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

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Presentation on theme: "Is There A Natural Moral Sense? Dr. Sally Ferguson Philosophy and Religious Studies University of West Florida."— Presentation transcript:

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

2 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

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

4 Cognitive ethology’s next frontier: ethics?  What features of our moral sense do we share in common with other animals?

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

6 But WAIT!  Evolution is “selfish genes” and “nature red in tooth and claw”.  Morality requires us to be unselfish.  How can evolution produce morality?

7 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.

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

9 Understanding evolved altruism  If altruism evolved, it is because it promotes our survival and reproduction.  But the evolutionary value of altruism needn’t be the value of altruism TO US.

10 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 ethology.  Our next question: do other animals show altruism?

11 Cognitive ethology tells us that…  Altruism is common in the animal world: –care of offspring other than one’s own –food-sharing –alerting others to the presence of food –warning others of predators –preventing disputes –aiding reconciliation –even protecting the disabled

12 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.

13 Some animal altruism is “kin selection”  Kin Selection – acting to benefit one’s close relatives at the expense of oneself or one’s own offspring.  Example: Nursing lions  Note the role of gene-selectionism in this reasoning

14 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

15 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 offer. –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.

16 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.”

17 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%.”

18 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 conditions.”  “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.”

19 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”?

20 Some animal altruism looks more like “true” altruism  Food Sharing – vampire bats –Food is shared with non-relatives, with no direct payback

21 More “true” altruism?  Signaling of predators and prey – vervet monkeys, ravens –Predators are signaled to entire colony, at great risk to signaler

22 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?

23 “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 –Don’t hold a grudge

24 Kitcher on Cooperation  Grooming in primate groups –Benefits: more thorough grooming of places you can’t 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 doesn’t thoroughly groom you back

25 Cooperative Stategies  Discriminating Altruist (DA) – Always groom anyone who hasn’t 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 they’ve 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 hasn’t defected on you in the past, and always defect.

26 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 on.  But if TWO DAs arise, then that mutation will spread, and DA will come to dominate over time in the population.  Note that Axelrod’s Tit for Tat experiments showed that DA is not the best strategy, because it is not forgiving enough.

27 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 what’s good for the group as a whole

28 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?

29 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

30 Lower level: Direct reciprocation  Grooming, food sharing  Alphas and lower ranks

31 Lower level: Reconciliation  Making up after a fight  Sometimes winners initiate, sometimes losers do

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

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

34 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.

35 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.

36 Humanity’s uniqueness  Superior strengths in –Language  Plus a –Cumulative knowledge base  Lead to more –Self-consciousness –Abstraction –Absolutism

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