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Is There A Natural Moral Sense?


What features of our moral sense do we share in common with other animals? ... Do animals ever show concern for members of their group who are. Not closely ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Is There A Natural Moral Sense?

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Is There A Natural Moral Sense?
  • Dr. Sally Ferguson
  • Philosophy and Religious Studies
  • University of West Florida

Cognitive ethology the study of animal minds
  • Imitative octopi and the conditions for the
    evolution of culture
  • Example is not the main thing in influencing
    others it is the only thing Albert Schweitzer

Cognitive ethology tells us that our close
primate relatives
  • Reason like us
  • Communicate like us

Cognitive ethologys next frontier ethics?
  • What features of our moral sense do we share in
    common with other animals?

A central feature of our moral sense
  • ALTRUISM, or a concern for the welfare of others,
    even at the expense of our own.

  • Evolution is selfish genes and nature red in
    tooth and claw.
  • Morality requires us to be unselfish.
  • How can evolution produce morality?

The explanation?Multi-level thinking in
evolutionary biology
  • From the point of view of our genes
  • sex is simply about replication,
  • but from our point of view it feels good.
  • From the point of view of our genes
  • food keeps us alive so we can reproduce,
  • but from our point of view it is tasty.

The ultimate example family
  • From the point of view of our genes,
  • the value of family is that it replicates our
  • but we reproduce because it gives us joy.

Understanding evolved altruism
  • If altruism evolved, it is because it promotes
    our survival and reproduction.
  • But the evolutionary value of altruism neednt be
    the value of altruism TO US.

So far so good?
  • Morality involves altruism, and
  • Ok, so maybe altruism COULD have evolved.
  • But is there any evidence that it DID evolve?
  • One kind of evidence would be from cognitive
  • Our next question do other animals show altruism?

Cognitive ethology tells us that
  • Altruism is common in the animal world
  • care of offspring other than ones own
  • food-sharing
  • alerting others to the presence of food
  • warning others of predators
  • preventing disputes
  • aiding reconciliation
  • even protecting the disabled

But is animal altruism true altruism?
  • True altruism is a concern for the general
    welfare of others, even those far removed from
    us, regardless of any gain for ourselves.

Some animal altruism is kin selection
  • Kin Selection acting to benefit ones close
    relatives at the expense of oneself or ones own
  • Example Nursing lions
  • Note the role of gene-selectionism in this

Some animal altruism is reciprocal altruism
  • Reciprocal altruism acting to benefit another
    with the expectation of a return of the favor.
  • Example Political alliances among chimps.
  • Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis Brain
    growth in primates and hominids due to demands of
    navigating social arena

True Human Altruism?The Ultimatum Game
  • The Ultimatum Game (Gintis, et al)
  • In the ultimatum game, under conditions of
    anonymity, two players are shown a sum of money,
    say 10.
  • One of the players, called the "proposer," is
    instructed to offer any number of dollars, from
    1 to 10, to the second player, who is called
    the "responder." The proposer can make only one
  • The responder, again under conditions of
    anonymity, can either accept or reject this
    offer. If the responder accepts the offer, the
    money is shared accordingly. If the responder
    rejects the offer, both players receive nothing.

Ultimatum Strategy
  • Since the game is played only once and the
    players do not know each other's identity, a
    self-interested responder will accept any
    positive amount of money.
  • Knowing this, a self-interested proposer will
    offer the minimum possible amount, 1, and this
    will be accepted.

Ultimatum Surprise!
  • However, when actually played, the
    self-interested outcome is never attained and
    never even approximated.
  • In fact, as many replications of this experiment
    have documented, under varying conditions and
    with varying amounts of money, proposers
    routinely offer respondents very substantial
    amounts (50 of the total generally being the
    modal offer) and respondents frequently reject
    offers below 30.

Ultimatums Worldwide
  • Twelve experienced field researchers, working in
    12 countries on four continents, recruited
    subjects from 15 small-scale societies exhibiting
    a wide variety of economic and cultural
  • The canonical model of self-interested behavior
    is not supported in any society studied. In the
    ultimatum game, for example, in all societies
    either respondents, or proposers, or both,
    behaved in a reciprocal manner.

Back to animal altruism
  • Some is kin selection not general
  • Some is reciprocal altruism not general
  • Do animals ever show concern for members of their
    group who are
  • Not closely related, and
  • with whom they have no specific contract?

Some animal altruism looks more like true
  • Food Sharing vampire bats
  • Food is shared with non-relatives, with no direct

More true altruism?
  • Signaling of predators and prey vervet monkeys,
  • Predators are signaled to entire colony, at great
    risk to signaler

So far so good?
  • Altruistic behavior of all sorts is found in
    animals of all sorts
  • Kin selection
  • Reciprocal altruism
  • Even group concern
  • Next question On a more general level, what does
    it take for evolution to get morality started?

Tit for Tat
  • Robert Axelrod discovered by computer simulation
    that tit for tat is the winning strategy in
    reciprocal situations.
  • Always assume a trusting position to start
  • Punish cheaters, but
  • Dont hold a grudge

Kitcher on Cooperation
  • Grooming in primate groups
  • Benefits more thorough grooming of places you
    cant reach easily
  • Costs Time and energy spent grooming others
    could have been spent finding food, mates, etc.
  • Risk You might thoroughly groom an individual
    who doesnt thoroughly groom you back

Cooperative Stategies
  • Discriminating Altruist (DA) Always groom
    anyone who hasnt defected on you in the past,
    and always cooperate. Never groom anyone who has
    defected on you in the past.
  • Willing defector (WD) Always groom anyone (even
    if theyve defected on you in the past) and
    always defect.
  • Going Solo (SO) Always opt out refuse to
    groom anyone.
  • Selective defection (SD) Always groom anyone
    who hasnt defected on you in the past, and
    always defect.

Kitcher on Cooperation
  • What Kitcher showed
  • Assume DA arises by mutation
  • If only one DA, then the mutation will likely be
    lost over time, since fitness benefits will not
    be gained, and only a 50 chance of passing it
  • But if TWO DAs arise, then that mutation will
    spread, and DA will come to dominate over time in
    the population.
  • Note that Axelrods Tit for Tat experiments
    showed that DA is not the best strategy, because
    it is not forgiving enough.

Conditions for the evolution of altruism
  • Group value
  • Living in the group provides benefits
    (protection, coordinated hunting)
  • Mutual aid
  • Members of the group can assist one another
    (share food, form alliances)
  • Conflicts of interest
  • What the individual wants is not always whats
    good for the group as a whole

Balancing Interests
  • Claim one of the functions of our moral sense is
    to allow us to balance individual and collective
    interests when they conflict.
  • Question how do our primate relatives balance
    those interests?

Balancing conflicting interests, the primate way
  • Primates balance group and individual interests
    on two levels
  • Lower level One on one relations
  • Direct reciprocation
  • Reconciliation
  • Higher level Community concern
  • Arbitration of disputes
  • Group-wide appreciation

Lower level Direct reciprocation
  • Grooming, food sharing
  • Alphas and lower ranks

Lower level Reconciliation
  • Making up after a fight
  • Sometimes winners initiate, sometimes losers do

Higher level Arbitration of disputes
  • Intervening before and after fights.
  • Role of females in promoting harmony among males

Higher level Group-wide appreciation
  • Female chimp confiscates the stick one male is
    about to hit another with, and observers hoot and

Primate morality
  • The conditions for the evolution of morality
    exist in our primate relatives.
  • Moreover, those relatives have evolved ways of
    balancing collective and individual interests.
  • To the extent that they have done so, we can say
    they have some of the elements of a moral sense.

Reprise Is there a natural moral sense?
  • Perhaps, if our natural moral sense is our sense
    of altruism, i.e., our concern for the well-being
    of others, whether related or not.
  • We share this sense with other animals.
  • The sense of altruism may ultimately be an
    inheritance of evolution by natural selection.

Humanitys uniqueness
  • Superior strengths in
  • Language
  • Plus a
  • Cumulative knowledge base
  • Lead to more
  • Self-consciousness
  • Abstraction
  • Absolutism