Talking So People Can Hear

3–5 pm: Panel: Blue Worlds: New and Old Perspectives on Indigo the Wellesley College Friends of Art at the Davis, the Alice Gertrude Spink Art Fund She is co-editor of the volume Thoreau at Essays and Reassessments and two minor characters from William Shakespeare's Hamlet are sent for by the king.

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Harris claims that moral values can be based on scientific principles, and that no kind of cultural context, especially faith-based context, is necessary for humans to have a code of morals. He bases this argument on the idea that moral values are based on facts, and that these facts can be tested for their truthfulness.

To some extent, this is an old idea. Murder, adultery, theft and lying—some of the best-recognized universal moral prohibitions, all tend to destabilize the coherence of social groups and would therefore be selected against in all societies. But Harris goes much further, using arguments and examples that are anything but scientific. Since Harris is a leader of the antitheistic movement, and is interested in finding examples of religious practices that he believes can be scientifically proven to be immoral. He cites the abusive treatment of women in Islamic societies as a main example, and he mentions corporal punishment of children as a slap at Christianity.

So how does Harris prove scientifically that forcing women to cover their bodies, and hitting school children with rulers are morally wrong? Here is what he actually says:. Harris clearly believes the answer to that question is no, and I agree with him. But where is the science here?

What is the origin of morality? - Quora

Has he data to show that children who were subjected to corporal punishment had worse emotional development and behavior than children who did not undergo such punishment? He has no such data, and in fact while he considers the wrongness of corporal punishment to be an obvious fact, there are millions of people who consider it to be just the reverse. There is no science here; there is simply a basic underlying moral idea, which Harris shares with others.

Mythical accounts

Harris touts the evils of Islamic fundamentalism as morally indefensible from a scientific point of view. Is there a science for determining the optimal way to treat women? While it may seem obvious that the oppression of women is morally wrong, proving scientifically that its disadvantageous to the thriving of our species is more tricky. Krebs Oxford University Press, Scholars interested in moral development must look beyond past systems that are no longer adequate; a better way to determine the mechanisms that lead to moral thinking and behavior is needed.

This volume is a good place to begin Highly recommended. Many people, laypeople and scholars alike, assume that the kinds of dispositions that inevitably prevail in the process of biological evolution must be selfish and immoral, rendering humans and other animals bad by nature. Such people reason that selfish genes that is to say, genes that design mechanisms that enable them to produce replicas of themselves produce selfish individuals.

However, this idea is misguided because there are significant differences between selfish genes and selfish individuals. The kind of individual selfishness that is an enemy of morality differs from genetic selfishness in several significant ways, and selfish genes may increase their frequency in populations by disposing individuals to cooperate with others and to behave altruistically toward those who possess copies of their genes, especially their blood relatives and members of their groups. Updating Darwin's early ideas on the evolution of the moral senses, I explain in The Origins of Morality: An Evolutionary Account how dispositions to behave in moral ways could evolve, and I offer evidence that such dispositions have evolved in humans and other species.

Viewing morality from an evolutionary perspective can contribute to our understanding of its nature by encouraging us to ask how the forms of conduct we consider moral and the mental mechanisms that dispose us to make moral judgments originated, and what functions they served in early human environments.

Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality

People possess beliefs about morality for a reason. The key to understanding what morality is lies in understanding what it is for-how moral beliefs and moral behaviors contribute to people's welfare; how they help them adapt to their environments. For example, in behavioural economics it was discovered that humans are far more cooperative than they had ever assumed, and there's even a book that recently came out called Super Co-operators for humans.

So that's how cooperative we are, we are super co-operators. And then there are articles by Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist who found that at an intuitive level we arrive at moral solutions.

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The origins of morality do not matter

Or neuroscience studies that show that very ancient parts of the brain are involved. So instead of everything happening prefrontally, as Kant would probably think, like prefrontal decision-making, there are very old emotional centres that are involved in moral decision-making. So all of that is in line with this Darwinian view and is certainly not in line with the veneer theory. So I'm going to go over a number of topics related to this: reconciliation, empathy and consolation, self-awareness, pro-social tendencies, and fairness. And all of these relate to what I think morality actually is, a moral system.

I'm not arguing that a chimp is a moral being the way you are a moral being or most of you are moral beings, let's say it that way. I think morality is a system that enhances cooperation within the group. Unfortunately it is very in-group biased, and so we have trouble stretching out that system now to, for example, universal human rights, because actually originally morality is an in-group system that enhances cooperation in the group.

And everything it can do, and reconciliation is part of that, fairness is part of that, all of that is to resolve conflicts of interest within the group in order to achieve a better level of corporation in the group. So first something about conflict resolution. Frans de Waal refers to a picture — similar to the one which appears at the top of this page These are actually two male chimpanzees who have been in a fight up in the tree and one of them holds out a hand to the other one and begs the other one for contact, and about a second later they come together and they kiss and embrace each other.

That's a reconciliation. And reconciliation was first found in chimpanzees but then it was found in many other primates. I think it has been found now in 25 different primates, then it was found in hyenas, in dolphins, elephants, wolves, all sorts of animals. And actually we have now reached a point where if you would have a social animal, let's say a social mammal for the moment, you would have a social mammal that is highly cooperative but also has a lot of conflicts, and it would show no reconciliations after fights, we would be very puzzled, we would say, well, how is that possible?

Why do people have a sense of right and wrong?

How can they manage a group system without making up after fights? So this is the definition we use, a friendly reunion between former opponents not long after conflict. And 'not long' is just purely for practical reasons, because in humans people reconcile after 10 years and sometimes after several generations or something like that. So in chimpanzees also I think it can take a long time, but it's very hard to do that in studies. Stumptail monkeys are the most conciliatory monkeys that I know.

They do what we call a hold-bottom ritual; one of them presents, the other one holds the hips. And they have no eye contact. It is really interesting because the monkeys do these things without eye contact. Chimps and humans cannot do that. If you would have a big fight with your boss and you would go to his office and apologise for throwing a mug at him or whatever you did, you apologise and your boss keeps staring at his papers or at the ceiling, and says it is ok, well it is not okay.

You need eye contact, and the same is true for the apes, the apes need eye contact, but the monkeys don't. So this is how we study that. It's called the PCMC method. We look at after conflict, there's a post-conflict period, we look at how often do two individuals get together after conflict, and then in a control period we look at how often do they get together if there's no fight between them.

And the difference between them tells you that these monkeys, this is for stumptail monkeys, they get far more often together after a conflict than without a conflict between them. So it's exactly the opposite of what I learned as a student, because all the textbooks at the time said aggression drives individuals apart, aggression is a dispersal mechanism, which is a perfectly fine definition for territorial animals like fish or birds, but in the monkeys it's exactly the opposite.

Aggression brings individuals together. I should add on a personal note here that I discovered this reconciliation behaviour, I think partly because I am from a family of six boys, and I had never that idea that they tried to drill into me when I came to the field of animal behaviour which says that aggression is always bad. You know, if you live in a large family, there's so much conflict going on and it is not necessarily bad, it's no big deal really. So that's the attitude. Bonobos do everything with sex, they also reconcile with sex. This is the missionary position as you can see, which they are famous for.

I'll show you a little video which comes from Kinshasa, it comes from a sanctuary where we actually do our studies of empathy in bonobos, but this little video shows in a nutshell what bonobos do. The easiest way to get conflict among bonobos and sex among them is to introduce food, because as soon as food is introduced, like other animals, they try to compete over it.

But they immediately resolve that within a second with having sex. So basically what you do when you introduce food is you see them having sex in order to resolve the issues, and they share the food, they have no trouble sharing at all. That's what you're going to see here. The bonobos are in a sort of forest area, and here they are before the food comes in, and now the food is there and they have sex right away.

They're multitasking because they are eating and having sex at the same time.


  • Edward O. Wilson on The Biological Basis of Morality - The Atlantic.
  • Transcript.
  • The origins of moral judgment;
  • Shipwrecked apes.
  • Frontiers | Evolutionary Origins of Morality: Insights From Non-human Primates | Sociology.
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But this is the bonobo way. The bonobos are very interesting because it's exactly as equally close to us as the chimpanzee, and there's now even some recent genetics data that may place them a little bit closer to us than the chimpanzee. And anthropologists who have made all these evolutionary scenarios of humans—we have war in our DNA, we are an aggressive species and so on—they don't know what to do with the bonobo because the bonobo is relatively peaceful, it's female dominated, they don't know what to do with the bonobo. And so they try to marginalise the bonobo, whereas my attempts are often to bring them back in and say, well, they are equally close to us.

And actually if you look at the genetics and you look at Ardipithecus which was recently discovered which looks much more like a bonobo than like a chimp, it is really not such a great argument to say we marginalise them. This is what happens with children. If you observe children in the school yard you can do exactly the same observation procedures as we do with the primates and you get the same sort of graphs.