Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Part 3 of "Nietzsche's Sociobiology of Animal Morality"

"The practices demanded in polite society: careful avoidance of the ridiculous, the offensive, the presumptuous, the suppression of one's virtues as well as of one's strongest inclinations, self-adaptation, self-deprecation, submission to orders of rank--all this is to be found as social morality in a crude form everywhere, even in the depths of the animal world--and only at this depth do we see the purpose of all these amiable precautions: one wishes to elude one's pursuers and be favoured in the pursuit of one's prey. . . . Thus the individual hides himself in the general concept 'man' or in society, or adapts himself to princes, classes, parties, opinions of his time and place: and all the subtle ways we have of appearing fortunate, grateful, powerful, enamoured have their easily discoverable parallels in the animal world" (Dawn, 26).

Here Nietzsche describes an animal capacity for social attunement--for that subtle social dance in which animals respond appropriately to others based on their awareness of the intentions, expectations, and feelings of others.  This is the precondition for all animal morality, because it makes it possible for social animals to create and enforce those social norms of acceptable behavior that constitute a moral code. 

Elsewhere, Nietzsche calls this capacity "sympathy" (Mitempfindung) (D, 142).  This is the capacity to simulate in ourselves what others are feeling, which includes imitating the bodily movements of the other person--"imitating with our own body the expression of his eyes, his voice, his walk, his bearing (or even their reflection in word, picture, music)."  This evolved capacity for fellow-feeling allows us to imagine not only the pains of others but also their joys (AOM, 62).

Thus, the individual comes to know himself by seeing himself reflected in the minds of others.  "What one knows of oneself.  As soon as one animal sees another, it measures itself against it in its mind, and men in barbarous ages did likewise.  From this it follows that every man comes to know himself almost solely in regard to his powers of defence and attack" (D, 212).

Through "sympathy, the feeling of being alike or equal," animals evolve social instincts, so that they feel pleasure in being with others, as is shown in animals playing with one another, and particularly mothers playing with their young (HH, 98).  In primeval human beings, animal sympathy and the social instincts allowed them to enter the "oldest covenant" by which individuals formed a community for the protection of all from threats.

Thus, originally, all morality was the social "morality of custom" (Sittlichkeit der Sitte) (HH, 96-97; D, 9).  Originally, "everything was custom" or tradition. Morality was obedience to the traditional way of behaving and evaluation.  And the individual was sacrificed to the community.  Only much later, in the evolutionary history of culture, with the evolution of knowledge and reasoning in a few human beings like Socrates, was it possible for some individuals to exercise individual judgment in the practice of virtues that they judged to be good for them as individuals and as social animals (D, 9; WS, 44, 86, 212).

Obedience to the morality of custom seems to be selfless.  And, indeed, Paul Ree identified morality as selflessness.  But Nietzsche disagreed, because he argued that what looks like selflessness is disguised self-love.  As a product of animal evolution, morality is rooted in the natural inclination to care for oneself--for one's body and mind--but as social mammals, this care for oneself is extended into caring for others to which one is attached--one's sexual mates, one's children, one's tribal group, and perhaps farther out through the extension of sympathy (HH, 57, 98, 102, 104).

The general conclusion from this is that morality is not the fulfilment of a cosmic or divine purpose, because the purpose of morality is a purely human purpose--to secure the conditions for our momentary existence on earth as the kind of animals we are.  "Because good and evil are measured according to our reactions, we ourselves must constitute the principle of the good" (D, 102).

This is why the evolutionary science of animal morality is so disturbing to most human beings, because it denies that human purposefulness fulfils the purpose of the whole universe.  The evolutionary universe has no purpose. And this universe does not care about or for human beings.  But human beings have evolved to care for themselves (WS, 14; D, 26, 49, 100, 122).  When the human species goes extinct, as it must sometime in the future, there will no longer be any human care and thus no human morality.

On all of these points, Nietzsche's science of morality corresponds with Darwin's science.  In The Descent of Man, Darwin follows Hume and Smith in rooting morality in sympathy, while explaining how this capacity for sympathy could have evolved among social mammals with social instincts.  The parental and filial affections that bound people into families could be extended to tribal communities.  Originally, this was a morality of custom directed to the good of the community rather than the good of the species or of the individual.  But with the cultural evolution of civilized societies--including advances in reasoning and knowledge--there has been more opportunity for individuals to recognize the self-regarding virtues that were ignored in savage societies.  There has also been moral progress in extending sympathy beyond the boundaries of tribal life to embrace all of humanity, and even nonhuman animals.

Immediately after the publication of The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.  Like Nietzsche, Darwin saw the bodily expression of the emotions as showing the continuity between human beings and nonhuman animals in their moral psychology.  He studied emotions such as surprise, sadness, anger, enjoyment, contempt, disgust, shame, and fear.  He was motivated by two  fundamental concerns.  First, he wanted to refute Sir Charles Bell's claim that human emotional expressions showed the work of divine special creation in endowing human beings with special facial muscles for the expression of moral emotions.  Darwin wanted to show the continuity of humans and other animals in their emotional expressions that would be consistent with gradual evolution.  Second, he wanted to refute the claim that the human races were actually separate species by showing a universality of human emotional expression as an innate evolutionary adaptation uniting the races as belonging to one species.  This would also suggest the possibility of extending sympathy and moral concern to the whole human species.  This research has been extended and deepened in interesting ways by people like Paul Ekman.  (Ekman's work was the inspiration for the television show "Lie to Me.")

Nietzsche's science of animal morality is also confirmed by recent research.  Much of the research in the moral psychology and neuroscience of sympathy (or empathy) shows the evolutionary and neural bases for that capacity for fellow-feeling that Nietzsche identifies as the ground for moral experience.  Previously, I have written some posts on this.

Similarly, the research on the social neuroscience of mammalian biology confirms Nietzsche's evolutionary account of human morality as the extension of self-care to care for others.  I have also written some posts on this.

The ethological research on animal behavior--as surveyed by people like Frans de Waal and Marc Bekoff--also confirms Nietzsche's observations about how the evolutionary roots of human morality might be found in animal societies that create and enforce rules of good conduct.  For example, Bekoff has studied how play among canids (wolves, coyotes, and dogs) is governed by social rules.  Animals assume a crouching position to signal "I want to play with you."  This means that they will imitating the behavioral patterns of hunting, mating, and fighting, but in a playful way: so, for instance, they might bite, but the bite must not be too hard.  Those who violate these rules will be punished by being ostracized from playing and perhaps even excluded from the group.  Individuals excluded from the pack who then must live a solitary life are less likely to survive and reproduce.  Bekoff sees this as an example of an animal moral code, and it looks a lot like what Nietzsche means by animal morality.

Moreover, one can also see that much of the reasoning today about the "social brain" hypothesis--that the human brain has evolved primarily for navigating the complex world of social life--was anticipated by Nietzsche.  I have also written some posts on this.

To be continued  .  .  .

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