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Natural normativity: The ‘is’ and ‘ought’ of animal behavior

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Chapter Summary

The evolution of behavior is sometimes considered irrelevant to the issue of human morality, since it lacks the normative character of morality (‘ought’), and consist entirely of descriptions of how things are or came about (‘is’). Evolved behavior, including that of other animals, is not entirely devoid of normativity, however. Defining normativity as adherence to an ideal or standard, there is ample evidence that animals treat their social relationships in this manner. In other words, they pursue social values. Here I review evidence that nonhuman primates actively try to preserve harmony within their social network by, e.g., reconciling after conflict, protesting against unequal divisions, and breaking up fights amongst others. In doing so, they correct deviations from an ideal state. They further show emotional self-control and anticipatory conflict resolution in order to prevent such deviations. Recognition of the goal-orientation and normative character of animal social behavior permits us to partially bridge the is/ought divide erected in relation to human moral behavior.



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