C. Lloyd Morgan's Canon: Facts, Misrepresentations & The Law of Parsimony

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  • 0:03 Canon Defined
  • 1:09 Morgan's Canon
  • 1:43 Comparative Psychology
  • 2:15 Misrepresentations &…
  • 2:54 The Facts
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gaines Arnold
In this lesson, we'll look at how the concept of Occam's razor, or the Law of Parsimony, relates to C. Lloyd Morgan's Canon. The lesson discusses the criticism he received because of his statement regarding the canon and his response.

Canon Defined

All the speech, talk, and mindless ramblings that issue forth from the average person could fill volumes by the time they are said and done, but most of that chatter is meaningless. For instance, people do things like shout at cabs, engage in small talk with coworkers and others, make important speeches, and ask the green grocer whether the watermelon is ripe enough to eat that night. Sure, all of this speech is full of meaning in the moment, but it is often forgotten when that moment passes. But what if you were known for a single statement you made at some point in your life? What if people analyzed that statement long after you were dead and determined your worth as a professional and as a person based on that single statement. A statement that took no more than a few seconds to make.

C. Lloyd Morgan made just such a statement, calling it his canon, and as a result, people have been examining it and misrepresenting it for a century. Right about now you might be asking yourself was this canon is. A canon is a fundamental principle or general rule.

Morgan's Canon

The statement that Morgan made was simple. Morgan's Canon states that higher psychological processes should not be used to explain behavior that can be explained using lower processes. What he meant was that behavior should be explained by the simplest method possible unless it can be proven that a higher process was the actual cause of the behavior. For example, if Pavlov's dogs salivated because they had been conditioned that they would be fed when a bell sounded, it was against science to say they salivated due to some other higher function of reasoning.

Comparative Psychology

C. Lloyd Morgan originally made this statement as a result of his work in comparative psychology, the belief that the behavior of animals of a lower order can be used to explain the behaviors of higher order animals (namely, humans). Morgan conducted experiments using mice and rats looking for evolutionary evidence of intelligence among his subjects. He believed that these findings could be extrapolated to the human population. However, when he released his findings, along with the canon, he was met with a great deal of criticism.

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