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  • By Ed Yong

    Which mammal is most likely to be murdered by its own kind? It’s certainly not humans—not even close. Nor is it a top predator like the grey wolf or lion, although those at least are #11 and #9 in […]

    • From the OP

      ” Gómez’s team calculated that at the origin of Homo sapiens, we were six times more lethally violent than the average mammal, but about as violent as expected for a primate. But time and social organizations have sated our ancestral bloodthirst, leaving us with modern rates of lethal violence that are well below the prehistoric baseline. We are an average member of an especially violent group of mammals, and we’ve managed to curb our ancestry.”

      So Hobbes, Pinker, Turchin, LaurieB……………..ONE

      Rousseau, Religious Right, regressive left……….NIL

    • Phil

      Non human animals do not murder; they hunt. Apples and oranges…No, apples and electricity.

      Rousseau was a fantastic writer. Why are you lumping him in with the others?

      Your comment (Nil and One) is not clear. What are you saying?

      Regressive left again? LaurieB? I think highly of her too, but you get the “Darling” award.

    • Dan

      Non human animals do kill each other and not necessarily for food. Infanticide is one example. It’s part of human female reproductive strategy. Male lions kill cubs that are not theirs when they take over the pride.

      https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sarah_Hrdy/publication/222438680_Hrdy_S._B._Infanticide_among_animals_A_review_classification_and_examination_of_the_implications_for_the_reproductive_strategies_of_females._Ethol._Sociobiol._1_13-40/links/54ada4670cf2828b29fcb105.pdf

      Also off the top of my head, I’ve read about male chimps cruising the borders of their territory and capturing a male from the other side and they proceed to beat him to death. I don’t think they ate him, just pulverized him for the hell of it.

    • Non human animals do not murder; they hunt.

      They bump off irritating rivals.

      Thing is that clear demarkation you want isn’t a thing. It is apples and pears.

      Score one, score nil. Might be a UK football thing.

      Regressive left… also believe in evil as a thing.

    • Laurie

      They kill (and I was going to write “kill” instead of “hunt”) but they do not murder!

      Murder is killing with malice aforethought.

      Those male chimps are in no way morally responsible for such acts.

      Yes, the killing chimps are almost murderers – and a stone is almost a leaf. Both are things. I am sick of this nonsense.

      “So Hobbes, Pinker, Turchin, LaurieB……………..ONE”

      So Schopenhauer, Cyndi Lauper, Einstein, Dick Van Dyke, Johnny Carson, Mailer, Dan, LaurieB…………….TWO

      (I have no idea what our mutual friend Phil was getting at with his list, although he just tried to explain it. Do you?)

    • Scoring one beats scoring nothing….

      Did you read the article?

    • Dan

      It’s about Pinker’s assertion that humans were/are murderous thugs but over time we are overriding our natural propensity to violence and now life in the West is the best it’s ever been. We are more moral and empathetic than ever. This is attributable to a number of factors – all explained in Better Angels.

      Some human murderers are excused from responsibility too. Self defense for example or mental illness. The law makes distinctions between different types of murder.

      Dan, take the easy way out; read the book.

    • From the OP

      “In the primates, infanticide is undoubtedly the commonest type,” says Wrangham. However, we humans “belong to a club of species that kill adults at an exceptionally high rate—a small club that includes a few social and territorial carnivores such as wolves, lions and spotted hyenas. That’s worth stressing in order to avoid readers leaping to the conclusion that there is nothing surprising about human violence. Humans really are exceptional.”

      For human females, abortion is the new infanticide. We have the means to dispatch unwanted embryos with very little risk to ourselves. Before this was true, the medically safe thing to do was to give birth and abandon the baby. Safe legal abortion keeps the human (post birth) infanticide numbers way down.

    • In evolutionary psychology, the Cinderella effect is the alleged higher incidence of different forms of child-abuse and mistreatment by stepparents than by biological parents. It takes its name from the fairy tale character Cinderella. Evolutionary psychologists describe the effect as a remnant of an adaptive reproductive strategy among primates in which males frequently kill the offspring of other males in order to bring their mothers into estrus, and give the male a chance to fertilize her himself. There is both supporting evidence for this theory and criticism against it.

      For over 30 years, data has been collected regarding the validity of the Cinderella effect, with a wealth of evidence indicating a direct relationship between step-relationships and abuse. This evidence of child abuse and homicide comes from a variety of sources including official reports of child abuse, clinical data, victim reports, and official homicide data.[2] Studies have concluded that “stepchildren in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States indeed incur greatly elevated risk of child maltreatment of various sorts, especially lethal beatings”.[3]

      From:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella_effect

    • “Some human murderers are excused from responsibility too.”

      Yes, that is true. But chimps never murder; they kill. What is the difference? And does that male chimp’s act count as murder? This all depends on one’s moral philosophy, if one has one. I might write an essay about this. (It’ll take several days at least, as this is an exceedingly complex subject.)

      Why are we more empathic now? You should be able to answer that one succinctly. If your answer pleases me I will read Pinker’s opus.

    • Empathy helps us better succeed and reproduce.

    • I once saw a kid step on an ant-hill. Mass murder. He should have gone to jail.

      If you’re old enough to commit the crime
      you’re old enough to do the time.

      The praying mantis that bites the head off of its mate after copulation: murder! Heinous! I say life in prison – at least.

      Antipathy and scapegoating helps those in power to organize and increase their power and control – and the corporate-owned media (propaganda) keeps people uninformed and all the more susceptible to being exploited and manipulated.

    • Praying mantis morals will approve of the sex fetish beheading.

      Some ant prosecutor would like to press charges if they could.

      No, seriously. These are strawmwmen all. The point is the transition (killing to murder) is pretty seemless

    • Hi Dan,

      Murder is killing with malice aforethought.
      Those male chimps are in no way morally responsible for such acts.

      …chimps never murder; they kill. What is the difference? And does that male chimp’s act count as murder? This all depends on one’s moral philosophy, if one has one.

      There is evidence that nonhuman animals (particularly those with complex social structures) have moral codes. They have a sense of right and wrong, fairness and injustice within their own species. Morality is not exclusively human. Murder is simply a word that means unjustified, unfair, or the “wrong kind” of killing of a member of one’s own species or in-group. It’s not exclusively human.

    • “The point is the transition (killing to murder) is pretty seemless.” —PR

      ”…moral codes…” —PP

      One could argue – and technically one would be right – that the transition from virtually anything to something similar but different is essentially quantitative.— But it is an absurd point, and hardly worthy of philosophical debate. The transition from inorganic nature to organic nature, from vegetable life to animal life, from young to old, from rich to poor, from (political) left to right, from uncivilized to civilized, from less developed to more developed organisms, from killing to murder, from affection to love, from a bird singing to a Haydn composing, are all parts of a vast continuum – and this is no straw-man.

      Quantity changes quality.

    • Murderous [non-human] mammals is a referentially vacuous concept. Murder is a statutory crime described or narrated in human language variously requiring intention, premeditation, malice of forethought, negligent disregard for human life, lying in wait, killing for financial gain, revenge and a host of other qualifying factors. A hamster does not kill its newborn for reasons other than reflex and instinct. The critic who pointed out that humans often kill adult victims -unlike animals inclined to spontaneous infanticide- after a deliberative process, often carried out according to a premeditated plan either individually or collectively, are engaging in entirely different behaviors. Even in the “heat of passion” humans carry out murder with a level of linguistic awareness of motive, intention and action that is absent in non-human mammals.

    • Thank you, Melvin. Well said. I don’t know if I’d use the phrase “linguistic awareness” but very good.

    • The extra qualities Melvin reasonably invokes to move us into murder proper may possibly exist in chimp colonies (say).

      Stupid males are always fighting and sometimes they get killed. So far so “traditional”. But a chimp killing a very young male of the troupe may suffer troupe disapproval and sanctions. The killer may weigh the disapproval in the balance of his action.

      If these latter two things can be shown to happen then the contiguous journey to murder is shown to be complete, if not fully completed

      Murder can be eased into.

    • How about we all just agree to call it “proto-murder” for now? Then, somewhere down the road, when these other species develop linguistic awareness (or when we figure out they have proto-linguistic awareness), we can graduate to calling it murder (or whatever equivalent term they come up with that means essentially the same thing in the context of their communities).

    • Good question, Bonnie. I am not sure that we have the “right” to exploit nature and destroy species for profit, but whether that is tantamount to saying that the animals themselves having a right not to be exploited and killed off is another matter. I think that one could make the case that animals have the right not to be treated inhumanely, tortured and slaughtered and wiped out; that is a natural right; that would be easier to argue than the opposite. But we mustn’t get carried away either.

      What is a right? Where do are rights come from? All good questions – and troublesome.

      Phil, you can use the word murder if it pleases you, but it doesn’t mean anything to say that a chimp kills another chimp. What is the function of the word? Where does such a judgment fit in in chimp society? Are you going to punish it? rehabilitate it? reproach it? To what end? A more humane chimp society? The word has no meaning in that context.

      “Proto-murder” is good. The killing described above has the rudiments of murder (which as yet has no practical meaning) in its germ.

    • Some on the thread have joked implicitly about the absurdity of charging a non-human mammal with murder and bringing it to trial. Modern law requires that the defendant understand the charges brought against him or her before qualifying for trial. Once in court, both prosecutor and defense counsel must present complex linguistic descriptions of the act with respect to the equally complex linguistic requirements of the statute; witnesses testify in language to describe or narrate what they believe they have observed to have happened; the jury deliberates often at length by “talking about” the accuracy of the evidence presented and so on. Trials consist of people talking about ways of talking about “murder.” We humans are relying on language all the way down to describe an act of killing as murder. In a pragmatic sense “murder exists” because the term “murder” and the actual and potential ways we have of talking about it are in our language. Not so for animals.

    • I say try and convict all animals (including insects) who kill for reasons other than survival. Put them away. They’re criminals and rapists – and Trump agrees. (Those male chimps are savages. Bad people…er, animals.) And deport them back to where they belong. I don’t want them near our schools or playgrounds. Plus, they’re taking jobs away from humans.

      Killing is the same as murder or close to it; that’s what you said: “a seemless transition”; and animals have a code of morals, as Peace Pecan said. He’s right. They know what they are doing. Give me a break. Law and order! That’s what we need.

    • Dan

      Phil, you can use the word murder if it pleases you, but it doesn’t mean anything to say that a chimp kills another chimp. What is the function of the word?

      I never actually used the word as a description of chimp killing and still haven’t. I am not interested in setting up chimp courts. Indeed I am not interested in seeking out “murderers” amongst isolated hunter gatherer tribes in the Amazon with a view to bringing them to book. If anything given my distaste for American punitive mindsets I am all for a little more insight into the mind of murderers to see myself in there, still keeping the horror of the act but nuancing the religio-mindless response to it.

      If you recall this was about the transition from ape to man and was about the high (unusual amongst mammals) violence of primates and very early man. Finding the roots of the retreat from violence in hominin culture was my subsequent interest. It will of course be a seemless progression.

      The cultural invention of murder is a significant factor in winding down the violence. Chimps may get there one day….

    • Killing is the same as murder or close to it; that’s what you said: “a seemless transition”

      That means there is a transition which means it is not the same.

      The start and the finish are different. That is why I said contiguous. Once you introduce Melvin’s requirements that an act is culturally disapproved of and a potential miscreant has an intention to commit a disapproved of act and weighs the consequences in his mind, you have arrived at the start of a moral process that allows the invention of crime. These start as inklings of feelings and grow. There is no demarking ensoulment that makes us moral.

    • Dan

      If your answer pleases me I will read Pinker’s opus.

      Hmm. I thought about it for a while. If you do read it then the parameters of our relationship will be altered forever. I don’t think I’m ready for such a paradigm shift.

    • Re: empathy, here is a section from Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature that I thought was very interesting when I read it.

      Increasing literacy rates and mass production of books, especially novels have the effect of putting ourselves into the mind of others and experiencing their pleasure and pain.

      From the book:

      page 173
      Figure 4-10 presents a pair of time series from Clark which suggest that during the 17th century in England, rates of literacy doubled, and that by the end of the century a majority of Englishmen had learned to read and write.

      Literacy was increasing in other parts of Western Europe at the same time. By the late 18th century a majority of French citizens had become literate, and though estimates of literacy don’t appear for other countries until later, they suggest that by the early 19th century a majority of men were literate in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland as well.

      Page 174
      People began to read secular rather than just religious material, to read to themselves instead of in groups, and to read a wide range of topical media, such as pamphlets and periodicals, rather than rereading a few canonical texts like almanacs, devotional works, and the Bible.

      The growth of writing and literacy strikes me as the best candidate for an exogenous change that helped set off he Humanitarian Revolution. The pokey little world of village and clan, accessible through the five senses and informed by a single content provider, the church, gave way to a phantasmagoria of people, places, cultures and ideas. And for several reasons, the expansion of people’s minds could have added a dose of humanitarianism to their emotions and their beliefs.

      Page 175
      The human capacity for compassion is not a reflex that is triggered automatically by the presence of another living thing. As we shall see in chapter 9, though people in all cultures can react sympathetically to kin, friends and babies they tend to hold back when it comes to larger circles of neighbors, strangers, foreigners, and other sentient wings. In his book The Expanding circle, the philosopher Peter Singer has argued that over the course of history, people have enlarged the range of beings whose interests they value as they value their own. An interesting question is what inflated the empathy circle. And a good candidate is the expansion of literacy.

      Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else’s thoughts are in your head you are observing the world from the person’s vantage point. Not only are you taking in sights and sounds that you could not experience firsthand, but you have stepped inside that person’s mind and are temporarily sharing his or her attitudes and reactions. As we shall see, “empathy” in the sense of adopting someone’s viewpoint is not the same as “empathy” in the sense of feeling compassion toward the person, but the first can lead to the second by a natural route. Stepping into someone else’s vantage point reminds you that the other fellow has a first-person, present-tense, ongoing stream of consciousness that is very much like your own but no the same as your own. It’s not a big leap to suppose that the habit of reading other people’s words could put one in the habit of entering other people’s minds, including their pleasures and pains. Slipping even for a moment into the perspective of someone who is turning black in a pillory or desperately pushing burning faggots away from her body or convulsing under the two hundredth stroke of the lash may give a person second thoughts as to whether these cruelties should ever be visited upon anyone.

    • Phil

      That means there is a transition which means it is not the same.

      Okay, we meet again. Sorry. I got a little carried away.

    • @Dan,
      Your conviction that chimps cannot murder (only kill) is not a subject I’d given thought to before, but in a split-second I was convinced you were wrong. Sorry. If you had been talking about lions and wolves, for example, I would have moved on without a second thought.

      Chimp behaviour is very complex, they can transmit culture. They can be taught human language, up to a point, and although they have no language (as we would know it) in the wild, it would brave indeed to say they cannot think.
      Chimps are intelligent and self-aware. They can lie. They can plan ahead. The very smartest chimps are possibly smarter than the very dumbest (but fully able) humans.

      Do they understand the difference between “right” and “wrong”? That seems to be the only hurdle left.
      Well, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

      If they understand the difference (and they can act as though they do), their killing can be said to be murder. If for example a bunch of chimps took clubs and stones (planning ahead) for a walk on the border of their territory and “happened” across a neighbouring chimp and killed it, then that would be murder. We can’t see inside their heads, but clearly they were prepared for the eventuality and took it without hesitation. Good enough for a judge to call it pre-meditation, if it were humans.

      “They don’t see it as wrong” would not seem to work as a defence, as it could equally be applied to a bunch of humans taking knives and guns for a walk on the border of their territory and “happening” across an out-group human… (and those humans might truly not see it as wrong, but that’s not the point; it’s still murder)

      When dealing with the in-group, chimps clearly have a sense of morality, reciprocation and know “right” from “wrong”.

      That this doesn’t apply to out-groups does not mean it isn’t murder, maybe they use they same rationale that humans do: the neighbouring group are dirty sub-chimps and don’t deserve to live.

    • Laurie, Phil, MadEnglishman—

      Thanks, Laurie, for compiling those passages for me (and others). I’ll give it a shot – although I have a strong impression that this fellow is a highly flawed and superficial thinker. Reading cannot engender empathy! That is one of many asinine remarks. However, I am trying to be more open, more open to new ideas. (Not easy for this “conservative”.—I am conservative in the Rimmerian sense of the word)

      The human capacity for compassion is not a reflex that is triggered automatically by the presence of another living thing.

      Wrong! (I sound like trump in the debate.) Wrong! Excuse me….Excuse me…

      Here’s a quote that speaks to me, by a young man who committed suicide at the age of twenty-three. I posted this somewhere else. Forgot where.

      Only brutalised criminals and insane persons take absolutely no interest in their fellow men; they live as if they were alone in the world, and the presence of strangers has no effect on them. But for him who possesses a self there is a self in his neighbour, and only the man who has lost the logical and ethical centre of his being behaves to a second man as if the latter were not a man and had no personality of his own. “I” and “thou” are complementary terms. A man soonest gains consciousness of himself when he is with other men. This is why a man is prouder in the presence of other men than when he is alone, whilst it is in his hours of solitude that his self-confidence is damped. Lastly, he who destroys himself destroys at the same time the whole universe, and he who murders another commits the greatest crime because he murders himself in his victim. Absolute selfishness is, in practice, a horror, which should rather be called nihilism; if there is no “thou,” there is certainly no “I”, and that would mean there is nothing. —Otto Weininger (1880-1903)

      Mad Englishman,

      “They don’t see it as wrong” would not seem to work as a defence, as it could equally be applied to a bunch of humans.

      But there are humans who do see it as wrong. Most do. That is why we condemn criminals as immoral, in courts of law and in life, condemn and judge those who kill without remorse or conscience. Now if no humans anywhere saw killing or stealing as wrong than there would be no basis for judging an act of killing or stealing as murder or theft. Such judgments require contrast – a moral norm, if you will. There aren’t any chimps that are capable of seeing the killing of other chimps as wrong; nor are chimps capable of expressing collective disapprobation.

      And without any contrast with other individuals – even a handful – within the species or society, who are capable of refraining from killing and/or able to express condemnation, it makes no sense to refer to the killing chimps as murderers as opposed to killers.

    • P.S. I do think that animals can feel considerable pain when they see another animal killed. But I don’t think they see it as wrong. I would be more inclined to call the killing of elephants for ivory or the killing of deer for sport as murder. If man is doing the killing it comes very close to murder; but for some reason we just don’t say “he just murdered an elephant.” I don’t know precisely why. In any case, if an animal kills a man or another animal it is, in my view, not accurate to call it murder, for the reason I gave above and for other reasons. The more developed an organism it is the ore it suffers.That is why an aunt’s life concerns us less than a penguin’s life and a penguin’s life concerns us less than a man’s. However, if I saw someone killing a turtle (one of my favorite animals) and enjoying it I would assume that that person is indifferent to existence and more likely to commit murder than he would otherwise be. But no one should kill any animal except for food – and there is much needed reform in this area. I personally never kill insects. In fact, I pick them up and put them on the side of the road.

      Elephants are highly intelligent and highly developed animals.

      Animals do feel loss and despair and fear. What caused me to write this postscript is a recollection I just had. I once saw a documentary about elephants – when I was about ten. (I am in my fifties now.) There was a scene. This scene was so horrible and so sad that I will spare you and not describe it. It haunts me and torments me to this day.

      (I wanted to make my love of animals and my opposition to cruelty towards them clear. Ironically, these feelings are human feelings; that is, compassion for all animals is not something that animals have, and opposition to cruelty is a principle. Animals have no principles.)

    • @LaurieB: “Increasing literacy rates and mass production of books, especially novels have the effect of putting ourselves into the mind of others and experiencing their pleasure and pain…”

      This sounds commendable but I wonder if you are forging too tight a bond between literacy generating “empathy” and humanitarian behavior. Every German was literate in 1933. Every Nazi could read Goethe and a host of other literary giants.

      Often we must extend “empathy” exclusively to members of our in-group in order to achieve solidarity and thereby maximize collective power competing against an adversary denied empathy in a struggle for control over scarce resources. For example, a teachers union striking for higher salaries cannot extend “empathy” to administrators trying to stretch a limited budget to the breaking point. Both the teachers and the administrators will paint the other group as the the bad guys in order to win to win public support for their opposing needs, purposes and interests.

    • Dan

      Capuchins are principled in the right circumstances. They have a sense of fairness. They will reject offered food if they see a neighbour capuchin has been given none.

      Children from poor countries don’t exhibit such behaviours so much, whilst richer country kids do. This may be because those who experience real deprivation haven’t the luxury of such principles. In dire circumstances mothers will train their young to be selfish. The lab capuchins live in first world luxury.

      All the behavioural roots are there for when the tipping point of enough neural capacities triggering culture arrive.

    • @Dan #31

      I do think that animals can feel considerable pain when they see another animal killed. But I don’t think they see it as wrong.

      In general, pain is a result of damage or harm. How could any normally functioning sentient being feel pain and not “see it as wrong”? If not this, then what else could possibly be the basis for determining what is “wrong” and bad versus what is right and good? Morality is based on the perception of pain and pleasure (or at least absence of pain).

      I would be more inclined to call the killing of elephants for ivory or the killing of deer for sport as murder. If man is doing the killing it comes very close to murder; but for some reason we just don’t say “he just murdered an elephant.” I don’t know precisely why.

      Some do say this, but it is done mainly to stir emotions. Interspecies killing can be considered wrong or immoral, but it cannot be considered murder without redefining the word.

      Elephants are highly intelligent and highly developed animals.
      Animals do feel loss and despair and fear. What caused me to write this postscript is a recollection I just had. I once saw a documentary about elephants – when I was about ten. (I am in my fifties now.) There was a scene. This scene was so horrible and so sad that I will spare you and not describe it. It haunts me and torments me to this day.

      I think I may have seen that film. There are more recent observations of elephants, as well as other animals, that are just as affecting and convincing that humans are not the sole possessors of a sense of right and wrong.

      (I wanted to make my love of animals and my opposition to cruelty towards them clear. Ironically, these feelings are human feelings; that is, compassion for all animals is not something that animals have, and opposition to cruelty is a principle. Animals have no principles.)

      Of course your feelings are human. But why is it not possible for other species to have similar “feelings”, particularly those with whom we share a common ancestor? Where does compassion begin? And, once begun, where can it lead?

    • Melvin

      This sounds commendable but I wonder if you are forging too tight a bond between literacy generating “empathy” and humanitarian behavior. Every German was literate in 1933. Every Nazi could read Goethe and a host of other literary giants.

      First off I will say that those are Pinker’s words that I quoted straight from his book. Personally, I have no problem drawing a straight line from empathy to altruistic behavior, but why do you doubt the idea of it?

      You use the word “humanitarian” above and I’ll give the definition:

      hu·man·i·tar·i·an

      (h)yo͞oˌmanəˈterēən/

      adjective
      1.

      concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare.
      “groups sending humanitarian aid”

      synonyms: compassionate, humane;

      noun
      1.
      a person who seeks to promote human welfare; a philanthropist.

      synonyms: philanthropist, altruist, benefactor, patron, social reformer, good Samaritan;

      Allowing for the occasional rip off artist, I have to assume that people who fit the description above must be some of the most empathetic individuals on the face of the earth today. Peter Singer is a model of this group.

      I haven’t read Goethe and can’t speak to his work but are the Nazis the best example that we could use? There are a number of factors leading to the disaster of the holocaust and I’m not sure if the lack of reading of Goethe by the German hoi polloi is one of them.

      High literature is not what Pinker is getting at in his chapter of Better Angels”. He’s really talking about lower level novels that grip the reader in the life of a character as they process through some challenges. I think of it as our current day sagas like *Poldark which is playing currently on PBS or Downton Abbey of the same channel. These shows are intellectually lightweight material but the devoted viewers buy into the characters emotionally and invest in their demise or well being every Sunday evening for an hour. I can tell you that women I know discuss the events of the show with emotion expressed that is indicative of some personal bonding with the fictional characters. There are also no shortage of people (mostly women?) who read novels of the same genre. Actually, Poldark is a series of novels that carry a social justice message along with some gripping characters who lead lives of privilege and hardship. Easy to invest in emotionally for the reader/viewer. I think this is more what Pinker is getting at.

      I couldn’t include the whole chapter from Pinker’s book but he does name in paragraphs after the ones I typed out here, the books he has in mind; Pamela (1740), Clarissa (1748), and Julie (1761). About these novels, on page 176 Pinker says,

      “Grown men burst into tears while experiencing the forbidden loves, intolerable marriages, and cruel twists of fate in the lives of undistinguished women (including servants) with whom they had nothing in common. A retired military officer, writing to Rousseau, gushed: ‘You have driven me crazy about her. Imagine then the tears that her death must have wrung from me…Never have I wept such delicious tears. hat reading created such a powerful effect on me that I believe I would have gladly died during that supreme moment.’

      Also on page 176:

      The philosophes of the Enlightenment extolled the way novels engaged a reader’s identification with and sympathetic concern for others. In his eulogy for Richardson, Diderot wrote:

      One takes, despite all precautions, a role in his works, you are thrown into conversation, you approve, you blame, you admire, you become irritated, you feel indignant. How many times did I not surprise myself, as it happens to children who have been taken to the theater for the first time, crying: “Don’t believe it, he is deceiving you”…His characters are taken from ordinary society…the passions he depicts are those I feel in myself.

      I’m aware of the tactic taken by groups to reduce the “others” to a less than human status, making it easier on them to annihilate them and walk away feeling good about themselves and the situation. But also, as Singer points out in his writings, our circle of empathy has been expanding slowly but surely over time and it is still doing so currently.

      Pinker is pointing out that increasing literacy rates over the past four hundred years and the availability of novels to the common folk had a significant effect on the expansion of this expansion of empathy.

      I hope I gave proper credit to authors here but I’m writing in a rush. Will go back through in detail later. All above was from Better Angels by Pinker.

    • @dan –

      I personally never kill insects. In fact, I pick them up and put them
      on the side of the road.

      It’s clear you live nowhere near Florida, where the cockroaches are 1.5+ inches long and take to flight at the slightest provocation. 😉

    • Dan,

      As you are someone who loves animals, opposes cruelty, and feels strong empathy for them, I’m surprised we’re at disagreement.

      You’re the one who should be arguing that chimps are nearly human, have emotions and thoughts etc., and I’m the one (more dispassionate about animal welfare) who should be arguing “they’re only animals, they can’t be said to murder”! Yet here we are.

      I think your argument, closing with the comment “without any contrast with other individuals – even a handful – within the species or society, who are capable of refraining from killing and/or able to express condemnation, it makes no sense to refer to the killing chimps as murderers as opposed to killers.” is an interesting point of view.

      But…

      Let’s have a thought experiment. Suppose we take the human population, and “disappear” all the moral compasses amongst us (in an event like the Leftovers, my current favourite series). If one of the humans remaining were to kill another, would it still be murder? There are no individuals within the species left able to express condemnation. Perhaps the next generation born brings back the moral compasses, and so killings become murder again.

      Is killing only murder if there is a moral compass somewhere to pass judgement, at least in principle?

      And to make it clearer, let’s focus on premeditated murder (so self-defence isn’t relevant).
      I think intra-species premeditated murder is an act that requires:-

      1) the ability to plan and think ahead

      2) sanity and the ability to tell right from wrong

      There’s no issue with (1) in the case of chimps/bonobos, it boils down to (2).
      Can a chimp be insane? Clearly yes, mistreated animals can be sent insane, so the rest (excluding pathological cases) can be considered sane (meaning “normal”).

      But can they tell right from wrong?

      According to primatologist Frans de Waal, bonobos are capable of altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience, and sensitivity. It’s hard to accept that as true and still claim they can’t tell right from wrong.
      At its simplest, “right” and “wrong” just requires the golden rule, empathy with another individual and putting yourself in their place. Which is clearly demonstrated even in animals “below” the chimp.

      Phil’s comment about lab capuchins is along the lines I was thinking myself. Chimps and bonobos are undoubtedly close to humans in intelligence and in nature, and currently live in what we would consider a marginal existence, and a given chimp tribe might – for generations – be always on the edge of disaster, always at risk from predators, neighbouring tribes, etc.
      If we imagine humans living in such brutal conditions, generation after generation, we can well imagine how brutalised and desensitised those individuals might be.
      Thus the state most revealing of their true nature ironically might be best reproducible when they are raised in (the best sort of) captivity where they have no worries of predators, starvation, or rival out-groups, and they have leisure time, medical care, and interesting things to do.

    • Thus the state most revealing of their true nature ironically might be best reproducible when they are raised in (the best sort of) captivity where they have no worries of predators, starvation, or rival out-groups, and they have leisure time, medical care, and interesting things to do.

      Assuming your prediction is correct, and chimps do indeed exhibit “better” behavior under those conditions (as I also would expect), why should we be inclined to view this behavior, more so than the other, as “their true nature”?

      We shouldn’t. Both are clearly reflections of “their true nature”.

    • “We’ve known that for a long time! Volumes have been written on this,” says Polly Wiessner, an anthropologist from the University of Utah who is unimpressed with the study’s human half. “They have created a real soup of figures, throwing in individual conflicts with socially organized aggression, ritualized cannibalism, and more. The sources of data used for prehistoric violence are highly variable in reliability. When taken out of context, they are even more so.”

      Richard Wrangham from Harvard University has similar concerns about the mammalian data, noting that Gómez have folded a lot of different kinds of killing—infanticide, adult deaths, and more—into a single analysis. And from an evolutionary standpoint, it matters less whether two related species kill their own kind at a similar rate, but whether they do so in a similar way.

      “In the primates, infanticide is undoubtedly the commonest type,” says Wrangham. However, we humans “belong to a club of species that kill adults at an exceptionally high rate—a small club that includes a few social and territorial carnivores such as wolves, lions and spotted hyenas. That’s worth stressing in order to avoid readers leaping to the conclusion that there is nothing surprising about human violence. Humans really are exceptional.”

      In my view these two critics summarize the weakness of drawing comparisons between alleged non-human and human same-species killing/murder rates based on data gathered from so many different contexts and different frames of reference. I speculate that animal killings (predominately infanticide bolstered by lethal outcomes of territorial, dominance, and mating conflicts among adults) are triggered at a simpler species- specific neurological level of reflex and instinct by sensory inputs contingent on circumstance. Humans would describe most of these non-human killings as “impulsive,” involving no linguistic deliberative process characteristic of the large human brain, especially the large human prefrontal cortex region.

    • Humans would describe most of these non-human killings as “impulsive,” involving no linguistic deliberative process characteristic of the large human brain, especially the large human prefrontal cortex region.

      So are we quibbling over the difference between murder and manslaughter? I don’t think the author of this article was using the word murder in such a strict, as legally defined sense, and neither was I. Perhaps if the author had used the word “chimpslaughter” it might have saved us all a lot of wasted time.

      By the way, is it not possible for an intelligent animal to have non-linguistic deliberative processes? Can killing be pre-meditated without language? How would we know?

    • I was surprised by the vegetarians among the murderers. Somehow I thought that they’d be above all that nastiness.

      As for chimps, I hate ’em. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they can actually murder. I wouldn’t be surprised if lying-in-wait were their preferred method. How many times have we heard of the hapless dopey humans who invite their adopted chimp child to a birthday party only to get their faces ripped off?

      I refuse to claim that side of the family. Bonobos all the way!

    • By the way, is it not possible for an intelligent animal to have non-linguistic deliberative processes? Can killing be pre-meditated without language? How would we know?

      The chimp and other bright animals lack the ability to acquire and use language. So the answer appears that they do not “think” like humans; they do not deliberate or premeditate -terms that presuppose the cognitive use of language- pertinent only to human capability. The amazing array of learned behavior exhibited by animals certainly reflects lower levels of cognitive input for simple problem solving. performing physical tricks conditioned by food reward ( a bear riding a bicycle); and, yes, emotive behavior, bonding-social solidarity, loyalty, enthusiasm, a sense of fairness, mourning. If you observe closely such behaviors actually appear simple, inflexible and wired – only superficially related to the cognitive linguistically informed flexible range of complex human behaviors. Anthropomorphism is an appealing delusion.

    • Eeesh. Any time Rousseau gets brought up as “fantastic” (Dan #2) I start to shiver and think of the Durants’ description of him as a moral adolescent. The “Confessions” has to be the most narcissistic collection of self-celebration in human history–even Will and Ariel at their brilliant best couldn’t paint him as anything other than a dilettante. L’homme sauvage changed his mind so often on religion his unbendable precepts danced like reflections off a prism dangling in the sunlight. The reason Phil “lumped” him in with the more reactionary elements of our day? He was essentially emotional in response to the human condition, and rejected any evidence that didn’t extend from his own experience.

    • Melvin

      The chimp and other bright animals lack the ability to acquire and use language. So the answer appears that they do not “think” like humans; they do not deliberate or premeditate -terms that presuppose the cognitive use of language-

      This is clearly false. Language to the level of say a three year old is teachable to bright enough primates and corvids. Sophisticated language with anything but the most rudimentary grammar is equally clearly an impossibility, though Koko the gorilla was capable of metaphorical epithets and neologisms. All-ball was Koko’s name for his pet kitten and Alex Parrott, given cake for the first time and lacking a given name called it yummy bread.

      Corvids and elephants plan problem solving. (Bending the wire to hook the food, moving boxes to stand on, etc.) So far corvids have managed solving six stage problems, mentally sequencing operations before implementing seamless sets of actions, to achieve the reward. Many animals pre-meditate action. Hunting depends on it.

      Mental tokens may well exist as pre-cursors to language. Such tokens may well exist as topological representations and process representations. They may be nameless in our understanding of name, BUT, teaching animals languages never seems to encounter an inability to graft on a name to such a token. Some naming is quick and easy which suggests pre-existing mental tokens, some is hard suggesting tokens need to be newly formed.

    • ep2016.

      I sometimes wonder if bonobo ancestors and chimp ancestors evolved into human left wingers and right wingers respectively….

    • @PeacePecan #39
      Does man have a “true nature” or is it entirely at the mercy of environmental factors?

      Is man good by default, and only turns bad under traumatic or stressful environmental conditions – or is man bad by default, acting good only out of cynical motives, fear of strong government (or supernatural forces), enlightened self-interest, kin selection factors or whatever?

      Whatever the answer for man, the same may apply (to some extent) for chimps.

    • @Phil #46
      If you travel down the Congo, you’ll find bonobos are on the Left Bank.

    • @madenglishman #47

      As far as “default” good vs. bad behavior (as difficult as it can be to define), I’m sure it varies with populations and individuals and is at least partially determined by both genetics and environment. Statistically, one or the other may predominate at certain times and places, but both tools are always in the toolbox.

      Point being that man’s, chimp’s, or indeed any living organism’s “true nature” is the entire spectrum of what is observed, through all the various conditions in which they live. The poorest conditions are just as good at revealing “true nature” as are the best.

    • Just one other thing on animal language and its nature.

      Dolphins send each other images.

      http://www.speakdolphin.com/ResearchItems.cfm?ID=20

      These are auditory pictograms, very information dense and entirely capable of carrying out complex ideas.

      “So, Donald….yes him. Schlong. How long?…………..Ha, ha, ha!”

      Many animals name concepts. The calls for “sky threats” or ground threats, snake threat and tiger threats distinguished. Food alerts….

    • @Melvin, #43
      The chimp and other bright animals lack the ability to acquire and use language.
      Not so, see Phil’s reply. Whether they have “enough” language is moot. We can keep raising the bar to exclude chimps but in doing so we may find we also exclude some humans along the way.

      So the answer appears that they do not “think” like humans; they do not deliberate or premeditate -terms that presuppose the cognitive use of language- pertinent only to human capability.
      Why would we require language capability to be present before an act can be labelled deliberate or premeditated?
      If a chimp cuts off a tree limb, waits behind a tree, then jumps out and brains a rival with the home-made club does it matter how the chimp decided to do it?
      If a human prepared a weapon ahead of time and then waits in ambush to kill their partner’s lover… that’s premeditation and the law don’t need to know what they were thinking.

      When talking of chimps committing “murder” we are clearly not using the legal definition applicable to humans but using a simile. Knowing it’s wrong is a factor in whether a killing is murder… but what does that mean?

      Knowing right from wrong is a concept that is hard to apply to animals, but I propose the following substitution:-

      the animal must be self-aware (the old that’s-me-in-the-mirror test)
      the animal must display empathy, be capable of being aware of the distress of others etc.

      I’m not going to argue the point much further but I think if you combine these two things the golden rule pops out viscerally, even for animals.
      Certainly humans lacking one or the other of these features will not apply the golden rule. Sociopaths who don’t feel empathy may be aware of the golden rule intellectually, but it’s not something they feel. Regular folk (who haven’t been desensitised by prior exposure to violence) find it very difficult to kill… I think because of the visceral feeling resulting from being self-aware and also empathising with the other party (putting yourself in their shoes)..

      (Yet if a sociopath kills we still call it murder… as if the intellectual understanding of the abstract concept of “wrong” is more important than the ability to feel empathy and know in the gut that it’s wrong.)

      The amazing array of learned behavior exhibited by animals certainly reflects lower levels of cognitive input for simple problem solving. performing physical tricks conditioned by food reward ( a bear riding a bicycle);
      and, yes, emotive behavior, bonding-social solidarity, loyalty, enthusiasm, a sense of fairness, mourning. If you observe closely such behaviors actually appear simple, inflexible and wired – only superficially related to the cognitive linguistically informed flexible range of complex human behaviours. Anthropomorphism is an appealing delusion.

      What you’re actually doing is using “simple” as a cypher for “animal-level” and “complex” as a cypher for “human-level”. Anything animals have been demonstrated to do is “animal-level” and therefore “simple”. Anything humans can do, that we don’t think animals can do, is “human-level” and therefore “complex”.
      We’re constantly revising our understanding of what (some) animals are capable of, and I think we’ve already reached the point where there’s overlap. According to Phil, some birds can solve six-stage planning operations. I think that may already exceed the lowest reaches of human planning capabilities!

      Can we define “thought”/”intelligence”/”language” in order to exclude the very smartest individuals from the higher primates while not also excluding some human specimens?

      Random idea for a psych experiment.
      Describe a series of various behaviours (like the six-stage planning) in species-neutral terms to a test subject who has no prior knowledge of animal behaviour, and see if they can use the activities to define a minimum bar above which activities demonstrate human level intelligence.
      Then reveal progressively all the ones they got wrong, and see if they want to change their mind.

    • @ MadEnglishman: The chimp and other bright animals lack the ability to acquire and use language.
      Not so, see Phil’s reply.

      I did read Phil’s reply and so obviously did you. Whether Koko, the gorilla, or bright chimps and bonobos really acquire a language with sentence-generating grammar is controversial. I’ve gone back and forth on this one in my own mind. The preponderance of evidence suggest that what we observe as animal sign language really boils down to conditioned behavioral interactions between the human trainer and the animal. For example, animals never spontaneously talk among themselves, apart from the barks and noises that reference threats from predators. With few exceptions animals are not observed to talk to themselves. The woman who led a team to train bonobos to learn language by typing on a computer stumbled on a compliant subject after his mother (and others) failed to respond to the training model, suggesting “language acquiring ability” is not innate to the species but “learned” by “bright individuals” receptive to a human-contrived conditioning process.

      The evidence suggests that what appears to us as language-based communication from animal subjects is associative driven behavior usually prompted by immediate stimuli. Chimps have never expressed sentences consisting of more than 3 or 4 “words” in human comprehension. The chimp who signs what a human reads as “me want banana” is probably participating in the same limited conditioned behavior as a dog who brings his leash in mouth to his master when the dog wants to go outside for a walk. No one denies that the animal is communicating in a very limited sense; that it can learn an impressive set of responses from operant or human-reinforced conditioning with limited cognitive inputs and memory retention. Nevertheless, it is a sentimental fallacy to believe that the non-human subject is using a tool to talk to us within the parameters of grammar generated language species-specific to exclusive capabilities of the evolved human brain.

    • Melvin

      Whether Koko, the gorilla, or bright chimps and bonobos really acquire a language with sentence-generating grammar is controversial.

      I just want to be clear I explicitly excluded sophisticated gramar.

      Sophisticated language with anything but the most rudimentary grammar is equally clearly an impossibility, though Koko the gorilla was capable of metaphorical epithets and neologisms.

      The gauntlet thrown down is this unproven hypothesis that moral thought depends on such sophistry. Avoided so far it seems.

      A more plausible hypothesis may centre, for instance, on the ability to develop post hoc excuses for rather more spontaneous bad deeds. Few human lives feature much moral introspection….sadly, (but mostly thanks to religion fritzing things).

    • MadEnglisman, Peter Baird, Phil, PPecan, others

      This question: “do animals animals murder?” is very complex and requires a careful consideration of what we mean by murder. I confess that I have no definite answers to some of the arguments that have been raised, one way or the other – and that I am confused. I still strongly suspect (although I may be wrong) that the so-called moral feelings and the so-called principles of animals, that a number of people on this thread have referred to, are exaggerations, inaccuracies, are not relevant to this discussion, and prove nothing. Show me a chimp that can deliberate, and make a decision not to kill on the basis of its moral character (a greater susceptibility to the opposing motive which is compassion itself), and you can count me as a convert.

      Is man good by default, and only turns bad under traumatic or stressful environmental conditions – or is man bad by default, acting good only out of cynical motives, fear of strong government (or supernatural forces), enlightened self-interest, kin selection factors or whatever?

      Man is both good and bad – and everything in between.

      “The question has been asked what two men would do each of whom had grown up quite alone in the wilderness and who met each other for the first time. Hobbes, Pufendorf, and Rousseau have given opposite answers. Pufendorf believed they would affectionately greet each other; Hobbes on the other hand, thought they would be hostile, whilst Rousseau considered that they would pass each other by in silence. All three are both right and wrong; for precisely here the immeasurable difference of the inborn moral disposition of individuals would appear in so clear a light that we should have, as it were, its rule and measure. For there are those in whom the sight of man stirs feelings of hostility in that their innermost being exclaims “not-I”. And there are others in whom that sight at once arouses feelings of friendly interest and sympathy; their true nature exclaims “I once more!”. There are innumerable degrees between the two.”

      Peter,

      I said that Rousseau was a fantastic writer, and he was. Read the Reveries of the Solitary Walker. His Confessions has great sweeping power. Read Emile, or On Education.

    • Melvin: The chimp and other bright animals lack the ability to acquire and use language. So the answer appears that they do not “think” like humans; they do not deliberate or premeditate -terms that presuppose the cognitive use of language-

      Phil: This is clearly false. Language to the level of say a three year old is teachable to bright enough primates and corvids. Sophisticated language with anything but the most rudimentary grammar is equally clearly an impossibility, though Koko the gorilla was capable of metaphorical epithets and neologisms. All-ball was Koko’s name for his pet kitten and Alex Parrott, given cake for the first time and lacking a given name called it yummy bread. Corvids and elephants plan problem solving…

      And so we are arguing about what constitutes the demonstrated ability to acquire and use language in humans and non-human animals. We must indulge dueling descriptions that remain ambiguous.
      Animal vocalizations that reference objects may intelligibly be stipulated to demonstrate use of language only if we humans impose our own generative grammar language to describe what the animal is “talking about.” We hear a prairie dog emit a distinctive squeal that refers to a sky predator while we observe a hawk circling above. “Oh, he must be yelling “hawk overhead, everybody run for the burrows.” We put the single squeal under a linguistic description and narrative that can only be accomplished in the language we are using.” The squeal remains a squeal even granting a reflexive-utilitarian response. Animals that have been taught –actually conditioned like gorillas to use sign language or to mimic human speech like parrots- are too compromised by human intervention for reliable judgements about language acquisition and use. Trying to
      ascertain animal language “levels” is an exercise in futility. Whether solitary or social no animal has been discovered that talks.

      When I say that animals do not “think like humans” I not only mean “linguistically” in the sense that most of our thinking involves self-talk, I also mean that animal and human brains are neurologically different in structure, function and capability. In no sense does this hypothesis dispute the cognitive or sentient,
      powers of the non-human mammal brain to generate a wide range of intelligent adaptive behaviors.

    • Melvin

      And so we are arguing about what constitutes the demonstrated ability to acquire and use language in humans and non-human animals. We must indulge dueling descriptions that remain ambiguous.

      No, we agree on what constitutes the language of a three year old, I’m suggesting the need on your part is to suggest why say premeditation is critically dependent on sophisticated language. Again (and for Dan’s benefit) for me I have not said chimps murder. (Chimps do not have laws, but they might have de facto cultural codes.)

      I think it entirely reasonable for chimps, say, to harbour a grudge and on many occasions, come close to doing something about it, until..

      https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729074-600-gang-of-chimpanzees-kills-their-alpha-male/

      More to the point this is about roots of behaviour in us and our ability to “master the beast”. The neurological equipment we have is to stay the impulsive hand (and the impulsive thoughts!). Our anterior cingulate cortex fed by super fast (fat) spindle cells from the cortex, uniquely numerous in humans and some cetaceans, but also present in apes and elephants, seems to be brain circuitry entirely equipped to provide a last minute, or rather, last second veto to emotionally originated actions. These vetoes are either from introspections, inferences, made in the cortex of negative consequences if “I do this” or they are cortical considerations of feelings of empathy experienced at other times.

      Psychopaths, the psychopathic exist at a level of about 4% in humans and are mostly male. We may reasonably infer that alpha males are drawn from these types. Precisely these less empathetic individuals may be considered to feed chimp alpha males. As we look deeper into primate and mammal behaviours we see the seamless join with our own behaviours.

      The desire of an alpha male chimp to kill an infant to make the mother more available is conceivable. Chimps have a theory of mind and lie and misdirect in relation to food say. The moment of the killing may be chosen to not attract attention to the alpha male.

    • Sorry for short input but chapter 5 in The Selfish Gene might be worth a visit here…..on aggression?

    • Melvin,

      I have already dealt with your concerns over the artificiality of teaching a language to animals.

      Mental tokens may well exist as pre-cursors to language. Such tokens may well exist as topological representations and process representations. They may be nameless in our understanding of name, BUT, teaching animals languages never seems to encounter an inability to graft on a name to such a token. Some naming is quick and easy which suggests pre-existing mental tokens, some is hard suggesting tokens need to be newly formed.

      But formed they are.

    • Phil

      Sorry I could not carry on the conversation on the last thread I posted in a while back. Have been dealing with the eviction of my 84 and 86 year old parents. Been a very stressful time for all. Will try and get back to it if things have not moved on too far. On our last of the years holidays at the mo.

    • Olgun

      Chapter five is a particularly brilliant account of the deep genetic selective pressures on populations to move towards a collective Evolutionary Stable Strategy and how populations with different genetically rooted strategies one from another, ( e.g. hawk-like and dove-like) may come into stable enough balance. Using game theory different types of strategy (genetic) mix can be analysed.

      (Of particular interest for me is why we need poker faces. This of course becomes an arms race in intelligent animals of reading and hiding intention with ever greater finesse. This selection pressure may be the critical one to developing theory of mind and the empathy breakthrough of reading another’s pain and feeling it and the new cultural strategies it can fuel.)

      What I would love to read is the Game Theory model needed favouring a stable 4% psychopaths in a population mostly of empaths (I mean the empathetic). This is currently the root of our most pressing cultural problem. How do we manage our resource of psychopaths?

      (Most psychological atributes seem to exist on a spectrum. Any quantities would be defined say by some given amplitude of the attribute e.g. 50% or 25% of some psychological score.)

    • Olgun

      Sorry to hear about your folks. I hope all is well now.

      Sandi Toksvig talks about how her parents were kicked out of three of their care homes for bad behaviour.

      “So proud!” she said of them.

      Enjoy the last of your hols…..

    • Murder has a strongly negative moral connotation. It is a violation of another being’s natural right to live. The right to live, along with other rights associated with that fundamental right, and the various rights associated with property (which is an extension of one’s being), are the only two natural rights. All other rights are man-made.

      Civic rights (imposed by the state and established by laws) are designed to maintain order, and have no necessary relation to morality in its purest sense.

      Natural Rights: The right life and liberty, the acquisition (through one’s own labor) of property and to own that property (the right to claim that property as one’s own), and the right to pursue health, happiness, and personal interests, without outside interference (so long as these actions do not infringe on the rights of others).

      Taking someone else’s property or killing another being is neither theft nor murder in the case of the chimp, for the following reason: in that case there is a clear violation but no moral component to the violation: there hasn’t yet ever been a chimp (as far as we know) who was able to stop himself, reflect, and then actually transcend its instinctual, frenzied impulse to kill, actually resist that temptation or impulse, and thereby exhibit a greater susceptibility to the opposing motive or impulse. That opposing motive is sympathy. The chimp (and the other non-human animals) have feelings, as we know, but they cannot do what I just described. Their instincts are too strong, and identification with, connection to, their fellow creatures (which they have but not in this way), requires a degree of sophistication, self-awareness, a self, an ethical personality, which they just don’t have at that level. As for property, it is impossible to imagine that a chimp or any other being (other than Man) can conceive of property as belonging to something or someone else; on the contrary they merely see something they want and take it – and if they don’t take it it proves nothing. Respect for, and awareness of, property, may be dimly felt and cognized, and as Phil and I have agreed, there is a “transition” between these dimly intuited feelings and thoughts and our own human feelings and conceptions.— I will leave it to others to explain the physiology of moral feeling and restraint….

      Suffice it to say that what I have stated is correct and supported by evidence (or more precisely, is supported by the absence of evidence to the contrary), and everyone who thinks otherwise is incorrect and is applying words and terms (like moral codes) sloppily and irresponsibly.

    • Phil: “No, we agree on what constitutes the language of a three year old, I’m suggesting the need on your part is to suggest why say premeditation is critically dependent on sophisticated language.”

      Understood. The discussion founders on semantic differences. I have trouble with the proposition that there are comparable “levels” of language use between animals and humans at early stages of maturation. The assertion that a bright chimp uses language at the “level” of a three-year old is misleading. To be sure language is acquired gradually, but the chimp does not have the ability to acquire it, the neurological complexity species-specific to language acquisition demonstrated by the human child. The superior ability of a young chimp to solve spatial manipulative problems in contrast to a toddler conflates non-linguistic cognitive power with language competency at a stage in maturation. ( I explicitly qualified terms like “premeditation” and “deliberation” confined within the context of human linguistic activities just as “human thinking” involves mostly self-talk.)

      Claims that animals can be taught language in captivity raises intractable problems. Sounds and gestures that reference only discrete objects, acts and conditions devoid of any grammatical structure that generates description and narrative suggest that the animal is learning isolated stimulus-response associations conditioned by the trainer. Koko did not “name” the pet kitten all-ball. The name was in the trainer’s vocabulary before she conditioned the gorilla to associate her vocalization with the pertinent object. She embellished the conditioning process by equating it with the complex human linguistic process of “naming” imposing her own language on the explanation.

      One unintended consequence of internalizing the fallacy of animal language is the false attribution of linguistic descriptive and narrative assessments exclusively related to human behavior to animal behavior. Speculating that animals have a “moral code,” can commit “moral transgressions,” and do commit “murder” after all is silly nonsense.

    • Melvin,

      Much as I’d like to take up your unsupported opinions on the language ability of animals, it is still beside the point.

      the need on your part is to suggest why say premeditation is critically dependent on sophisticated language.

    • the need on your part is to suggest why say premeditation is critically dependent on sophisticated language.

      “I explicitly qualified terms like “premeditation” and “deliberation” confined within the context of human linguistic activities just as “human thinking” involves mostly self-talk.” (This answer may be found in the comment above that you just read).

      Of course, premeditation may be inferred from evidence of obviously “planned” behavior in animals who use no linguistic inputs in the process.

      “Unsupported opinions on the language ability of animals” may be found in expert discussions that take opposing views on the alleged findings of the signing experiments with Koko the gorilla and other variously designed language exercises with anthropoid apes. (Easily available on internet.) Like you I bring my own bias
      to these discussions, and inevitably express “opinions” in my own words. I try not to obligate others on the thread to present irrefutable evidence that proves the Absolute Truth of what they are saying. That is a matter for point counter point.

      For example you are free to say: Language to the level of say a three year old is teachable to bright enough primates and corvids. I can counter with the real-life anecdote that I heard a two-year old child of friends say
      “I can do that because I’m only two.” I believe on reasonable grounds that the conditioned response of an animal to vocal stimuli (even if it mimics the sound like a parrot) does not demonstrate language use, even stipulated by definition, that remotely approaches what that two-year old child is achieving through uniquely complex human neurological structures and functions.

    • MadE, Phil, others

      Bare with me; I had a hard time with this one.

      Moral codes and moral conduct are intimately connected to linguistic capability and the ability to conceptualize, but they are not determined by either. Premeditation is not dependent upon linguistic capabilities. Nor is murder defined solely by premeditation. A chimp can think about killing and then kill. It still isn’t murder.

      If a human two year old were to stab its sibling in the eye with a fork and kill it, in a fit of rage, it would not be manslaughter; and it would certainly not be murder. Because the agent does not know what he’s doing. Moral codes require understanding of consequences and the ability to conceive of such things as life and death and harm. But more importantly, a moral code requires morality itself.— Morality is sympathy. A two year old has a moral character, but it is not sufficiently developed at that age. If animals can be compared to two year olds (babies) in this respect, then it is indeed ludicrous to apply the word murder to animals. Animals are, in a sense, babies. And they have yet to mature!

      They require this understanding and ability (mentioned above); but again, this understanding and ability will not guarantee that one will refrain from committing the act of murder. That is why it is murder. I said earlier that in a society where murder was the norm, and the concept of murder did not exist, it would not be immoral to commit murder. Let me rephrase that. (I admitted to finding this topic difficult.) Stealing and killing are immoral in themselves, MadE, but even the most naturally moral being in the world might commit murder in such an environment. But eventually a disruption would take place. One would choose not to kill. Because one’s morality is one’s own, exists independently of consensus and the norm. That is how morality began. One individual, then two, then three… Nothing like this has yet to emerge in the animal kingdom. An animal is (in the context of this discussion of murder versus killing) neither moral nor immoral; it has no relationship to morality. It has no comprehension of the moral ramifications or elements associated with its brutal acts. This lack of comprehension is only a partial excuse – although a legitimate partial excuse – for its (amoral) acts. Sympathy transcends comprehension or the lack of it. When an animal can refrain from killing an the basis of sympathy I will concede that animals are morally responsible creatures and consider the possibility that the term murder can be applied to them. And don’t give me that line about altruism. Yes, bears and apes exhibit altruism… Apples and pears – and you know it, Phil.

      The argument that there are people (like the killing chimps) who murder and are unaware of consequences and unaware of what life and death are, and have no awareness of compassion (other than the most rudimentary form of it), of feelings that might prevent them from killing, is a false one. Without such awareness you are either insane or an animal.

      To summarize a comment that was very difficult to put together: animals are not murderers. This is true, but not because they lack understanding of the value of life and death (although this is highly significant ) but because the I and Thou relationship is foreign to them. Sympathy is too rudimentary at this stage of the ethical evolution of non-human animals – even chimps and bonobos.

      Whew! That was tough. I hope I made some sense! Feel free to rebut. I’d be interested to know how many times I erred.

      Enjoy the rest of the week-end.

    • Moral codes and moral conduct are intimately connected to linguistic capability and the ability to conceptualize, but they are not determined by either. Premeditation is not dependent upon linguistic capabilities. Nor is murder defined solely by premeditation. A chimp can think about killing and then kill. It still isn’t murder.

      Dan: I think you have this about right. It may help us humans to recognize that we always use language from a point of view. When we use front-loaded words like “murder,” we may feel that we are referring to an act that has an intrinsic meaning rather than an act defined in relation to a specific sequence of actions at a specific time and place from a specific point of view. Just as a thought experiment if we substitute “unjustified killing” for “murder” and include therein a sub-category called “murder,” then we might compel people to describe what counts as evidence not only for an unjustified killing in a specific case but also what counts as evidence for a justified killing in another.

    • Returning to an earlier point I made which I seek comment on.

      Higher primates have (according to primatologists)

      self-awareness
      empathy

      Whether thought is involved or not, if both these features are present then it seems the “golden rule” pops out.
      It doesn’t mean the animal thinks about their actions or is aware of the “rule” in any way.
      But it seems to me that a self-aware individual with empathy for others will (unconsciously) act according to the golden rule (for the most part). [If they violate the golden rule in non-trivial fashion, they either don’t have self-awareness or they don’t have much in the way of empathy.]

      [Of course almost all humans know the golden rule, in some form, but they don’t act in accordance with it all the time, or even most of the time, so let’s cut the apes some slack if they don’t either.]

      Melvin and/or Dan are waiting on a chimp to show restraint and not kill on moral grounds before granting them (or at least that individual) a moral sense.
      That seems not likely to happen very often within sight of a human observer (assuming it were possible), and if it ever did I’m sure it could be just as easily interpreted in other ways (fear of personal injury in the moment, or even of repercussions later if the alpha male finds out).

      Perhaps a more achievable outcome might be e.g. if a chimp was observed in some nefarious plan to hide food from the others (as primatologists have observed them do, often quite “cleverly”), and then upon observing the plight of another hungry chimp had second thoughts and shared the food. I find this scenario quite plausible, but how to interpret it?
      Would that be them displaying a conscience? Or just responding to new stimuli?

      … And how is that different if humans were involved? Are linguistic thoughts rationalising the action necessary to have a conscience? Or [as some neuroscientists have posited] are the linguistic thoughts simply an after-the-fact just-so story made up by our brains to describe how we’re responding to new stimuli, giving the illusion of free will?

    • Phil, Melvin, MadE, Laurie, others—

      Think of our own evolutionary past and our progress, and how feeble a modicum of rudimentary sympathy is in contrast to the rage of a maddened beast; and think of how much had to change (and it must have taken a very long time) in order for the capacity for sympathy to evolve, and evolve to the point where it was able to act as an opposing motive, and actually supersede the powerful instinctual impulses that cause this sort of behavior, described by Laurie in an earlier post (#3):

      I’ve read about male chimps cruising the borders of their territory and capturing a male from the other side and they proceed to beat him to death.

    • Dan,

      I think this is teasing stuff apart.

      Premeditation is not dependent upon linguistic capabilities. Nor is murder defined solely by premeditation. A chimp can think about killing and then kill. It still isn’t murder.

      Of course I completely agree with this. There are many examples in literature where animals with a seemingly very primitive language culture plan future actions.

      I completely agree that murder, morals and sympathy are not terms that can be reliably used about say chimps and chimp culture. (I am less sure in cetacean cultures because very dense language transfers seem possible.) These are words that need to be culturally contingent to have meaning. But I granted this kind of view up the way. The reliable terminology is about empathy, premeditation, theory of mind, altruism, a sense of fairness, retribution and probably shame. Psychology experiments show humans either pressed by authority figures or conditioned by a life of deprivation (coming from a marginal country) to have a greatly reduced sense of fairness to others.

      To re-iterate my points. This collection of capacities (empathy, premeditation, theory of mind, altruism, sense of fairness, retribution and shame) are reliable and sufficient, given a rich enough culture (which does indeed depend on sophisticated language), some time and resource-rich enough environment, to lead to the invention of murder. All the emotional precursors and all the capacities needed are in place. I believe the cultural invention of the murder concept, to join a growing list of proscribed anti-social actions, was a significant invention aimed at further managing violence.

      My first post here was about early man and its level of violence, entirely the equivalent of current chimp world. The observation of the OP. Enculturation led to the reduction in violence (Pinker, Turchin, LaurieB). This was seemlessly achieved. Morality at a personal level acts within the neurally affecting space between emotion/instinct and action. I think chimps are entirely able to develop less violent cultures. I think bonobos might possibly be found to have something like a list of proscribed anti-social actions. I think something like sympathy may arise in the right circumstances. Grieving elephant mothers seem to be consoled by others in the herd.

    • Dan, Melvin,

      Nor is murder defined solely by premeditation. A chimp can think about killing and then kill. It still isn’t murder.

      Which is exactly why I proposed two components (as at least essential), premeditation and a sense of collective disapproval. For the evilest of crimes we may argue that it must go against our own internal revulsion (or else be a psychopathology). But we judge somewhere along that line, taking the personal revulsion as a given.

    • Melvin

      Should have put this first.

      Of course, premeditation may be inferred from evidence of obviously “planned” behavior in animals who use no linguistic inputs in the process.

      Thanks. That was the only concession I needed.

    • Having trouble with internet this time so hope this posts?

      From chapter 5, The Selfish Gene. An experiment by Nike Tinbergen:

      “He had a fish-tank containing two male sticklebacks. The males had each built nests, at oppposite ends of the tank, and each ‘defended’ the territory around his nest. Tinbergen placed each of the two males in a large glass test-tube, and held the two tubes next to each other and watched the males trying to fight each other through the glass. Now comes the interesting result. When he moved the two tubes into the vicinity of male A’s nest, male A assumed an attacking posture, and male B attempted to retreat. But when he moved the two tubes into male B’s territory, the tables were turned. By simply moving the two tubes from one end of the tank to the other, Tinbergen was able to dictate which male attacked and which retreated. Both males were evidently playing the simple conditional strategy: ‘if resident, attack; if intruder, retreat.’ ”

      The beginnings of the game of morality?

    • Phil 72, others

      Which is exactly why I proposed two components (as at least essential), premeditation and a sense of collective disapproval.

      I already addressed this. (Maybe after you did.)

      …nor are chimps capable of expressing collective disapprobation. (#30)

      The absence of this does not make a given act any less murderous. But living in a society where murder does not exist as a concept, and is accepted as normal, is ubiquitous, omnipresent, an everyday activity, would confuse the mind of the most moral amongst us. His inner sense of defiance might be drowned out: a “free” act, one where we are held responsible, requires a certain degree of mental freedom. The opposite of mental freedom in this context is desensitization due to familiarity combined with indoctrination (“Murder is necessary for life, for the health of the state, etc.”).

      And premeditation in itself, as I said, does not imply murder. You agreed.

      So we are left with something highly evasive, difficult to pin down. Murder in itself, apart from civilized, conventional morality, and with or without premeditation: what is that?

      And what is this? (Curious.)

      (Pinker, Turchin, LaurieB)

      Is LaurieB a published author or a professional scientist? Or is that a reference to comments she’s posted?

    • 🙂

      I am neither but I support Pinker’s assertions and that’s probably why he’s including me there. Happy to be in good company though!

    • Thanks for the well wishes Phil and the Toksvig story 😂.

      As for the pschyopath, all I can see at the moment is stickleback A with hundreds of sticklebacks behind him, having triggered the same ‘attack’ response after having convinced them his/their territory is under attack.

    • Laurie—

      Well he never wrote this: (Kant, Schopenhauer, Dan). Therefore, he gets the “Laurie’s Darling” award. That’s a different award than our “Darling of the Feminists” award. Not as prestigious but no trifling matter either.

      I’d like to see someone get killed (politically) tonight! That “debate” should be interesting.

      I quoted you (#70).

      See ya.

    • MadE, others

      Re: Self awareness, empathy, Golden Rule

      I already said that quantity changes quality and that animals (the higher primates) have compassion. As for self-awareness, I will take your word for it.

      My point is that they don’t have enough sympathy to counter the powerful instinctual impulses that make them kill. If the do, I’d like to see evidence.

      Golden Rule: As I have said many time on this site, “rules” like this, in the form of written maxims, can make someone follow them, but it cannot make someone feel sympathy. The golden rule is a nice rule and it is a good maxim to keep in mind and follow. But it can only be followed by someone who is moral to begin with! You can’t teach morality in this way. The golden rule is analogous to the ten commandments. If you adhere to it it is because you are either 1. already a kind hearted person to begin with, or 2. coerced by the fear of punishment or desire for reward.

      I think you agree with this.

      But it seems to me that a self-aware individual with empathy for others will (unconsciously) act according to the golden rule.

      Yes! Excellent!

      [Of course almost all humans know the golden rule, in some form, but they don’t act in accordance with it all the time, or even most of the time, so let’s cut the apes some slack if they don’t either.]

      That is precisely my point and I think yours (which you are establishing unwittingly, perhaps), and I give them no slack. Not If you are arguing that the higher primates are just like humans in so far as they are capable of “murder”. If a human does not treat people like he would like to be treated (and is never able to) it means that the rule is powerless over him – which it is; you cannot legislate sympathy – and that he does not deserve to be called moral.

    • Dan

      Well he never wrote this: (Kant, Schopenhauer, Dan).

      No but he wrote

      Rousseau, the Religious Right, Dan.

      He then thought better of it and made a substitution.

      I live in hope of making a slightly more optimistic Dan, because, given the timescales we have made astonishing progress into the moral, like nothing ever seen on the planet. It does us no end of good to see ourselves as primates and mammals and understand our direction of travel. We seem even to have learned how to make doomsday devices and not used them except when new.

      We are the newly awakened Iron Giant, stumbling into things with sometimes damaging results and learning how not to be a gun.

    • Dan

      Whoa there. #78 is chock full of latent anger with passive aggressive features. Your boy Freud would have a field day with that one 😉 heh.

      The debate is over and the psychopath Trump didn’t kill anyone (yet). I canNOT believe these women talking heads who defend him and his rapey statements.

    • (Dawkins, Laurie, Pinker)

      Just saying, nice sandwich, eh?

    • @Laurie 81, Phil 80

      Laurie,

      I was hoping that she would “kill” him in the debate but it’s better that she didn’t. He would have quit and his replacement would have a better chance than him.

      She was good. How do you contend with such treachery, an avalanche of lies and false accusations?

      With dignity. She took the high road. She was good, did what she had to do.

      (Katie Holmes, Dan, Chloe Sevigny)

      Phil,

      (Rousseau, Dan) Leave out the religious right. I hate the religious right. But yes, I do think that evil is a thing. Most definitely.

      This first quote (below) is applicable to this thread. When a higher primate, acting upon uncontrollable instinctual impulses, hits a fellow creature on the head it is analogous to a tile falling from the roof. No malevolence. No deliberation and no counter-motive based on compassion to restrain him. – yet. That’ll take centuries upon centuries of evolution.

      “In all the ills that befall us, we are more concerned by the intention than the result. A tile that falls off a roof may injure us more seriously, but it will not wound us so deeply as a stone thrown deliberately by a malevolent hand. The blow may miss, but the intention always strikes home.”
      ― Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker

      This one I agree with, but not entirely. You will like it:

      “We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish, we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education.” —Jean-Jacques Rousseau

    • Dan,

      I hate the religious right. But yes, I do think that evil is a thing. Most definitely.

      And until the religious invention of evil is revealed to you for what it is, (Kaos and an absence of empathy) there is still one mind-forged manacle left to be struck off.

      Far too many Americans are damagingly in thrall to this very thing.

      I live in hope and take you off the list despite yourself.

      Like the Rousseau quote. It takes education to make a human.

    • Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: Two of the most unusually disliked mammals to run for president.
      The Perfect Storm: The hot air of bigotry rises to meet the cold air of corruption.
      SHAME ON MY COUNTRY!

    • @dan

      There aren’t any chimps that are capable of seeing the killing of other chimps as wrong

      Now you’re an expert on chimps? Or was that just an Opinion, without any substance to back it up?

    • OHooligan

      If they saw it as wrong – and more importantly, felt it as wrong – they would be able to exhibit restraint. But when they are in a frenzy they kill, without remorse or deliberation. My comments are nuanced and muddled. But it would be nice if you read them first. (Perhaps you did.)

    • Yeah Dan, I get it.

      It’s only MURDER if it’s done by English-speaking humans. Speakers of other languages have different words for what we usually assume is more-or-less the same thing. Chimps don’t have the words.

      Just another bit of Special Pleading. We’re so F***ing Special, to quote the song. You miss the continuum part, and the other part that suggests we’ve actually reined in our ancestral tendencies to – what shall we call it – extra-judicial killing. Which suggests that our specialness is like that of a non-violent person from a violent background.

    • OHooligan

      I addressed the continuum part. I also admitted that this issue is highly complex. Read my comments. I never said that animals don’t have feelings. And there is a fine line between killing and murder. A continuum. I don’t think a chimp commits murder, as there is no counter-motive in the form of sympathy strong enough to outweigh the powerful instinctual impulse to kill. Knowledge of right and wrong is secondary; but without it, an otherwise morally good human might kill; this may be due to the fact that the values of a society or the lack of values, will condition one to accept what one would otherwise not accept. Malice can only exist within a culture where there is the ability to restrain oneself, and where there are enough individuals who are able to exhibit refusal to engage in malice. The chimp is not malicious.

      Where there is no goodness of heart within a given culture (strong enough to act as an opposing motive) and when there is no collective conceptual understanding within a culture of the difference between right and wrong, between (sufficient) respect of life and brutish indifference to life, a morally good man might kill an innocent person. And the higher primates kill without reflection, without struggle, without remorse.

    • P.S. See my comments 67 and 31.

      Much improved sentence: Malice can only exist within a culture where there is the ability to restrain oneself. If one chimp had this ability I would be willing to admit that the chimp is a moral being, and capable of malice or the opposite of malice (restraint of malice on the basis of kindness).

      OHooligan, I could be wrong. I am not omniscient.

      Peace

    • Dan, the self restraining bit of us (the anterior singulate cortex) exists in the higher primates. The number of spindle cells that feed it introspective inferences about actions from its slightly reduced PFC are themselves reduced in number. We expect an ability to veto socially compromising automatic actions, but reduced in extent in some way. Japanese scans of macaques show similar activity to humans in these frontal regions to humans when they are both resting. The humans areusually daydreaming, most of which constitute anticipations of good and bad outcomes depending on actions that may or may not happen.

      The apparatus appears to be there and working normally albeit with the volume turned down a bit.

    • And the higher primates kill without reflection

      I do not believe that for an instant. Did you mean remorse?

      We are mostly discussing alpha males and would be alpha males. Testosterone has a squeam reducing capacity. Which begs the question of the feelings of low testosterone apes, females, say.

    • Sorry, did you just mean without remorse?

      Also malice as a motor for action is as meaningless as being evil to a psychologist.

      Quit the discontinous vocabulary and you might see the continuity better.

    • Phil

      I meant that they kill without thought or reflection before the act; but it is also true that there is no remorse after the act. Nor can there be any modification of the behavior.

      Malice does seem like an incongruent concept in this context. That is correct. But humans definitely have malice. Malicious intent. Without that murder doesn’t exist for anyone – including humans. I throw a rock at someone I hate and kill him. That is an act of malice. I throw the rock because it is an instinct. That would not hold up in a court of law; we are not chimps. That is why we sometimes call cold blooded killers “animals.” But the chimps are not to be condemned. They have no ability to restrain themselves as a result of reflection and on the basis of feelings of sympathy strong enough to outweigh the instinctual impulse. That’s my point.

      I was thinking of deliberation, a struggle of opposing motives; remorse as a consequence would follow, if they were capable of it. (Any brain imaging to prove that?) I am not impressed with your brain-information indicating that these beasts are capable of restraint based on such fine feelings as goodness of heart and decency. Of course they can restrain themselves. If they see some prey they might turn away if it looks too strong and might rip it to shreds. That’s fear. That they have. But when a chimp is about to smash another’s skull in can you really imagine the chimp hesitating and then turning away on the basis of compassion? at this stage of their development?—Really? These chimps, or whatever they are, can’t even smile. Don’t tell me they have the capacity to restrain themselves on the basis of compassion. (Maybe they can– a little.) As usual, you are making your case too fine.

      I am sure these animals are complex, have feelings, are capable of empathy, have many interesting and even some morally redeeming traits. But they are not moral beings the way humans are, are not dev eloped enough in that way; they are driven by instinct, kill for land, but the transition from killing to murder has not been made – whether it is seamless or otherwise.

      I just read one article from Discover. The author used the word murder. I see it differently, and, admittedly, know less than that author.

    • But they are not moral beings the way humans are…

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that one day science will discover (assuming they haven’t already) that there are ape individuals who (yes, that’s the correct word) have a greater capacity for (and possibly incidence of) moral behavior than some human individuals.

    • I would say that that is definitely true. It is also the case that the most intelligent apes are smarter than the dumbest humans.

    • Though intelligence (smartness) may be more difficult to compare across species than morality.

    • Perhaps, but it can be done.

      There is no doubt in my mind that the most moral apes and the smartest apes are more moral and smarter than the most immoral and least intelligent humans.

      I am a strong ‘believer’ in the continuum (and the overlapping) that OHooligan (and Schopenhauer) have emphasized.

      That being said, the most compassionate human and the most intelligent human is morally and intellectually superior to those gifted apes; the highest degree of empathy amongst apes is not strong enough to counter the powerful instinctual impulses, as I have stated numerous times. And the smartest ape cannot split an atom or go to the moon, etc. The intellectual differences are just as disparate as the moral differences. (Yawn.)

    • Dan

      But humans definitely have malice.

      No, they lack compassion and sympathy. They have a cultural deficiency. There is nothing super added. This is the mirror view of the actuality that has the US sleeping easy, having locked up ten times as many folk as anyone else with scant concern for rehabilitation. They don’t see their own culture as having failed.

      This is the power of religion (by contrast a culturally super added and poisonous bit of culture).

    • Can’t we both be right?