7 Pages


Our goal in this essay is twofold: (1) to describe behavioral research on snakes and (2) to justify this work (past, present, and future) in an ab­ solute rather than in only a relative sense. Com­ parative psychologists frequently use relative arguments in justifying their interests, as when they focus upon the theoretical issues that are being studied or upon the manner in which the research illuminates or contrasts with aspects of human behavior. Indeed, well-trained scientists are taught to focus upon theoretical issues and to do everything possible to make connections between their work and currently important theoretical systems. Hence, it is proper that comparative psychologists use such relative ar­ guments to show the transcendent value of their efforts. Although we do not reject such argu­ ments, we detect hints of incompleteness, defen­ siveness, and even intellectual dishonesty in this approach. After all, many of us go merrily along with our studies even when transcendent theo­ retical issues are not involved, which suggests that more basic motivations are at work. This implies that a student of comparative psychol­ ogy will never fully understand its practitioners until these more basic motivations are exam­ ined.