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

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-seventh contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Ryan Kemp.


The Existential Upshot of Crazy Ants

The ant has an ambiguous place in Western literature. We all know Aesop’s classic rendition: the industrious ant measured against his jaunty neighbor the grasshopper. Grasshopper wastes away the summer hours with music and good humor, while Ant sees the writing on the wall: winter is coming and merry-makers fare not well. Ant works while Grasshopper plays and he is rewarded in the end by, well, not starving to death. In one version of the fable Ant gets a little malicious and admonishes his now desperately starving friend to “dance the winter away.” Serves him right, I suppose.

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La Fontaine’s Ant and Grasshopper

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-sixth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Sameer Yadav.


Anthropocentrism: A Problem for Neuroethology and Philosophical Theology

As the summer months grow hotter it becomes ant-season inside our home.  In search of food and water, a single scout will inevitably end up discovering the smallest drips of water and crumbs we leave behind, and return in legion.   Despite the nuisance, I can’t help but be impressed with the intelligence exhibited in their behavior — the directional savvy displayed in where and how our morsels are discovered, the complicated path-finding required for a scout to return to its compatriots with the happy news, the incredible detail of signaling and cooperation involved in the transport and distribution of what they find.   Researchers in animal intelligence report that in order for ants to make their way into my house and secure that Nature Valley granola bar, they have to track sun-position, wind direction, and a host of other environmental cues, while choosing the most efficient routes from among various options.  They can detect when they are lost and deploy sophisticated search-patterns that require them to draw on recent memory such as backtracking to their last known location.   How can creatures with such tiny brains (no offense) and comparatively limited neurological resources (as compared with us) exhibit such complex behavior?

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A beautiful brain. Photo: Amador-Vargas et al.

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-fifth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Gabriel Richardson Lear.


Aristotle and Myrmecology as a Humanistic Discipline

“The study of ants is the way to self-knowledge.” Aristotle didn’t actually say that, but he might well have believed it. At least, there is a philosophical ambition to his approach to biology that invites self-reflection. Aristotle’s strategy in biology was to take vast quantities of data—some apparently his own observations; much of it reported by others—about all sorts of animals and categorize them on the basis of similarities and differences in their functional parts. So for example, all animals perceive—that, according to Aristotle, is just what distinguishes animals from plants—so all animals must have sense organs. But not all animals have all five senses; and even when a group of animals shares, say, the sense of smell, their noses vary in shape and proportionate size and in fact some of them—for example, the ant!—do not have noses at all. So, in creating the class of animals who smell, we include all animals with noses or some analogous organ. Aristotle’s recognition of functionally analogous parts in different species of animal is not only a major advance in the history of biology, it also invites philosophical reflection on what it means to be an animal and, in particular, to be the kind of animal we human beings are.

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The ant sniffs. “Smells like philosophy,” she declares.  Photo: Alex Wild