Following recent arguments that cultural practices in wild animal populations have important conservation implications, we argue that recognizing captive animals as cultural has important welfare implications. Having a culture is of deep importance for cultural animals, wherever they live. Without understanding the cultural capacities of captive animals, we will be left with a deeply impoverished view of what they need to flourish. Best practices for welfare should therefore require concern for animals’ cultural needs, but the relationship between culture and welfare (...) is also extremely complex, requiring us to rethink standard assumptions about what constitutes and contributes to welfare. (shrink)
Intent and mitigating circumstances play a central role in moral and legal assessments in large-scale industrialized societies. Al- though these features of moral assessment are widely assumed to be universal, to date, they have only been studied in a narrow range of societies. We show that there is substantial cross-cultural variation among eight traditional small-scale societies (ranging from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist to horticulturalist) and two Western societies (one urban, one rural) in the extent to which intent and mitigating circumstances influence (...) moral judgments. Although participants in all societies took such factors into account to some degree, they did so to very different extents, varying in both the types of considerations taken into account and the types of violations to which such considerations were applied. The particular patterns of assessment characteristic of large-scale industrialized societies may thus reflect relatively recently culturally evolved norms rather than inherent features of human moral judgment. (shrink)
Empirical studies of the social lives of non-human primates, cetaceans, and other social animals have prompted scientists and philosophers to debate the question of whether morality and moral cognition exists in non-human animals. Some researchers have argued that morality does exist in several animal species, others that these species may possess various evolutionary building blocks or precursors to morality, but not quite the genuine article, while some have argued that nothing remotely resembling morality can be found in any non-human species. (...) However, these different positions on animal morality generally appear to be motivated more by different conceptions of how the term “morality” is to be defined than by empirical disagreements about animal social behaviour and psychology. After delving deeper into the goals and methodologies of various of the protagonists, I argue that, despite appearances, there are actually two importantly distinct debates over animal morality going on, corresponding to two quite different ways of thinking about what it is to define “morality”, “moral cognition”, and associated notions. Several apparent skirmishes in the literature are thus cases of researchers simply talking past each other. I then focus on what I take to be the core debate over animal morality, which is concerned with understanding the nature and phylogenetic distribution of morality conceived as a psychological natural kind. I argue that this debate is in fact largely terminological and non-substantive. Finally, I reflect on how this core debate might best be re-framed. (shrink)
This paper considers the question of whether chimpanzees possess at least a primitive sense of normativity: i.e., some ability to internalize and enforce social norms—rules governing appropriate and inappropriate behaviour—within their social groups, and to make evaluations of others’ behaviour in light of such norms. A number of scientists and philosophers have argued that such a sense of normativity does exist in chimpanzees and in several other non-human primate and mammalian species. However, the dominant view in the scientific and philosophical (...) literature is that psychological capacities for social norms evolved uniquely in the human lineage, after our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos. After reviewing some of the existing evidence for normative capacity in chimpanzees, I defend the thesis of chimpanzee normativity against three key theoretical objections that have been presented in the literature, each of which have played a part in motivating the dominant sceptical position. I argue that, while we still have much to learn about the nature and extent of the normative capacities of other animals, there is strong prima facie evidence for social norms and normative evaluation in chimpanzees and the main theoretical objections to chimpanzee normativity are not at all compelling. (shrink)
This paper considers John Doris, Stephen Stich, Alexandra Plakias, and colleagues’ recent attempts to utilize empirical studies of cross-cultural variation in moral judgment to support a version of the argument from disagreement against moral realism. Crucially, Doris et al. claim that the moral disagreements highlighted by these studies are not susceptible to the standard ‘diffusing’ explanations realists have developed in response to earlier versions of the argument. I argue that plausible hypotheses about the cognitive processes underlying ordinary moral judgment and (...) the acquisition of moral norms, when combined with a popular philosophical account of moral inquiry—the method of reflective equilibrium—undercut the anti-realist force of the moral disagreements that Doris et al. describe. I also show that Stich's recent attempt to provide further theoretical support for Doris et al.'s case is unsuccessful. (shrink)
Morgan’s Canon is a very widely endorsed methodological principle in animal psychology, believed to be vital for a rigorous, scientific approach to the study of animal cognition. In contrast I argue that Morgan’s Canon is unjustified, pernicious and unnecessary. I identify two main versions of the Canon and show that they both suffer from very serious problems. I then suggest an alternative methodological principle that captures all of the genuine methodological benefits that Morgan’s Canon can bring but suffers from none (...) of its problems. (shrink)
Decades of research conducted in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, & Democratic (WEIRD) societies have led many scholars to conclude that the use of mental states in moral judgment is a human cognitive universal, perhaps an adaptive strategy for selecting optimal social partners from a large pool of candidates. However, recent work from a more diverse array of societies suggests there may be important variation in how much people rely on mental states, with people in some societies judging accidental harms just (...) as harshly as intentional ones. To explain this variation, we develop and test a novel cultural evolutionary theory proposing that the intensity of kin-based institutions will favor less attention to mental states when judging moral violations. First, to better illuminate the historical distribution of the use of intentions in moral judgment, we code and analyze anthropological observations from the Human Area Relations Files. This analysis shows that notions of strict liability—wherein the role for mental states is reduced—were common across diverse societies around the globe. Then, by expanding an existing vignette-based experimental dataset containing observations from 321 people in a diverse sample of 10 societies, we show that the intensity of a society's kin-based institutions can explain a substantial portion of the population-level variation in people's reliance on intentions in three different kinds of moral judgments. Together, these lines of evidence suggest that people's use of mental states has coevolved culturally to fit their local kin-based institutions. We suggest that although reliance on mental states has likely been a feature of moral judgment in human communities over historical and evolutionary time, the relational fluidity and weak kin ties of today's WEIRD societies position these populations' psychology at the extreme end of the global and historical spectrum. (shrink)
Conwy Lloyd Morgan (1852–1936) is widely regarded as the father of modern comparative psychology. Yet, Morgan initially had significant doubts about whether a genuine science of comparative psychology was even possible, only later becoming more optimistic about our ability to make reliable inferences about the mental capacities of non-human animals. There has been a fair amount of disagreement amongst scholars of Morgan’s work about the nature, timing, and causes of this shift in Morgan’s thinking. We argue that Morgan underwent two (...) quite different shifts of attitude towards the proper practice of comparative psychology. The first was a qualified acceptance of the Romanesian approach to comparative psychology that he had initially criticized. The second was a shift away from Romanes’ reliance on systematizing anecdotal evidence of animal intelligence towards an experimental approach, focused on studying the development of behaviour. We emphasize the role of Morgan’s evolving epistemological views in bringing about the first shift – in particular, his philosophy of science. We emphasize the role of an intriguing but overlooked figure in the history of comparative psychology in explaining the second shift, T. Mann Jones, whose correspondence with Morgan provided an important catalyst for Morgan’s experimental turn, particularly the special focus on development. We also shed light on the intended function of Morgan’s Canon, the methodological principle for which Morgan is now mostly known. The Canon can only be properly understood by seeing it in the context of Morgan’s own unique experimental vision for comparative psychology. (shrink)
Social norms – rules governing which behaviours are deemed appropriate or inappropriate within a given community – are typically taken to be uniquely human. Recently, this position has been challenged by a number of philosophers, cognitive scientists, and ethologists, who have suggested that social norms may also be found in certain non-human animal communities. Such claims have elicited considerable scepticism from norm cognition researchers, who doubt that any non-human animals possess the psychological capacities necessary for normative cognition. However, there is (...) little agreement among these researchers about what these psychological prerequisites are. This makes empirical study of animal social norms difficult, since it is not clear what we are looking for and thus what should count as behavioural evidence for the presence (or absence) of social norms in animals. To break this impasse, we offer an approach that moves beyond contested psychological criteria for social norms. This approach is inspired by the animal culture research program, which has made a similar shift away from heavily psychological definitions of ‘culture’ and to become organized around a cluster of more empirically tractable concepts of culture. Here, we propose an analogous set of constructs built around the core notion of a normative regularity, which we define as a socially maintained pattern of behavioural conformity within a community. We suggest methods for studying potential normative regularities in wild and captive primates. We also discuss the broader scientific and philosophical implications of this research program with respect to questions of human uniqueness, animal welfare and conservation. (shrink)
The recent debate surrounding scientific realism has largely focused on the “no miracles” argument (NMA). Indeed, it seems that most contemporary realists and anti-realists have tied the case for realism to the adequacy of this argument. I argue that it is mistake for realists to let the debate be framed in this way. Realists would be well advised to abandon the NMA altogether and pursue an alternative strategy, which I call the “local strategy”.
Really statistical explanation is a hitherto neglected form of noncausal scientific explanation. Explanations in population biology that appeal to drift are RS explanations. An RS explanation supplies a kind of understanding that a causal explanation of the same result cannot supply. Roughly speaking, an RS explanation shows the result to be mere statistical fallout.
Human communities teem with a variety of social norms. In order to change unjust and harmful social norms, it is crucial to identify the psychological processes that give rise to them. Most researchers take it for granted that social norms are uniquely human. By contrast, we approach this matter from a comparative perspective, leveraging recent research on animal social behaviour. While there is currently only suggestive evidence for norms in nonhuman communities, we argue that human social norms are likely produced (...) by a wide range of mechanisms, many of which we share with nonhuman animals. Approaching this variability from a comparative perspective can help norm researchers expand and reframe the range of hypotheses they test when attempting to understand the causes of socially normative behaviours in humans. First, we diagnose some of the theoretical obstacles to developing a comparative science of social norms, and offer a few basic constructs and distinctions to help norm researchers overcome these obstacles. Then we develop a six-dimensional model of the psychological and social factors that contribute to variability in both human and potential nonhuman norms. -/- This article is part of the theme issue ‘Social norm change: drivers and consequences’. (shrink)
This paper discusses Kevin Kelly’s recent attempt to justify Ockham’s Razor in terms of truth-finding efficiency. It is argued that Kelly’s justification fails to warrant confidence in the empirical content of theories recommended by Ockham’s Razor. This is a significant problem if, as Kelly and many others believe, considerations of simplicity play a pervasive role in scientific reasoning, underlying even our best tested theories, for the proposal will fail to warrant the use of these theories in practical prediction.
This paper discusses the role that appeals to theoretical simplicity have played in the debate between nativists and empiricists in cognitive science. Both sides have been keen to make use of such appeals in defence of their respective positions about the structure and ontogeny of the human mind. Focusing on the standard simplicity argument employed by empiricist-minded philosophers and cognitive scientists—what I call “the argument for minimal innateness”—I identify various problems with such arguments—in particular, the apparent arbitrariness of the relevant (...) notions of simplicity at work. I then argue that simplicity ought not be seen as a theoretical desideratum in its own right, but rather as a stand-in for other desirable features of theories. In this deflationary vein, I argue that the best way of interpreting the argument for minimal innateness is to view it as an indirect appeal to various potential biological constraints on the amount of innate structure that can wired into the human mind. I then consider how nativists may respond to this biologized version of the argument, and discuss the role that similar biological concerns have played in recent nativist theorizing in the Minimalist Programme in generative linguistics. (shrink)
Based on the results of empirical studies of folk moral judgment, several researchers have claimed that something like the famous Doctrine of Double Effect may be a fundamental, albeit unconscious, component of human moral psychology. Proponents of this psychological DDE hypothesis have, however, said surprisingly little about how the distinction at the heart of standard formulations of the principle—the distinction between intended and merely foreseen consequences—might be cognised when we make moral judgments about people’s actions. I first highlight the problem (...) of precisely formulating the distinction between intended and foreseen consequences and its implications for interpreting the empirical data on folk moral judgment. I then distinguish between three different approaches to this problem that have been taken by proponents of the DDE in normative ethics: so-called “closeness” accounts, accounts that employ what has come to be known as a “strict” notion of intention, and Warren Quinn’s recasting of the DDE in terms of the distinction between “direct” and “indirect agency”. I show that when taken as claims about moral psychology, these different accounts entail quite different empirical predictions about what people’s moral judgments should be in particular cases. Based on the current empirical data, I argue that a version of Quinn’s formulation of the DDE is the most empirically plausible, and that adopting such a formulation helps to diffuse much of the recent empirical criticism of the DDE hypothesis. (shrink)
Mikhalevich & Powell are to be commended for challenging the “invertebrate dogma” that invertebrates are unworthy of ethical concern. However, developing an evolutionarily inclusive ethics requires facing some of the more radical implications of rejecting hierarchical scala naturae and human-centered conceptions of the biological world. In particular, we need to question the anthropocentric assumptions that still linger in discussions like these.
Is morality uniquely human or does morality exist in at least some non-human animals? Are animals full-fledged moral creatures or do they merely exhibit proto-morality—evolutionary building blocks or precursors to morality, but not quite the genuine article? Such questions, prompted by remarkable advances in empirical research into the social and emotional lives of non-human animals, have aroused much recent interest amongst scientists, philosophers, and in the popular media, not least for their apparent bearing on questions of human uniqueness, evolution, and (...) the ethical status of animals. The debate over animal morality has produced many valuable contributions and stimulated new areas for empirical and theoretical research. However, focusing on these questions has led researchers to talk at cross-purposes and down some unproductive paths. The problem concerns the terms ‘morality’ and ‘moral’. (shrink)