Saturday, November 29, 2014

Do We Need an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis That Includes Biopolitical Science?

Last month, there was a debate in the pages of Nature over whether evolutionary theory needs to be reformulated (October 9, 2014, vol. 514, pp. 161-64).  This continues the debate that began in the summer of 2008 at a gathering in Altenberg, Austria, of biologists and philosophers who argued that Standard Evolutionary Theory (SET) needed to be replaced with an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES). 

At the time, some proponents of intelligent design theory and scientific creationism pointed to this as evidence that Darwinism was "a theory in crisis."  But if one looks at the papers presented at the conference and published later as a book, one can see (as I indicated in some blog posts) that EES is not a denial of Darwinian science but--as their language indicates--an extension of Darwinian thinking.  This is clearly not a denial of Darwinism because it sees no need to disagree with Darwin's claim that the theory of natural evolution is superior to any "theory of independent acts of creation."

Now Kevin Laland and his colleagues are restating their argument that SET is too "gene-centric," and that those drivers of evolution that cannot be reduced to genes must be studied as part of EES.  There are at least four missing pieces:  developmental bias, phenotypic plasticity, niche construction, and extra-genetic inheritance.

In their response, Gregory Wray, Hopi Hoekstra, and their colleagues argue that all of the concepts proposed by Laland and colleagues have already been integrated into evolutionary theory, and that these concepts can even be found in Darwin's own work.  For example, Darwin's last book--The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms (1881)--was a book on evolutionary niche construction, although he did not use that term.

Since Eva Jablonka is one of the co-authors of the article advocating EES, I was disappointed not to see any comments on what she has identified as the symbolic system of inheritance that is unique to human beings.  Such human symbolism might be seen as a form of niche construction, which would include religion, science, morality, and politics.  This could be the theoretical basis for a biopolitical science.

So, for example, one might argue, as I have, that the history of classical liberal philosophy has created an evolutionary niche in which peaceful cooperation and declining violence are adaptive, and this could even drive a genetic adaptation for this classical liberal niche.

Some of my posts on these points can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Evolution and the Virtue of Self-Love (2): Smith and Darwin

Like James Otteson (in Adam Smith's Marketplace of Life), Hanley thinks that Adam Smith's moral theory requires a theological teleology in which human beings are seen as created in God's image as part of divinely designed universe serving the benevolent ends of the Creator.  It is certainly true that Smith speaks repeatedly of the Deity as "the Author of nature" and the "Conductor of the Universe."  And the general rules of morality are "justly regarded as the Laws of the Deity" (TMS, 161-70).  And yet Smith also warns that "false notions of religion" can grossly pervert our moral sentiments (156, 170, 176).  He rejects the Christian teaching that all the heroes, poets, and philosophers of the pagan world are to be eternally punished in Hell as contrary to all our moral sentiments (132-134).  He laments that in the medieval Christian universities, both moral and natural philosophy were made subservient to theology:
"Wherein consisted the happiness and perfection of a man, considered not only as an individual, but as the member of a family, of a state, and of the great society of mankind, was the object which the ancient moral philosophy proposed to investigate.  In that philosophy the duties of human life were treated of as subservient to the happiness and perfection of human life.  But when moral, as well as natural philosophy, came to be taught only as subservient to theology, the duties of human life were treated of as chiefly subservient to the happiness of a life to come.  In the ancient philosophy the perfection of virtue was represented as necessarily productive, to the person who possessed it, of the most perfect happiness in this life.  In the modern philosophy it was frequently represented as generally, or rather as almost always inconsistent with any degree of happiness in this life; and heaven was to be earned only by penance and mortification, by the austerities and abasement of a monk; not by the liberal, generous, and spirited conduct of a man.  Casuistry and an ascetic morality made up, in most cases, the greater part of the moral philosophy of the schools.  By far the most important of all the different branches of philosophy, became in this manner by far the most corrupted" (WN, 771).
Smith recommends that political regimes should never adopt or legally enforce the tenets of any religious sect.  If the government "allowed every man to chuse his own priest and his own religion as he thought proper," then there could be a great multitude of religious sects, perhaps thousands, freely competing for believers without any sect having the power to persecute members of other sects.  This free marketplace of religions "might in time probably reduce the doctrine of the greater part of them to that pure and rational religion, free from every mixture of absurdity, imposture, or fanaticism, such as wise men have in all ages of the world wished to see established" (WN, 792-93). 

These little religious sects might become "disagreeably rigorous and unsocial" in their morals, but the government without using violence could correct this in two ways (796).  First, promoting the study of science and philosophy among people of the middle and upper classes could advance the scientific knowledge that is the "great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition."  The second remedy is to protect the liberty for public entertainment such as dancing, poetry, painting, music, and dramatic presentations.

That "pure and rational religion" sought by all wise men might conform to "the idea of that divine Being, whose benevolence and wisdom have, from all eternity, contrived and conducted the immense machine of the universe, so as at all times to produce the greatest possible quantity of happiness," which is "certainly of all the objects of human contemplation by far the most sublime" (TMS, 236).  Such an idea supports the universal benevolence of the wise and virtuous man, who must be disturbed by any suspicion that this idea is false.
"To this universal benevolence, on the contrary, the very suspicion of a fatherless world, must be the most melancholy of all reflections; from the thought that all the unknown regions of infinite and incomprehensible space may be filled with nothing but endless misery and wretchedness.  All the splendor of the highest prosperity can never enlighten the gloom with which so dreadful an idea must necessarily over-shadow the imagination; nor, in a wise and virtuous man, can all the sorrow of the most afflicting adversity ever dry up the joy which necessarily springs from the habitual and thorough conviction of the truth of the contrary system" (TMS, 235).
The wise and virtuous man's Christian virtue of universal benevolence, Hanley infers, could not be sustained if he believed in a "fatherless world."  "His capacity for such activity is sustained not by sentiments but by his love of the whole, which is supported by his belief in the existence of God" (188).

But while Smith is affirming the calming effect of the idea of the universe as intelligently and benevolently designed by God, it's not clear that he is affirming the truth of this idea.  Moreover, while Smith often recognizes the importance of religious belief in reinforcing our moral sentiments, he also indicates that even atheists who have no belief in an afterlife with eternal rewards and punishments still have the moral sentiments that support their moral conduct.  Even atheists dread the thought of doing something that would make them the proper objects of hatred and contempt.  And even if they thought that their contemptible conduct would be forever concealed from anyone's view, their imagination of how they would appear to the impartial spectator would still trouble their conscience.  Nothing could free them from "these natural pangs of an affrighted conscience" except "the vilest and most object of all states, a complete insensibility to honor and infamy, to vice and virtue" (TMS, 116-18).   Today, we might recognize such "complete insensibility to honor and infamy" as the condition of pure psychopaths.

From his reading of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Smith was aware of the weaknesses in the argument for a natural theology of intelligent design, and of the possibility of explaining the apparent design in the universe as a product of unintelligent natural evolution.  But when Hume asked Smith to supervise the publishing of the Dialogues after Hume's death, Smith refused, saying that he was "uneasy about the clamour which I foresee they will excite," and that he preferred that they remain in manuscript to be read by only a few people (Correspondence, 211, 216).

From his close friend James Hutton, Smith heard about the evidence that the Earth was probably millions of years old, in contrast to the six thousand years suggested by the Bible, and that the Earth was being continuously changed by natural forces rather than cataclysmic acts of divine creation.  This made Darwin's theory of evolution possible.

Part of Darwin's theory was a theory of moral evolution.  And for that, Darwin was deeply influenced by Smith, Hume, and the Scottish philosophers.  He concluded that in the evolution of morality, "with the more civilized races, the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity had had a potent influence on the advance of morality" (Descent of Man, Penguin edition, 682).  And yet even without belief in God, human beings could develop morality through their desires for a mutual sympathy of sentiments that could generate a sense of conscience:
"A man who has no assured and ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution and reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones.  A dog acts in this manner, but he does so blindly.  A man, on the other hand, looks forwards and backwards, and compares his various feelings, desires, and recollections.  he then finds, in accordance with the verdict of all the wisest men that the highest satisfaction is derived from following certain impulses, namely the social instincts.  If he acts for the good of others, he will receive the approbation of his fellow men and gain the love of those with whom he lives; and this latter gain undoubtedly is the greatest pleasure on this earth.  By degrees it will become intolerable to him to obey his sensuous passions rather than his higher impulses, which when rendered habitual may be almost called instincts.  His reason may occasionally tell him to act in opposition to the opinion of others, whose approbation he will then not receive; but he will still have the solid satisfaction of knowing that he has followed his innermost guide or conscience.--As for myself I believe that I have acted rightly in steadily following and devoting my life to science" (Autobiography, Nora Barlow edition, 94-95).
In enjoying the self-approbation of his conscience and his devotion to a life of science, Darwin shows how moral and intellectual virtues can be motivated by self-love as rooted in evolved human nature.

Some posts on related topics can be found here, here, here, here., here, and here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Evolution and The Virtue of Self-Love: Mandeville and Smith

One of the common assumptions of the modern social sciences, biology, and moral philosophy is the distinction between self-love and altruism and the claim that true morality must be altruistic in its selflessness and thus free from any motivation by self-love.  I doubt this.  Having evolved to be both naturally selfish and naturally social animals, it seems to me, we extend ourselves into others for whom we feel some attachment.  Thus, our concern for ourselves includes a concern for others who have some connection to us.  Our other-regarding dispositions are extensions of our self-love.  This also means that absolutely disinterested and universal love is impossible.

Adam Smith would seem to agree with this.  After all, in the index of The Wealth of Nations, self-love is identified as "the governing principle in the intercourse of human society" (Liberty Fund edition, 1069).  And the reference for this is the famous passage about how we persuade the butcher, the brewer, and the baker to provide us our dinner:
"Man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only.  He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them.  Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this.  Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of.  It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their interest.  We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantage.  Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow citizens" (26-27).
Smith's language here echoes the language in some passages of Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Public Benefits (Liberty Fund edition, 2:349-50).  Mandeville's book was one of the most scandalous books of the 18th century because of his famous claim conveyed in the subtitle that private vices are public benefits.  If we define virtue as self-denial in acting contrary to all of one's natural passions or desires, and thus denying one's selfish interests in serving the good of others as dictated by pure reason, then human beings are almost never virtuous, because they generally act out of self-love to satisfy their selfish passions and desires.  They are social animals who need the cooperation of others and who crave the praise and recognition of others to satisfy their selfish vanity.  For this reason, they will not deny their passions, but they will conceal them in order to appear to be virtuous.

A civilized society of wealth and refinement would be impossible if most human beings were really virtuous, because in living a life of ascetic self-denial, they would never generate the luxury and grandeur that is achieved in commercial societies where everyone actively pursues the wealth and honor that will gratify their selfish desires.  And thus it is that our private vices are turned into public benefits.

Many readers of Smith's Wealth of Nations have seen it as adopting Mandeville's argument for how a commercial society generates all the economic, social, and intellectual benefits of a free market society where everyone is motivated by self-love.  Much of the modern economic theory of capitalism has been based on the assumption that human beings can be seen as selfish egoists whose selfishness can be channeled through free market exchange to generate gains from trade that benefit everyone.

But in recent decades, many social scientists have challenged this conception of Homo economicus as too narrow to explain the full range of human motivation, which must include truly other-regarding behavior as well as purely self-regarding behavior.  And many of these social scientists have turned to Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments  as presenting the moral psychology of Homo moralis--of human beings as moved by moral concerns for the good of others that go beyond self-interest.

Smith's rejection of Mandeville's argument is announced in the very first sentence of The Theory of Moral Sentiments: "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it" (9).

This first sentence seems to begin in the middle of a conversation.  Apparently, some people--such as Hobbes or Mandeville--have argued for the natural selfishness of human beings.  Smith is responding by suggesting that even if we agree with this, we should see that there are other principles in human nature that interest a man in the happiness of others.  He goes on to identify pity or compassion as obvious examples of those "original passions of human nature" by which we enter into the pleasure or pain of others.  "As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation."  We do this through imagination in projecting ourselves into their situations.  This supports our experience of "sympathy," which Smith defines broadly as "our fellow-feeling with any passion whatever" (10).

We have a natural desire for the pleasure of mutual sympathy.  Nothing pleases us more than to see that others sympathize with our emotions, and nothing disturbs us more than the sense that others cannot share our emotions.  Smith anticipates that those like Hobbes and Mandeville will try to explain this as an expression of self-love.
"Those who are fond of deducing all our sentiments from certain refinements of self-love, think themselves at no loss to account, according to their own principles, both for this pleasure and this pain.  Man, say they, conscious of his own weakness, and of the need which he has for the assistance of others, rejoices whenever he observes that they adopt his own passions, because he is then assured of that assistance; and grieves whenever he observes the contrary, because he is then assured of their opposition.  But both the pleasure and the pain are always felt so instantaneously, and often upon frivolous occasions, that it seems evident that neither of them can be derived from any such self-interested consideration.  A man is mortified when, after having endeavoured to divert the company, he looks round and sees that nobody laughs at his jests but himself.  On the contrary, the mirth of the company is highly agreeable to him, and he regards this correspondence of their sentiments with his own as the greatest applause" (13-14).
Here we see Smith's common method of reasoning, in which he appeals to some ordinary human experience--such as the pain we feel when those around us don't laugh at our jokes--to confirm a general claim about human nature.  He indicates that this shows a concern for how others see us that cannot be explained as self-interested.  But Hobbes and Mandeville would point to the desire for applause as showing the vanity of the comic entertainer.

This desire for the pleasure of mutual sympathy is seen by Smith as the fundamental motivation for morality.  In praising or blaming one another, indicating whether we can or cannot share one another's emotions, we create social norms of good and bad conduct.  We judge our conduct by whether it is approved or disapproved by those around us.  We discover that those spectators are sometimes mistaken in their judgments if they are uninformed, misinformed, or biased.  But then we can imagine how a fully informed and impartial spectator would judge us, and we can then internalize that imaginary impartial spectator as our conscience.  That conscience can then give us the social approbation that we seek--as self-approbation--even when those in our social circle fail to give us the approbation that we deserve.

We must wonder, however, whether this really refutes Mandeville's position.  Some of Smith's readers during his lifetime--such as Thomas Reid--said that his "system of sympathy" was "only a refinement of the selfish system" of Mandeville.

In the last part of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith has a chapter on Mandeville entitled "Of licentious Systems" (VII.ii.4.4, pp. 306-314).  He declares that Mandeville's ideas are "wholly pernicious" and "in almost every respect erroneous," although "there are, however, some appearances in human nature, which, when viewed in a certain manner, seem at first sight to favour them" (308).  We might suspect, then, that there is at least some partial truth to what Mandeville says.

Smith responds to Mandeville with two claims.  First, he claims that Mandeville's argument that all appearance of praiseworthy conduct is actually motivated by vanity fails to distinguish two higher levels of passion that go beyond vanity.  Second, he claims that Mandeville deceptively assumes that all virtue requires complete self-denial and ascetic repression of all our natural passions, which obscures the idea that virtue requires not the denial of the passions but their moderation.

Vanity is the passion or desire for praise even when we do not deserve it, Smith explains, and that passion or desire is rightly despised.  But this is different from the passion or desire for acquiring praise by really deserving it.  And this is different from the passion or desire for rendering ourselves praiseworthy without any regard for whether we are in fact praised by others.  The second is the love of true glory.  The third is the love of virtue.  Vanity is rightly blamed.  But the love of true glory and the love of virtue are rightly praised.

The lover of true glory is like the vain man in that both desire to be praised.  But unlike the vain man, the lover of true glory desires to be praised because he really is praiseworthy, and thus he is morally superior to the vain man.

The lover of virtue is like the lover of true glory in that they both deserve to be praised.  But unlike the lover of true glory, the lover of virtue cares not whether he is actually praised by anyone, because he cares only to deserve praise.  "The man who acts solely from a regard to what is right and fit to be done, from a regard to what is the proper object of esteem and approbation, though these sentiments should never be bestowed upon him, acts from the most sublime and godlike motive which human nature is even capable of conceiving" (311).

The lover of virtue has a happiness from his own self-approbation that makes him independent of fortune and of the opinions of those around him.  He cannot be mortified by the foolish opinions of those who do not recognize his virtue.  As a man of real magnanimity he cannot be disturbed by undeserved blame.  And yet Smith admits that this is rarely achieved: "It seldom happens, however, that human nature arrives at this degree of firmness" (311).

Mandeville has a response to this claim that the lover of virtue is morally superior to the vain man.  He recognizes that some people perform good deeds in silence and out of public view, because they love doing what is praiseworthy for its own sake, regardless of whether they are actually praised.  Mandeville observes:
"Such Men, I confess, have acquir'd more refin'd Notions of Virtue than those I have hitherto spoke of; yet even in these (with which the World has yet never swarm'd) we may discover no small Symptoms of Pride, and the humblest Man alive must confess, that the Reward of a Virtuous Action, which is the Satisfaction that ensues upon it, consists in a certain pleasure he procures to himself by Contemplating on his own Worth: Which Pleasure, together with the Occasion of it, are as certain Signs of Pride, as looking Pale and Trembling at any imminent Danger, are the Symptoms of Fear" (1:57).
The lover of virtue, who understands virtue as character that is praiseworthy, is proud in praising himself, and thus satisfying his passion or desire for approbation, even if it's only his own self-approbation.  Such pride expresses self-love, and therefore it cannot be virtue in the traditional Christian sense of self-denial.

Smith objects to Mandeville's appeal to Christian virtue.  In every case, Mandeville pretends that human nature "falls short of that complete self-denial which it pretends to, and, instead of a conquest, is commonly no more that a concealed indulgence of our passions" (312).  "Some popular ascetic doctrines which had been current before his time, and which placed virtue in the entire extirpation and annihilation of all of our passions, were the real foundation of this licentious system" (313).

Some commentators on Mandeville--such as F. B. Kaye, the editor of the edition of The Fable of the Bees published by Liberty Fund--see his book as a satirical reductio ad absurdum that refutes traditional Christian and rationalistic conceptions of virtue that require complete self-denial by showing how contrary they are to our natural moral experience.

In contrast to the ascetic Christian virtues of self-denial, which almost no human beings really follow, Mandeville sees that most human beings in civilized societies follow the "doctrine of good manners," according to which human pride motivates people to conceal their pride in pretending to care more about others than about themselves (2:66, 2:109, 2:145-56).  Most human beings care about appearing to be good in conforming to public standards of good conduct because they are afraid of being shamed by the public exposure of their vices.  Men of honor are even more careful about appearing to conform to the highest standards of conduct by showing the most praiseworthy character and achievements. 

Men of honor will pretend to be religious believers, because disbelief is shameful, but they cannot be "real believers" (1:269, 1:308; 2:97, 2:102).  Moreover, Mandeville suggests, "men of reflection" are prone to infidelity (2:313-317).  Although Smith uses religious language, especially in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, his friendship with David Hume brought him under the suspicion of atheism.

Ryan Hanley--in his book Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue--argues that far from rejecting Christian virtue, however, Smith embraces it as the highest human excellence.  Hanley sees the love of praise as governed by the commercial virtue of prudence, the love of true glory as governed by the classical virtue of magnanimity, and the love of virtue expressed in beneficence as the Christian virtue.

For the highest level of virtue, we need religion, Hanley argues, because "religion provides the longing for self-transcendence with an object and is thus an important ally in efforts to overcome self-preference" (143-44).  This claim that Smith is looking for a Christian virtue that provides "self-transcendence" is confusing, however.  Hanley generally presents Smith as showing a "continuum of self-love" (98) moving from the lowest form of self-love (vanity) to the higher form (love of true glory) to the highest form (love of virtue).  Hanley speaks of the "elevated form of self-love" (147), "noble self-love" (151), or "refined self-love" (156).  But this suggests that there has not been any complete transcendence of self-love, because even the most refined form of self-love is still self-love.

This suggests to me that Smith is implicitly drawing on the ancient Aristotelian teaching that the good man loves himself and loves his friends as reflections of himself (Nicomachean Ethics, 1168a29-1170b20).  If so, then Smith is rejecting the Christian teaching of virtue as self-denial and affirming the virtue rooted in self-love that is taught by Mandeville.

Smith sees the peak of human excellence in the "wise and virtuous man," and Smith does use some religious language in describing this man's grasp of "divine perfection."  But this religious language could be explained as a rhetorical gesture by Smith that is necessary to protect himself against the charge of infidelity or atheism.

The only time that Smith identifies anyone in particular as a "wise and virtuous man" is when he identifies Hume as approximating the "perfectly wise and virtuous man" as closely as any human being could.  This remark concluded his letter about Hume's calm facing of his own death, a letter that provoked a storm of bitter condemnation from Christians.  In a letter to Alexander Wedderburn,  Smith described Hume as dying "with great cheerfulness and good humour and with more real resignation to the necessary course of things, than any Whining Christian ever dyed with pretended resignation to the will of God" (Correspondence, 203).  Hanley notices this identification of Hume as the "wise and virtuous man," but Hanley is silent about Smith's implication in this that the highest wisdom and virtue can be attained by an infamous atheist (192).

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Government Marriage and Civil Marriage

Opponents of gay marriage like Robert George have argued that if gay marriage is licensed by the government, real marriage--the marriage of a man and a woman--will be abolished.  I disagree, because I think that since real marriage satisfies some of the deepest desires of our evolved human nature, it will endure as a matter of natural law, regardless of marriage licensing law.  We are going to see which of us is correct, because gay marriage will soon be legalized throughout the United States.

In a liberal regime, marriage should be a creation not of government but of civil society.  It should be part of the social order shaped by the natural and voluntary associations of civil life, including families and religious organizations.  Religious believers will want to sanction marriage as a matter not just of natural law but also of divine law.

As R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, has indicated in some recent articles, some Christians have now reached the conclusion that the proper response to the legalization of gay marriage is for priests and pastors to refuse to participate in the governmental licensing of marriage.  Ministers should no longer act as agents of the state in signing marriage certificates.  They should distinguish between government marriage and civil marriage, and they should agree to preside only over those weddings that conform to the Christian standards of real marriage.

This would be a good step towards the best resolution of the debate over gay marriage--the complete privatization of marriage.  I have elaborated some of my reasoning for this in some posts on George's arguments here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Evolution of War among Humans and Chimpanzees

I have written many posts about the debate between the Hobbesian and Rousseauean social scientists over the evolution of war.  In recent weeks, there have been new contributions to that debate.  On the Hobbesian side, Napoleon Chagnon and his colleagues have just published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on warfare among the Yanomamo.  On the Rousseauean side, Douglas Fry has just published an article in the Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research criticizing the myths about war among nomadic foragers.

The Yanomamo are an indigenous tribal population of foraging horticulturalists who live in the Amazon rainforest along the border region of southern Venezuela and northern Brazil.  Chagnon is one of the most famous anthropologists who has studied them.  He has provoked intense controversy with his depiction of the Yanomamo as the "fierce people" and with his claim that those men who engage successfully in lethal coalitionary warfare tend to have more wives and offspring and thus greater reproductive fitness than other men, which suggests that warfare is an evolutionary adaptation.  Moreover, Chagnon also accepts Richard Wrangham's "chimpanzee model" for explaining the evolution of warfare--the idea that the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans engaged in the sort of male coalitionary raiding that can be observed in chimpanzees.

The social organization of lethal coalitionary aggression differs, however, between chimpanzees and humans.  Among chimpanzees, the raiding parties are genetically related males from the same natal community.  Among human foragers, the raiders are largely related by marriage rather than genetic kinship.  Rather than a "band of brothers," Chagnon and his colleagues indicate, human raiding parties are a "band of brothers-in-law."  The evolutionary advantage for men who form alliances for raiding is that this gives them access to their friends' female relatives as potential wives.

The underlying assumption here--that warfare was an evolutionary adaptation for human foraging bands--is challenged by Fry.  He argues against what he identifies as four myths:  that nomadic foragers are warlike, that there was a high rate of warfare in the Pleistocene, that the data support Wrangham's "chimpanzee model" for the evolution of war, and that the establishment of formal state bureaucracy brought an inevitable decrease in the aggression in forager societies.

In a previous post last year, I have summarized the five objections from Wrangham and his colleagues to Fry's arguments.  In this new article, Fry responds to one of those objections.  Wrangham and Glowacki have argued that in surveying the data on foraging societies, the only appropriate cases for assessing their chimpanzee model are nomadic foraging societies living next to different nomadic foraging societies, because most of the nomadic foragers studied by anthropologists have been constrained by neighboring farming societies that could dominate them politically and militarily.  If one looks at hunter-gatherer societies with neighboring societies of hunter-gatherers, Wrangham and Glowacki argue, one sees a universal pattern of warfare.

In response to this, Fry accuses Wrangham and Glowacki of cherry-picking their cases and thus relying on a biased sample of cases.  According to Fry, this ignores the many cases that work against their argument: "For instance, ethnographic cases of forager communities living in proximity to one another but that lack raiding, ambushes, feuding, or 'shoot-on-sight' practices include the nomadic foragers of central peninsular Malaysia such as the Batek, Chewong, and Jahai (Endicott and Endicott, 2008, 2014; Endicott, 2013; Howell, 1989; Sluys, 2000), the Montagnais, Naskapi, and East Main Cree bands of Labrador, Canada (Lips, 1947), and the neighboring South Indian forager societies described by Gardner (2013)" (262).

From my examination of these cases, however, I don't see how they support Fry's characterization.  For example, Lips reports that the Montagnais-Naskapi bands of the Labrador peninsula of Canada were bound together by the same language and a common culture and that they had never fought a war with one another.  But he also reports that they had fought wars against the Eskimo and the Iroquois (399).  Moreover, Lips indicates that these bands were constrained by the authority of the Canadian government and by their economic and social dependence on the Hudson's Bay Company.

Similarly, Kirk Endicott reports that the Batek of peninsular Malaysia lived under the authority of the Malaysian state of Kelantan acting through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.  He also reports: "Probably the original reason the Batek prohibited fighting with outsiders was the fear that they would be killed or enslaved.  Like other Orang Asli, they were victims of slave raiding by Malays during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries" (2013, 248).

Sluys reports the same situation for the Jahai of northern peninsular Malaysia.  First, they were enslaved by Malays, and then they were put under strict control by the Malaysian government.

Gardner reports that the South Indian foragers have been constrained first by the British and then by the Indian government.  "In most instances, most have been isolated from one another for centuries, if not millennia, by farming peoples on the intervening plains" (Gardner 2013, 311).

So none of these cases fulfill the conditions specified by Wrangham and Glowacki.  None of these cases can serve as proxies for the nomadic foragers of the Pleistocene.

Douglas P. Fry and Patrik Soderberg, "Myths About Hunter-Gatherers Redux: Nomadic Forager War and Peace," Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research 6 (2014): 255-66.

Shane J. Macfarlan, Robert S. Walker, Mark V. Flinn, and Napoleon A. Chagnon, "Lethal Coalitionary Aggression and Long-Term Alliance Formation among Yanomamo Men," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, early edition (2014).

Some of my previous posts on the debate over the evolution of war can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Theistic Evolutionism of Pope Francis and the Emergence of the Soul in the Brain

In his speech this week (October 27) to a Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis affirmed theistic evolution as compatible with the Catholic Church's teachings.  He thus implicitly rejected scientific creationism and intelligent design theory in their claim that each species of life had to be specially created by God, and so they could not have emerged by natural evolution.

He observed:
"You are addressing the highly complex subject of the evolution of nature. . . . When we read the account of Creation in Genesis, we risk imagining that God was a magician, complete with an all powerful magic wand.  But that was not so.  He created beings, and He let them develop according to the internal laws with which He endowed each one, that they might develop, and reach their fullness.  He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time in which He assured them of his continual presence, giving life to every reality. . . . The Big Bang theory, which is proposed today as the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of a divine creator but depends on it.  Evolution in nature does not conflict with the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings who evolve."
"As for man, however, there is a change and a novelty.  When, on the sixth day in the account of Genesis, comes the moment of the creation of man, God gives the human being another autonomy, an autonomy different from that of nature, which is freedom. . . ."
Contrary to what was said in some of the news reports about this speech, Pope Francis was not saying anything that had not been said by previous popes.  In 1996, in another speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II took essentially the same position in affirming the truth of evolutionary science as consistent with a proper interpretation of Genesis.

The Church's theistic evolutionism is close to what Charles Darwin defended.  Darwin adopted the principle of dual causality, which originated in medieval Islamic and Christian theology.  He spoke of the laws of nature as manifested in evolution as "secondary causes," which left open the possibility of God's creative power acting through "primary causes" to create the original order of nature itself.

Darwin thus allowed for theistic evolution, which has been adopted by a long line of Christian thinkers, including C. S. Lewis, Francis Collins, and Alvin Plantinga.  Darwin rejected the "theory of special creation," which sees God as having to intervene miraculously in nature to specially create each form of life.  But Darwin allowed for God to be understood as the First Cause, the uncaused cause of matter and life.

The one possible point of disagreement between Darwin and the popes is the claim of the popes that the creation of the human species required what Pope John Paul II called an "ontological leap"--a miraculous intervention by God into nature to specially create the human soul with a freedom of thought and action that other animals do not have.  Since the popes accept the idea that God was able and willing to allow natural evolutionary processes to create the species of life, it's hard to understand why this could not also be true for the creation of the human mind through the emergent evolution of the primate brain.

Pope Francis rejects the belief that God was "a magician, complete with an all-powerful magic wand," but then in assuming that God had to miraculously create the human soul outside of any natural evolutionary process, he seems to fall back onto imagining God as a magician.

That the human mind arose from the emergent evolution of the primate brain is perhaps suggested by Michelangelo's famous Creation of Adam fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Frank Meshberger has pointed out that the image surrounding God and the angels has the shape of a brain, with God's right arm extending through the prefrontal cortex.  Since Michelangelo was known to have performed dissections of the human body, he could have learned enough about neuroanatomy to convey the message that God's gift of human ensoulment was actually the gift of a human brain that might have arisen by natural processes.

Some of my posts on these points can be found herehere, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Chimps Play Fair in the Ultimatum Game

The model of Homo economicus--that human beings are rational maximizers of their selfish interests--has been challenged by ultimatum bargaining experiments.  In the ultimatum game, there is a pool of money (say $100) to be split between two people.  The person designated as the proposer must offer a split to the other person designated as the responder.  If the responder accepts the offer, the money is split as proposed, but if the responder rejects the offer, then neither person receives any of the money.  Homo economicus would propose to take most of the money for himself (say $95) and give little to the other person ($5), and the responder would accept this unfair offer, because even a small share of the money is better than nothing.  In most experiments, this does not happen.  Proposers tend to offer 40% to 50% of the money to the responders, and the responders tend to reject any offer to themselves of less than 20%.  This seems to show a sense of fairness.  Responders are willing to suffer a cost to themselves to express their resentment against unfair offers by punishing the unfair proposers, and proposers are inclined to make fair offers, perhaps anticipating that they will be punished if they make an unfair offer.

There is some cultural variation in the results of these ultimatum game experiments.  In a few tribal societies, proposers tend to make unfair offers that are generally accepted by responders.  One of the factors explaining this is that these societies have little experience with market exchanges, and thus they have not developed the norms of fair exchange that tend to arise in societies where trading in markets is an important part of their economy. 

This seems to provide experimental confirmation for Adam Smith's claim about the influence of commerce on the manners of a people.  "Whenever commerce is introduced into any country, probity and punctuality always accompany it.  These virtues in a rude and barbarous country are almost unknown. . . . A dealer is afraid of losing his character, and is scrupulous in observing every engagement.  When a person makes perhaps 20 contracts in a day, he cannot gain so much by endeavouring to impose on his neighbors, as the very appearance of a cheat would make him lose.  Where people seldom deal with one another, we find that they are somewhat disposed to cheat, because they can gain more by a smart trick that they can lose by the injury which it does their character" (Lectures on Jurisprudence, 538-39).  Commerce fosters a concern for one's reputation for being trustworthy and fair.  Moreover, Smith argues in The Theory of Moral Sentiment, all of our morality can be explained as rooted ultimately in our concern for how we appear to others, for winning their approbation and avoiding their disapprobation.  This concern for our public appearance can be internalized as a conscience in which we imagine how we would appear to a perfectly informed and impartial spectator.  Thus we care not only about being praised but also about being praiseworthy.

If human beings show a sense of fairness in how they play the ultimatum game, then we might wonder whether other animals closely related to us in their evolutionary ancestry show a similar sense of fairness, which would suggest that human morality has deep evolutionary origins.  This question has provoked a debate among primatologists and evolutionary psychologists.  On the one side, Michael Tomasello and Josep Call have concluded that the expression of a sense of fairness in the ultimatum game is unique to human beings, and that chimpanzees show no concern for fairness in their play of the ultimatum game, because they are actually rational maximizers of their selfish interests.  On the other side, Frans de Waal and Sarah Brosnan have concluded that chimpanzees really do show some sense of fairness in their play of the ultimatum game, and this suggests that human morality has evolutionary roots in a primate ancestry shared with chimpanzees.

Until recently, the testing of chimpanzees in simulated ultimatum games failed to show any concern for fairness.  But in recent years, de Waal, Brosnan, and their colleagues have shown that chimpanzees do tend to make fair offers in playing the ultimatum game.  In this short video, you can see how they designed their experiment.  One individual chose between two tokens (functioning as money) that could be exchanged for food.  One token could be exchanged for an equal division of the food with another individual.  The other token would favor the proposer with a larger portion of the food.  Once the proposer had selected a token, the responding individual could either transmit the token to the experimenter, who would divide the food as indicated, or the responder could refuse to transmit the token, and neither individual would receive any food.  In 75% of the trials, the proposer choose the equitable token (a 50/50 split) over the inequitable token.  Although the responder never rejected any offer, the responder did often express irritation when the inequitable token was offered--sometimes by spitting water at the proposer.  Experiments with human children (2-7 years old) showed the same pattern of behavior.

De Waal and Brosnan have also shown "inequity aversion" in experiments with monkeys and chimpanzees.  Two individuals are put near to one another in cages.  They perform some simple tasks to earn tokens that they can exchange for food.  At first, they are given slices of cucumber, and they are happy with that.  But then one of them receives a grape, which is much more desirable than a cucumber.  Now, when the other individual receives a slice of cucumber, he protests by throwing the food away and pounding on his cage.  At the end of his TED talk on "Moral Behavior in Animals," de Waal shows a video of this experiment, and he suggests that the angry monkey's behavior is similar to that of the "occupy Wall Street" protesters.

As de Waal indicates, this research provoked indignant responses from philosophers who insisted that monkeys and apes could not show any sense of fairness, because this must be unique to human beings.  Some of them argued that to show a true sense of fairness, it was not enough for the unfairly treated animal to protest, but the animal benefiting from the unfairness should also protest against this unfair outcome.  Remarkably, there is now some evidence that chimpanzees do show this: the chimpanzees will react negatively not only when they receive the less desirable food but also when they receive the more desirable food (see Brosnan et al. 2010; de Waal 2014)!

And yet, when one actually looks at the data in these experiments, the conclusions that de Waal and Brosnan draw from them might be disputed.  For example, one set of experiments involved 16 adult chimpanzees, 10 males and 6 females (Brosnan et al. 2010).  The chimps were trained to exchange an inedible token that they had been given for a food reward. They could refuse to do this by refusing to accept the token, by refusing to accept the food, by not returning the token, by not eating the food, by sharing the token with a partner, by sharing the food with a partner, by pushing away the token, or by pushing away the food. 

In the inequity test, where the subject received a low value food (carrot), and the partner received a high value food (grape), the percentage of total refusals (either refusing to return the token or refusing to accept the food) was 30% for the males and 8% for the females.  6% refused by either pushing away the token or pushing away the food.  So the great majority of individuals did not refuse the inequitable distribution.  In his public  lectures like his TED talk, de Waal shows a brief film clip of a chimpanzee throwing away the low value food (carrot or slice of cucumber), when the other chimpanzee has received the high value food (grape), and the audience laughs.  But de Waal does not show the film of the many times that chimpanzees in the inequity test accept the inequitable distribution.  So the audience does not see that the "inequity aversion" that de Waal claims is shown only in the minority of cases.  

Brosnan and de Waal have suggested that this sense of fairness did not evolve for the sake of fairness as such but for the sake of beneficial cooperation.  Both chimpanzees and human beings are highly cooperative animals who need the cooperation of individuals who are not their kin.  Evolution will favor the propensity to cooperate only as long as the cooperating individuals receive roughly equal benefits from the cooperation.  Individuals who feel that they are not receiving equal benefits will withdraw from the cooperative activity, and thus those receiving more than their fair share will be punished.

Human beings show this same evolutionary psychology of fairness.  But they are unique in that their cognitive abilities and their capacity for language allow them to develop and enforce rules of fairness that are far more abstract and complex than is possible for chimpanzees.

Tomasello and his colleagues have defended their position against the critique by Brosnan and de Waal (Jensen et al. 2013).


Brosnan, Sarah, et al., "Mechanisms Underlying Responses to Inequitable Outcomes in Chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes," Animal Behaviour 79 (2010): 1220-1237.

Brosnan, Sarah, and Frans de Waal, "Evolution of Responses to (Un)fairness," Science 346 (17 October 2014): DOI: 10.1126/science.1251776.

de Waal, Frans, "Natural Normativity: The "Is" and "Ought" of Animal Behavior," Behaviour 151 (2014): 185-204.

Jensen, Keith, Josep Call, and Michael Tomasello, "Chimpanzees Are Rational Maximizers in an Ultimatum Game," Science 318 (5 October 2007): 107-109.

Jensen, Keith, Josep Call, and Michael Tomasello, "Chimpanzee Responders Still Behave Like Rational Maximizers." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110 (2013): E1837.

Milinski, Manfred, "Chimps Play Fair in the Ultimatum Game," Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 110 (5 February 2013): 1978-1979.

Proctor, Darby, Rebecca Williamson, Frans de Waal, and Sarah Brosnan, "Chimpanzees Play the Ultimatum Game," Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 110 (5 February 2013): 2070-2075).  Available online.

Other posts on this debate can be found here, here, here., here, and here.