[Marxism] social evolution of human and animal morality

Lil Joe joe_radical at earthlink.net
Wed Dec 29 10:25:07 MST 2004

Journals > Biology & Philosophy > Abstract

Biology & Philosophy

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Biology and Philosophy
19 (4): 489-520, September 2004
Copyright © 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers
All rights reserved
Wild justice and fair play: cooperation, forgiveness, and morality in

Marc Bekoff
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
80309-0334, USA (E-mail: marc.bekoff at colorado.edu)


In this paper I argue that we can learn much about ‘wild justice’ and the
evolutionary origins of social morality – behaving fairly – by studying
social play behavior in group-living animals, and that interdisciplinary
cooperation will help immensely. In our efforts to learn more about the
evolution of morality we need to broaden our comparative research to include
animals other than non-human primates. If one is a good Darwinian, it is
premature to claim that only humans can be empathic and moral beings. By
asking the question ‘What is it like to be another animal?’ we can discover
rules of engagement that guide animals in their social encounters. When I
study dogs, for example, I try to be a ‘dogocentrist’ and practice
‘dogomorphism.’ My major arguments center on the following ‘big’ questions:
Can animals be moral beings or do they merely act as if they are? What are
the evolutionary roots of cooperation, fairness, trust, forgiveness, and
morality? What do animals do when they engage in social play? How do animals
negotiate agreements to cooperate, to forgive, to behave fairly, to develop
trust? Can animals forgive? Why cooperate and play fairly? Why did play
evolve as it has? Does ‘being fair’ mean being more fit – do individual
variations in play influence an individual's reproductive fitness, are more
virtuous individuals more fit than less virtuous individuals? What is the
taxonomic distribution of cognitive skills and emotional capacities
necessary for individuals to be able to behave fairly, to empathize, to
behave morally? Can we use information about moral behavior in animals to
help us understand ourselves? I conclude that there is strong selection for
cooperative fair play in which individuals establish and maintain a social
contract to play because there are mutual benefits when individuals adopt
this strategy and group stability may be also be fostered. Numerous
mechanisms have evolved to facilitate the initiation and maintenance of
social play to keep others engaged, so that agreeing to play fairly and the
resulting benefits of doing so can be readily achieved. I also claim that
the ability to make accurate predictions about what an individual is likely
to do in a given social situation is a useful litmus test for explaining
what might be happening in an individual's brain during social encounters,
and that intentional or representational explanations are often important
for making these predictions.

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