While its roots run deep historically, Rationalism—a general philosophy emphasizing human reason and innate ideas (i.e., ideas/capacities that are naturally developing in human beings or present at birth)—has recently been reinvigorated by emerging science pertaining to the remarkable cognitive abilities of human babies and nonhuman primates. Indeed, as noted in this week’s Chapter Guide, one of the strongest sources of support for the rationalist theory of innate ideas is evolutionary evidence. According to this line of reasoning, if we can find similar cognitive capacities in our ape ancestors, with whom we share great genetic similarity (at least 98% with chimpanzees and bonobos!), there is good reason to infer that these abilities are innate to humans as well, rooted in our evolutionary past. In the film Ape Genius, for example, apes are shown to possess rudimentary forms of language, culture, tool use, empathy, and reasoning—capacities that philosophers in the past had erroneously ascribed only to human beings! Of course, the film also documents important differences between ape and human cognition—especially pertaining to teaching and impulse control.
What did you find most surprising about the research outlined in this film, and why?
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