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Lloyd Morgan was born in New York and studied at the Royal School of Mines and subsequently under T. H. Huxley. He taught in Cape Town, but in 1884 joined the staff of the then University College, Bristol as Professor of Geology and Zoology, and carried out some research of local interest in those fields. But he quickly became interested in the field he called "mental evolution", the borderland between intelligence and instinct, and in 1901 moved to become the college's first Professor of Psychology and Education. He is best remembered for coining the proposition now known as "Morgan's Canon" or "Lloyd Morgan's canon." Although no more than a specialised form of Occam's razor, it played a critical role in the growth of the prestige of behaviourism in twentieth century academic psychology. The canon states "In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher mental faculty, if it can be interpreted as the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale." For example, we should only consider an entity as conscious if there is no other explanation for its behaviour. As the study of animal cognition has become popular, a disciplined use of Lloyd Morgan's canon has become more and more important.
The prestige of Lloyd Morgan's canon partly derives from the fact that Lloyd Morgan was himself an acute observer of behaviour, and provided convincing examples of cases where behaviour that apparently involved higher mental processes could in fact be explained by simple trial and error learning (what we would now call operant conditioning). A famous example is the skilful way in which his terrier Tony opened the garden gate, easily taken by someone seeing the final behaviour as an insightful act; Lloyd Morgan, however, had watched and recorded the series of approximations by which the dog had gradually learned the response, and could demonstrate that no insight was required to explain it.
As well as his scientific work, Lloyd Morgan was active in academic administration. He became Principal of the University College in 1891 and consequently played a central role in the campaign to secure it full university status. In 1909, when, with the award of a Royal Charter, the college became the University of Bristol, he was appointed as its first Vice-Chancellor, an office he held until his retirement in 1919. He died in Hastings.
- Biography of Lloyd Morgan
- Discussion Lloyd Morgan's canon as applied to consciousness
- Picture of Lloyd Morgan
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