The Rationality of Animals

Course summary

The Rationality of Animals


Aristotle called humans ‘the only rational animal’. But was he right? What exactly is it to be rational? Are there really no animals (birds, plants…) that are rational? Surely animals, birds and plants might be rational in a different way from human beings? Maybe there are degrees of rationality? We know for sure that different disciplines make use of different accounts of rationality – perhaps the idea of what it is to be rational must be relativized to different disciplines. Perhaps, even within a discipline, it should be relativized to different species? During this weekend a philosopher and a zoologist will be addressing these questions and more. There will be plenty of opportunity to talk to other participants and to the speakers.

Programme details



2.45pm         Course Registration


3.00pm         Rationality from a philosopher’s perspective

                    MARIANNE TALBOT


4.30pm         Tea / coffee


5.00pm         Rationality from a biologist’s perspective

                    ALEX KACELNIK


6.30pm         Break / bar open


7.00pm         Dinner


8.15pm-        Fitness utility and morality

9.30pm         MARIANNE TALBOT       




8.15am         Breakfast (residents only)


9.30am         What is intelligence, and who has it?

                    ALEX KACELNIK


10.45am       Coffee / tea


11.15am       Q & A

Questions directed by THOMAS HESSELBERG


12.30pm       Break / bar open


1.00pm         Lunch


2.00pm         Course disperses




Recommended reading


Nudds M., and Hurley, S., Rational Animals? (Oxford University Press, 2006) ISBN: 9780198528272, especially chapter 2 (by Professor Kacelnik)

Stanovich, K., The Robot’s Rebellion, chapters 3 & 4 (University of Chicago Press, 2004) ISBN: 9780226771250





Accommodation for this weekend is at Rewley House for Saturday night only.

Depending on availability it may also be possible to extend your stay, please enquire at the time of booking for availability and prices.

All bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.

Unfortunately it is not yet possible to book twin room accommodation online, so if you wish to book a twin room, please send in your completed enrolment form or contact the Day & Weekend Events Office, Email:



Alumni 10% Discount: £0.00
Friends of RH 10% Discount: £0.00
Phil.Soc Members 10% Discount: £0.00
Summer school 10% discount: £0.00
Tuition (includes tea/coffee): £77.00
Single B&B Saturday Night: £75.85
Single Room only (Saturday Night): £64.85
Twin/Double B&B Saturday Night (per person): £54.35
Twin/Double Room Only Saturday Night (per person): £43.35


If you are in receipt of a state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses



Professor Alex Kacelnik


Alex Kacelnik is Professor of Behavioural Ecology at the University of Oxford, and Fellow and Tutor in Zoology and EP Abraham Fellow at Pembroke College. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and Member of the European Academy. He has received the Research Award of the Society of Comparative Cognition, the de Robertis medal from the Argentinian Society of Neurosciences, The Cogito Prize for interdisciplinary Research, and the Raices Prize of the Argentinian Ministry for Science.


Ms Marianne Talbot

Director of Studies and Speaker


Marianne Talbot took her first degree at London University, then her B.Phil at Oxford (Corpus Christi College). She has taught for the colleges of Oxford University for 30 years (1987 – 1990 at Pembroke College, 1991 – 2000 at Brasenose College). She has been Director of Studies in Philosophy at OUDCE since 2001. She is the author of Bioethics: An Introduction, and Critical Reasoning: A Romp Through the Foothills of Logic. Marianne’s podcasts have been hugely popular. Two of them have been global number one on iTunesU. One of these (The Nature of Arguments) has been downloaded 7 million times.



Dr Thomas Hesselberg

Director of Studies

Dr Thomas Hesselberg’s research focuses on behavioural ecology and comparative biomechanics of invertebrates primarily using spiders and their webs as model organisms. In particular, he is interested in how behavioural plasticity has evolved to cope with the constraints imposed by a relatively limited brain capacity and with the biomechanical constraints imposed by morphological and external environmental factors as well as silk material properties.