The Development Of Morality.....

mosaix

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In this week's New Scientist there's an article about what makes humans different from animals. It's surprisingly difficult to define the difference.

Morality was one of the subjects covered. There was mention of a series of experiments done with monkeys.

Some monkeys refused to take food if the action of taking it gave another monkey an electric shock.

This is the first I've heard of this. Anyone any info on this?
 

TheEndIsNigh

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I find this hard to believe.

For one how did they know the other monkey gets an electric shook unless they had some experience of it themselves, in which case we're back to Pavlov.

For two there are now reputable reports of some apes seeking out killing and eating other monkey's. That, together with the dicipline 'dished' out within a group of monkeys suggests they couldn't 'give a fig' for other monkeys well being.
 

j d worthington

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Not quite correct, TEIN. A) Many simian species use observation, memory, and a fairly high level of reasoning where such behaviors are concerned. B) Yes, there are reports of such behavior, but they tend to be under certain conditions: "tribes" competing for land/resources; rogue individuals; or (in some cases) a particular alpha male who kills a female's offspring to induce a state of grieving in which she turns to that male for comfort, providing him with sex. This last isn't all that common, but it has been noted now and again.

On the whole, however, simian societies have long shown a surprising degree of such structures and at least nascent ethics/morality. They are certainly more than capable of empathy, as we've seen in numerous studies as well as individual cases. (And as I can confirm from personal experience, having had a squirrel monkey for many years when I was younger.) Given their abilities at observation and putting factors together, it's not at all surprising they would recognize a danger they've witnessed before and attempt to shield another from its effects.

I've not seen anything on this particular study, but there's been a growing body of evidence that many of the primate species do have rather complex systems of ethics, a bit more complex than most other species perhaps; but all tending toward an indication that our development of ethics, as with so many of the things we think of as uniquely human, is more a matter of degree or refinement than an inherent difference per se.
 

chrispenycate

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I don't even think we need to restrict ourselves to primates, even. Any social species (wolfpack, meercat) will have situations where personal comfort is in conflict with community benefit, and, in mammals at least, the choice of behaviour follows rules learnt in infancy.
'Instinct rather than mentition' I don't quite hear you say.
Yes, but some individuals will make their decisions following different criteria, and those brought up outside the group for some reason differently from those 'socialised' from birth. These are learnt responses.
Qantitive difference, obviously. Qualitative, I'm not that sure.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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For two there are now reputable reports of some apes seeking out killing and eating other monkey's. That, together with the dicipline 'dished' out within a group of monkeys suggests they couldn't 'give a fig' for other monkeys well being.

Isn't this rather like saying that because humans hunt and eat other species, engage in war with their own kind, and can be quite cruel in their punishment of individuals within their own communities who deviate from accepted behaviors, that we're incapable of empathy and morality?

Even among humans, an individual is more likely to view moral codes as applicable only within his own culture, or, more narrowly, his own community. (In the case of the experimental monkeys, this would apply to the monkeys they live with, perhaps even have grown up with.) At the same time, history tells us that "heretics" are usually punished more severely than "infidels" -- since the threat within can be seen as far more terrifying than the threat from outside. People can be horrendously cruel even to members of their own families if they feel honor has been violated or see a threat to the larger culture.

Compared to your average pogrom, inquisition, or bride burning, a few apes bashing in the heads of monkeys and serving them up for dinner seems relatively benign.
 

j d worthington

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No, Chris, I'd agree we don't have to restrict it to primates. I simply made the comment that, from the studies I've seen and what I've heard from those involved in studying such questions, the level of complexity with such things is a bit higher with primates than with many other species. But, again, that goes toward what I was saying: that the bases of such systems is something shared with nearly all social types of life; it's the complexity and refinement that tends to differ.

Or, as Lovecraft once put it: "Morality is the adjustment of matter to its environment"....
 

j d worthington

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Didn't Frans de Waal publish something on this,Mo,J.D.?
the Dutch primatologist?

I don't know on that one, Ben.

Ah... just looked up links, and it certainly looks as if he has:

The Believer - Interview with Frans de Waal

(see especially "II. The Real Darwinian Position")

Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior

Great Scholars at Emory

http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/volume25/deWaal_2005.pdf

and his book Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (which I've not read, but there are some links to this as well).

It's interesting the tact emphasized of evolutionary biology to emphasize the "nastier" sides of what we inherit from our simian (and other) ancestors, as Dawkins himself has made it very clear long since that he sees at least some forms of altruism as being a very important and wonderful part of that evolutionary link we share.
 

j d worthington

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From what I'm seeing, that's a growing trend with no few scientists in the field of evolutionary biology: that morality, ethics, altruism, empathy, etc., all play a large role adaptation and survival of any complex species (for instance, above the level of insects and possibly, in some ways at least, even there).
 

HoopyFrood

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I recently read an article about a group of birds; how one would 'keep watch', as it were, over the rest of the group while they fed. They would sound the alarm if any kind of danger was nearby, putting themselves at risk but allowing the rest of the group to escape. Fascinating stuff.
 

j d worthington

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What of cases of birds bringing food to injured fellows; or the extreme cooperation they've shown in managing to open such things as motorcycle saddle-packs, distributing various duties (including lookout) and then parceling out the spoils?
 

j d worthington

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I think that is an example of not being in adjustment with its environment; eventually it would call for some form of corrective influence, whether that result from within or without. If nothing else, it would likely cause a collapse of the existing structure, even if left entirely alone.

Again, I'd say at base, morality is the adjustment of (in this case) living beings to their surroundings for the maximum achievable benefit to the greatest number, thereby providing a greater possibility of survival. This includes, of course, a complex level of adaptability to changing environment; hence no rigid authoritarian morality is likely to stand indefinitely. So I'd say that makes the religio-philosophical aspects of it more rationalizations or attempts to understand an underlying condition, and in no real substantive way either the cause or the fundamental support of either an existing or developing morality. Again, any connection between the two is more likely apparent than real.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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Isn't this rather like saying that because humans hunt and eat other species, engage in war with their own kind, and can be quite cruel in their punishment of individuals within their own communities who deviate from accepted behaviors, that we're incapable of empathy and morality?
....

Yet, presumably having transitioned through the apes level of development to our present stage we have no problem putting monkeys in cages and subjecting them to electric shocks just for the fun of it. It's Hitchhikers guide all over again. We don't just stick monkeys in cages and stick 20000 Volts into them and then go home. No, we stick 20000 Volts into them, go home and agonise about it with our wives. ( rough quote, apologies to Douglas)

Given

I don't even think we need to restrict ourselves to primates, even. Any social species (wolfpack, meercat) will have situations where personal comfort is in conflict with community benefit, and, in mammals at least, the choice of behaviour follows rules learnt in infancy.
'Instinct rather than mentition' I don't quite hear you say.
Yes, but some individuals will make their decisions following different criteria, and those brought up outside the group for some reason differently from those 'socialised' from birth. These are learnt responses.
Qantitive difference, obviously. Qualitative, I'm not that sure.

Maybe the real position is that empathy and morals exists to a greater extent with the less developed species and it's a higher function to shed these limitations to further advancement.

Hence as we need to 'justify' certain repugnant practises, we shed the things that would have held us back in the past, excusing them with the 'for the greater good' argument.

As you say, since coming down from the trees, our history is littered with the debris of our new morality. Gas chambers in Germany and machetes in Rwanda being recent examples of how developed we are. Who knows we'll be injecting DNA into animal eggs next, then we can really see what makes them tick.

And yes I think this is the start of a very very slippery slope. You may have noticed my opinion of the human being is not great. Why anybody with half a brain cell thinks a full term cymera will not be attempted is beyond me. I'm just surprised that it's not been done already.

Morality 'what' needs it, certainly not us Gods.
 

HardScienceFan

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sometimes the Answer is right under your nose how
you've certainly decoupled it from the religious aspect,J.D.
is morality cultural?
is it an epiphenomenon,to be defined and generated only by (an) underlying structure(s)?
communist morality ,a while ago,entailed reporting relatives to the police
so the greater good superseded kinship bonds
 

j d worthington

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Again, TEIN, I have to disagree with you. If you look at history, you'll find our morality has actually improved, not degraded. What used to be commonly accepted and perhaps not even seen as worthy of note has gradually become unacceptable behavior. The fact that we have developed technologies that allow us to carry out the remaining barbarisms more "efficiently" does not alter the fact that a greater percentage of the human race is less willing to accept barbarity on a day-to-day basis.

Look at the growing intolerance for some cultures' displacement of women; the fact that racist crimes do draw so much attention and concurrently censure, rather than simply being seen as part of the day-to-day; the growing intolerance of child abuse as opposed to the fact that even in Victorian England (and America of the same period) parents that caused the death of a child due to neglect, starvation, overwork, etc., would often face nothing more than ostracism; the fact that legal punishments have become increasingly more humane over the years (take a look at the Newgate Calendar, for instance, if you doubt this, where a person was often hanged for stealing thrupence or even bread on which to live)...

The list goes on and on. The general zeitgeist (as Dawkins has pointed out) has almost consistently been toward a more humane, liberal, and compassionate interaction between human beings as a whole (however much individuals may fall short of that). Look at the statements of even liberal thinkers of a century ago on race, for example, and compare it to those widely accepted now. Those issued then by even the most liberal thinkers often sound like the white supremacists of today.

I long held a view similar to yours, and it took a bit of shaking up and getting me to actually look at facts to realize that I had things nearly inverted. Another factor is simply that we hear about such barbarous acts now more quickly and easily due to the speed and pervasiveness of communication; whereas in earlier periods you'd have to go digging through obscure records or lengthy investigations to find out about many of these incidents. (Not that they necessarily weren't recorded; a huge number of them were. Simply that they didn't receive public attention nearly so readily.) This, too, tends to color our perception of things and make us see the past as better morally, when often it was precisely the opposite case....
 

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