stings!

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We may not know this ant, but we feel her sting. Photo: Alex Wild

Still, I do think that we can learn something from ants, in particular from our way of understanding them – especially as it relates to human culture as a means of immortality.

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 thirtieth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Kevin Timpe.


The Fecundity of Ants and the Goodness of Existing

“Kevin! Get in here!” comes my wife’s voice from the kitchen, brimming with an emotion somewhere between irritation and exasperation.

We’d just moved our family of five over 1,500 miles across the country, replete with all the difficulties that such a transition involved, and were trying to settle into our new house in time for the school year to begin.

“What’s the problem?” I ask, hoping it’s something falling within my fairly narrow skill set.

“We have ants in our pantry. Ants. And lots of them!”

Words like ‘lots’ are, of course, context sensitive. Three or four dozen ants crawling around our pantry and into our recycling bins is certainly more than I want in my house. But looked at in other ways, that’s not a lot.

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A lot of ants. 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 twenty-ninth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Samantha Noll. We apologize for the delay this week, but it was worth the wait!


Ant Philosophies of Farming

Like humans, one of the reasons why ants are successful as a species is that they have the ability to eat a wide variety of things, from plant matter to other insects and even dead animals. Different species of ants prefer different types of food, but the cornucopia of options flows over for these little omnivores. In addition, ants have also learned how to cultivate their favorite foods (Klein, 2017). In fact, ants developed farming techniques millions of years before humans and can be accredited with the discovery of many of the practices that we currently employ. Today as many as 250 distinct species actively cultivate and maintain fungus “farms” for food (Klein, 2017). In tropical areas, grassland, and deserts, colonies grow their crops in underground rooms, where they weed, water, and use chemicals and antibiotics to remove bacterial threats and thus to increase crop-yields (Branstetter et al., 2017). They even employ monocropping techniques and were the first to domesticate a type of fungus for their food usage. In some instances, ants and the fungi developed a co-dependent relationship, each depending on the other for survival. When viewed from this perspective, one could argue that ants were the first agrarians, creating and controlling novel ecosystems to ensure food security & ecological sustainability for ant-kind.

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Ants farmed millions of years before new humanoid agro-fads. Photo: Alex Wild