Anthropologists have provided rich field descriptions of the norms and conventions governing behavior and interactions in small-scale societies. Here, we add a further dimension to this work by presenting hypothetical moral dilemmas involving harm, to a small-scale, agrarian Mayan population, with the specific goal of exploring the hypothesis that certain moral principles apply universally. We presented Mayan participants with moral dilemmas translated into their native language, Tseltal. Paralleling several studies carried out with educated subjects living in large-scale, developed nations, the (...) Mayan participants judged harms caused as the means to a greater good as more forbidden than harms caused as a side-effect (i.e., side-effect bias). However, unlike these other populations living in large-scale societies, as well as a more educated and less rural Mayan comparison group, the target rural Mayan participants did not judge actions causing harm as worse than omissions (i.e., omission bias). A series of probes targeting the action-omission distinction suggest that the absence of an omission bias among the rural Mayan participants was not due to difficulties comprehending the dilemmas, using the judgment scale, or in attributing a greater causal role for actions over omissions. Thus, while the moral distinction between means and side-effect may be more universal, the moral distinction between actions and omission appears to be open to greater cross-cultural variation. We discuss these results in light of issues concerning the role of biological constraints and cultural variation in moral decision-making, as well as the limitations of such experimental, cross-cultural research. (shrink)
Inspired by the success of generative linguistics and transformational grammar, proponents of the linguistic analogy (LA) in moral psychology hypothesize that careful attention to folk-moral judgments is likely to reveal a small set of implicit rules and structures responsible for the ubiquitous and apparently unbounded capacity for making moral judgments. As a theoretical hypothesis, LA thus requires a rich description of the computational structures that underlie mature moral judgments, an account of the acquisition and development of these structures, and an (...) analysis of those components of the moral system that are uniquely human and uniquely moral. In this paper we present the theoretical motivations for adopting LA in the study of moral cognition: (a) the distinction between competence and performance, (b) poverty of stimulus considerations, and (c) adopting the computational level as the proper level of analysis for the empirical study of moral judgment. With these motivations in hand, we review recent empirical findings that have been inspired by LA and which provide evidence for at least two predictions of LA: (a) the computational processes responsible for folk-moral judgment operate over structured representations of actions and events, as well as coding for features of agency and outcomes; and (b) folk-moral judgments are the output of a dedicated moral faculty and are largely immune to the effects of context. In addition, we highlight the complexity of the interfaces between the moral faculty and other cognitive systems external to it (e.g., number systems). We conclude by reviewing the potential utility of the theoretical and empirical tools of LA for future research in moral psychology. (shrink)
The demise of behaviorism has made ethologists more willing to ascribe mental states to animals. However, a methodology that can avoid the charge of excessive anthropomorphism is needed. We describe a series of experiments that could help determine whether the behavior of nonhuman animals towards dead conspecifics is concept mediated. These experiments form the basis of a general point. The behavior of some animals is clearly guided by complex mental processes. The techniques developed by comparative psychologists and behavioral ecologists are (...) able to provide us with the tools to critically evaluate hypotheses concerning the continuity between human minds and animal minds. (shrink)
Altruistic self-sacrifice is rare, supererogatory, and not to be expected of any rational agent; but, the possibility of giving up one's life for the common good has played an important role in moral theorizing. For example, Judith Jarvis Thomson (2008) has argued in a recent paper that intuitions about altruistic self-sacrifice suggest that something has gone wrong in philosophical debates over the trolley problem. We begin by showing that her arguments face a series of significant philosophical objections; however, our project (...) is as much constructive as critical. Building on Thomson's philosophical argument, we report the results of a study that was designed to examine commonsense intuitions about altruistic self-sacrifice. We find that a surprisingly high proportion of people judge that they should give up their lives to save a small number of unknown strangers. We also find that the willingness to engage in such altruistic self-sacrifice is predicted by a person's religious commitments. Finally, we show that folk-moral judgments are sensitive to agent-relative reasons in a way that diverges in important ways from Thomson's proposed intuitions about the trolley problem. With this in mind, we close with a discussion of the relative merits of folk intuitions and philosophical intuitions in constructing a viable moral theory. (shrink)
The thesis we develop in this essay is that all humans are endowed with a moral faculty. The moral faculty enables us to produce moral judgments on the basis of the causes and consequences of actions. As an empirical research program, we follow the framework of modern linguistics.1 The spirit of the argument dates back at least to the economist Adam Smith (1759/1976) who argued for something akin to a moral grammar, and more recently, to the political philosopher John Rawls (...) (1971). The logic of the argument, however, comes from Noam Chomsky’s thinking on language specifically and the nature of knowledge more generally (Chomsky, 1986, 1988, 2000; Saporta, 1978). If the nature of moral knowledge is comparable in some way to the nature of linguistic knowledge, as defended recently by Harman (1977), Dwyer (1999, 2004), and Mikhail (2000; in press), then what should we expect to find when we look at the anatomy of our moral faculty? Is there a grammar, and if so, how can the moral grammarian uncover its structure? Are we aware of our moral grammar, its method of operation, and its moment-to-moment functioning in our judgments? Is there a universal moral grammar that allows each child to build a particular moral grammar? Once acquired, are different moral grammars mutually incomprehensible in the same way that a native Chinese speaker finds a native Italian speaker incomprehensible? How does the child acquire a particular moral grammar, especially if her experiences are impoverished relative to the moral judgments she makes? Are there certain forms of brain damage that disrupt moral competence but leave other forms of reasoning intact? And how did this machinery evolve, and for what particular adaptive function? We will have more to say about many of these questions later on, and Hauser (2006) develops others. However, in order to flesh out the key ideas and particular empirical research paths, let us turn to some of the central questions in the study of our language faculty.. (shrink)
■ Abstract Cooperation is common across nonhuman animal taxa, from the hunting of large game in lions to the harvesting of building materials in ants. Theorists have proposed a number of models to explain the evolution of cooperative behavior. These ultimate explanations, however, rarely consider the proximate constraints on the implementation of cooperative behavior. Here we review several types of cooperation and propose a suite of cognitive abilities required for each type to evolve. We propose that several types of cooperation, (...) though theoretically possible and functionally adaptive, have not evolved in some animal species because of cognitive constraints. We argue, therefore, that future modeling efforts and experimental investigations into the adaptive function of cooperation in animals must be grounded in a realistic assessment of the psychological ingredients required for cooperation. Such an approach can account for the puzzling distribution of cooperative behaviors across taxa, especially the seemingly unique occurrence of cooperation observed in our own species. (shrink)
What are the brain and cognitive systems that allow humans to play baseball, compute square roots, cook soufflés, or navigate the Tokyo subways? It may seem that studies of human infants and of non-human animals will tell us little about these abilities, because only educated, enculturated human adults engage in organized games, formal mathematics, gourmet cooking, or map-reading. In this chapter, we argue against this seemingly sensible conclusion. When human adults exhibit complex, uniquely human, culture-specific skills, they draw on a (...) set of psychological and neural mechanisms with two distinctive properties: they evolved before humanity and thus are shared with other animals, and they emerge early in human development and thus are common to infants, children, and adults. These core knowledge systems form the building blocks for uniquely human skills. Without them we wouldn’t be able to learn about different kinds of games, mathematics, cooking, or maps. To understand what is special about human intelligence, therefore, we must study both the core knowledge systems on which it rests and the mechanisms by which these systems are orchestrated to permit new kinds of concepts and cognitive processes. What is core knowledge? A wealth of research on non-human primates and on human infants suggests that a system of core knowledge is characterized by four properties (Hauser, 2000; Spelke, 2000). First, it is domain-specific: each system functions to represent particular kinds of entities such as conspecific agents, manipulable objects, places in the environmental layout, and numerosities. Second, it is task-specific: each system uses its representations to address specific questions about the world, such as “who is this?” [face recognition], “what does this do?” [categorization of artifacts], “where am I?” [spatial orientation], and “how many are here?” [enumeration]. Third, it is relatively encapsulated: each uses only a subset of the information delivered by an animal’s input systems and sends information only to a subset of the animal’s output systems. (shrink)
Means-based harms are frequently seen as forbidden, even when they lead to a greater good. But, are there mitigating factors? Results from five experiments show that judgments about means-based harms are modulated by: 1) Pareto considerations (was the harmed person made worse off?), 2) the directness of physical contact, and 3) the source of the threat (e.g. mechanical, human, or natural). Pareto harms are more permissible than non-Pareto harms, Pareto harms requiring direct physical contact are less permissible than those that (...) do not, and harming someone who faces a mechanical threat is less permissible than harming someone who faces a non-mechanical threat. These results provide insight into the rich representational structure underlying folk-moral computations, including both the independent and interacting roles of the inevitability, directness and source of harm. (shrink)
In considering a domain of knowledge – language, music, mathematics, or morality – it is necessary to derive principles that can describe the mature state and explain how an individual reaches this state. Although Sunstein's heuristics go some way toward a description of our moral sense, it is not clear that they are at the right level of description, and as stated, they provide no guidelines for looking at the acquisition process – the problem of explanatory adequacy.
Sussman and colleagues provide no evidence supporting their claim that the human vocal production system is specialized to produce locus equations with high correlations and linearity. We propose the alternative null hypothesis that these features result from physical and physiological factors common to all mammalian vocal tracts and we recommend caution in assuming that human speech production mechanisms are unique.
Contra Wilkins & Wakefield, we argue that an evolutionarily inspired approach to language must consider different facets of language (i.e., more than syntax and semantics), and must explore the possibility of nonhuman precursors. Several examples are discussed, illustrating the power of the comparative approach in illuminating our understanding of language evolution.
Millikan's account of substance concepts fails to do away with features. Her approach simply moves the suite of relevant features into an encapsulated module. The crux of the problem for scientists studying human infants and nonhuman animals is to determine how individuals reidentify objects and events in the world.
Rolls uses evolutionary theory and behavioral learning theory in his analysis of emotion. We believe that both theories are greatly underutilized, leaving an incomplete description of the nature of emotion and its neural foundation.
We argue that the function of human culture is to clarify what people value. Consequently, nothing in cetacean behavior (or any other animal's behavior) comes remotely close to this aspect of human culture. This does not mean that the traditions observed in cetaceans are uninteresting, but rather, that we need to understand why they are so different from our own.
& Visual object representation was studied in free-ranging rhesus monkeys. To facilitate comparison with humans, and to provide a new tool for neurophysiologists, we used a looking time procedure originally developed for studies of human infants. Monkeys’ looking times were measured to displays with one or two distinct objects, separated or together, stationary or moving. Results indicate that rhesus monkeys..