Brosnan and de Waal’s finding of fairness in the capuchin monkey has settled the long-standing question of whether animals have a sense of fairness and further blurred the line between humans and other animals in a new territory: the sphere of morality.
The questions now are how fairness works and why it evolved. Part of the answers lies in monkeys like the capuchin. But monkeys are complex animals—not only are they highly intelligent; they are also highly social. Which of the two—mental capacity or close-knit social life—hosts the evolutionary wellspring of fairness?
When I tell people that I think morality arises from our instincts, they often assume that I mean that morality is really just people acting for their own benefit, that people don’t really act altruistically, that they’re just cynically acting in their long term interests. No doubt there are some people like that, but that’s not what most of us do.
All of us have strong instincts for fairness, instincts that often cause us to work against our own interests, and the linked article discusses the evolutionary basis for it. Or at least it begins to since it’s an excerpt from a book by Lixing Sun, ‘The Fairness Instinct‘.
This seems to dovetail nicely with the work of Jonathan Haidt, which I’m a fan of and that I’ve already discussed before, but whose book, ‘The Righteous Mind’, I’ll again recommend for anyone interested in the origins of morality from a social psychology perspective.
- Select Quotes from Frans de Waal’s “The Bonobo and the Atheist” (thephilosophyofnine.wordpress.com)
- ‘Just Babies – The Origins of Good and Evil,’ by Paul Bloom – NYTimes.com (selfawarepatterns.com)
- Fairness is relative! (pmcounseling.wordpress.com)
- How is food distributed according to Dominance in Capuchin Monkeys? (dogcalledmick.wordpress.com)