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Old 2012-03-22, 21:06   #1
cheesehead
 
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"Do Animals Know Right from Wrong? New Clues Point to 'Yes'"

http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/...ght-wrong.html

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In a famous YouTube video, Tank the dog sure does look guilty when his owner comes home to find trash scattered everywhere, and the trash can lid incriminatingly stuck on Tank's head. But does the dog really know he misbehaved, or is he just trying to look submissive because his owner is yelling at him?

In another new video from the BBC "Frozen Planet" series, Adelie penguins are seen gathering stones to build their nests. One penguin stealthily steals a stone from his neighbor's nest every time the neighbor goes a-gathering. Does the penguin thief know its covert actions are wrong?

These are some of the scenarios that interest ethologists, or scientists who study animal behavior. For years, these scientists categorically ruled out the possibility that animals might have a sense of morality β€” that they know right from wrong. Lately, though, the tide is turning.

. . .

Justice for all

Bekoff is a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and co-founder (with primatologist Jane Goodall) of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. His extensive field research has led him to believe that morality is an evolved trait, rather than a system created by humans, and that it evolved early in the history of mammals.

"It has only been observed in certain species, because it really hasn't been studied extensively, but I would expect that moral sentiments would be fairly widespread among mammals," Bekoff told Life's Little Mysteries.

Much of Bekoff's research has focused on wolves and coyotes β€” both of which live in tight-knit groups governed by strict rules. Bekoff has observed acts of altruism, tolerance, forgiveness, reciprocity and fairness among wolves and coyotes, and says many of these moral sentiments are evident in the way the animals play with one another.

. . .

As for the penguin, Bekoff has observed thieving penguins in the wild, and did not get the sense that they knew stealing stones was wrong. Ravens who steal food, on the other hand, do know they're misbehaving, Bekoff said. The distinction arises from the different way that ravens' and penguins' peers react to the thievery.

"In the raven situation, their social organization depends on treating each other fairly and not stealing, so they punish animals that have stolen food and treat them different from ones that haven't. In the penguin situation , they don't do that. Penguins that steal are not ostracized by their group," he said. Thus there's no moral code of conduct being violated in the case of the penguins, and in the video, the thief steals stealthily not because it thinks its actions are wrong, but rather because that's simply the best way to get its neighbor's stones, he explained.

Animal morality is a tricky business, and more research is needed to discover when and in what forms it exists. That said, "The little we know now about the moral behavior of animals really leads us to conclude that it's much more developed than we previously gave them credit for," Bekoff said. "We are not the sole occupants of the moral arena β€” and it's unlikely that we would be, given what we know about evolution."
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Old 2012-03-22, 21:08   #2
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(How soon will a moderator change this thread's original title -- "Morality in Non-humans" -- to something else?)
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Old 2012-03-22, 22:15   #3
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Early this morning, I watched a second season episode of TNG where Data plays Holmes, and the ship's holodeck accidentally creates a sentient (here meaning aware of his own consciousness) being as part of a program to "beat" Data. Not exactly animal morality, but you can consider how much morality this character has, considering that it was created by a non-sentient computer.

More directly on topic, what about interactions with other species? In all your quotes, morality is only discussed in the context of one's own social group, however I'm pretty we humans typically fo our best to be moral to other species as well when we interact with them. (I will go read the full article now.)

Edit: I've read the article, and my point was not discussed, so I'll leave it here as well as add a different interpretation: Assuming the what the article suggests is true, i.e. that morality is an evolved trait, then it seems to me that it would only be one of the many things that animals evolve to better survive; in most mammals' cases, this means working for the good of the pack for one's own good (Adam Smith, anyone?), however, this same "morality" would therefore (in general) not extend to other species, because that's not beneficial to one's own species' survival (I am well aware of the many symbiotic biological relationships out there, but I believe those are the exception, not the rule, correct?). Obviously these are untested hypotheses, but the conclusion is that our morality does transcend species (our at least most of us try as such) and therefore our "morality" is different from other animals because it is not solely a survival mechanism.

Last fiddled with by Dubslow on 2012-03-22 at 22:30
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Old 2012-03-23, 06:50   #4
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Originally Posted by Dubslow View Post
Obviously these are untested hypotheses, but the conclusion is that our morality does transcend species (our at least most of us try as such) and therefore our "morality" is different from other animals because it is not solely a survival mechanism.
No one is claiming that other species have a morality that is as broad as that of humans.

As for ours not being solely a survival mechanism, what are some examples? (I'm just asking you for examples, not disagreeing with you.)
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Old 2012-03-23, 07:31   #5
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(How soon will a moderator change this thread's original title -- "Morality in Non-humans" -- to something else?)
Your wish is my command.
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Old 2012-03-23, 11:54   #6
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Originally Posted by xilman View Post
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Old 2012-03-23, 13:38   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheesehead View Post
No one is claiming that other species have a morality that is as broad as that of humans.
I guess not, but the generalized statements made in popular news articles tend to... well, I think a lot of people will read in that interpretation, I certainly did before you mentioned it.
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As for ours not being solely a survival mechanism, what are some examples? (I'm just asking you for examples, not disagreeing with you.)
All of the many environmental activists out there? (PETA, etc..?) There's a lot of them out there, that's for sure.
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Old 2012-03-23, 15:45   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheesehead View Post
As for ours not being solely a survival mechanism, what are some examples? (I'm just asking you for examples, not disagreeing with you.)
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All of the many environmental activists out there? (PETA, etc..?) There's a lot of them out there, that's for sure.
There may be good examples, but I wouldn't consider environmental activists to be in that category. If concern for the environment is not directly connected with our survival then I don't know what is. Even specifically animal welfare is directly related to human welfare in the sense that we are dependent on the continuation of the food chain.
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Old 2012-03-23, 16:29   #9
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Even specifically animal welfare is directly related to human welfare in the sense that we are dependent on the continuation of the food chain.
Somehow I think PETA would be pissed to hell if we thought of animals as food. Vegetarians and vegans are exactly those who are moral (in their view of morals) to animals at the expense of food. (Note that I don't agree with those particular morals, but the topic here is about morals in animals, not which things are/n't moral.) These are exactly the sort of morals that no animals would evolve into. (Now, like I said above, not all humans share these morals, but they do exist in a large portion of the human population.)
(For example, http://features.peta.org/VegetarianStarterKit/index.asp)
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Old 2012-03-23, 16:31   #10
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Also what about nature vs. nurture? If a wolf, coyote, etc. wasn't raised by his pack, but by, say (ignoring biology and weather here) those "moral-less" penguins, would he still understand the morals of the pack if he was only exposed to them the first time as an adult? Obviously the same question for humans applies as well. (If it is more of a nurture thing, that would suggest that it is less evolutionary.)
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Old 2012-03-23, 17:45   #11
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Originally Posted by cheesehead View Post
(How soon will a moderator change this thread's original title -- "Morality in Non-humans" -- to something else?)
10 hours and 25 minutes
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