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Comparative Morality. Psychology 485 March 30, 2010. Outline. Introduction & Philosophy of Morality Group Living & Cooperation Altruism Game Theory Moral Instinct? Ultimatum game Fairness and empathy in animals.

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comparative morality

Comparative Morality

Psychology 485

March 30, 2010

  • Introduction & Philosophy of Morality
  • Group Living & Cooperation
    • Altruism
    • Game Theory
  • Moral Instinct?
    • Ultimatum game
    • Fairness and empathy in animals

“the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind”

  • Darwin, The Descent of Man

"Of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important"

  • Darwin, The Descent of Man
where do morals come from
Where do morals come from?
  • Some Traditional Answers:
    • Reason
    • Experience
    • Religion/God
  • A newer answer:
    • Moral Instinct
kantian morality
Kantian Morality
  • Morality springs from reason
  • Categorical Imperative
    • Only acts that can be universally permissible (and thus expected) can be taken
humean morality
Humean Morality
  • Morals (or moral problems) excite emotion
  • Emotions cause behaviour
    • Reason has nothing to do with it
naturalizing ethics
Naturalizing Ethics
  • How are ethics grounded in the natural world?
    • Evolution & Biology?
    • e.g. Westermarck effect
  • Need to avoid naturalistic fallacy
    • What is in nature is what “ought” to be
    • e.g. eugenics
morality in psychology
Morality in Psychology
  • In psychology, general perspective has been to break morality into stages
  • Successively more sophisticated reasoning
    • Piaget: 3 stages
    • Kohlberg: 6 stages
group living
Group Living
  • Downsides:
    • More conspicuous to predators
    • Foraging competition
  • Upsides:
    • Shared vigilance for predators
    • Group defense
    • Cooperation and Reciprocation
    • Information sharing
  • Does living in a group require a code of ethics?
  • Functional definition:
    • Acting in a way to reduce individual personal fitness, but increase overall fitness of group
  • Examples:
    • Alarm calling
    • Food sharing
    • Adoption/sharing parenting
    • Grooming
altruism kin selection
Altruism & Kin Selection
  • Altruism explained through genetic relatedness
    • Inclusive fitness
  • “Selfish Gene”
    • Helping out family members helps your genes get passed on
  • Rescue behaviour in ants
altruism reciprocity
Altruism & Reciprocity

Altruism in non-kin

Expectation of ‘returning the favour’

Detection of cheaters?

Would behaviour evolve cheating was common?

Tit-for-Tat strategy

game theory
Game Theory

Mathematical approach to multi-agent interaction

Specifies what agents should do to maximize their payoffs against rational agents

Nash Equilibrium

Stable solution to game theoretic problems

Evolutionary stable solution (ESS)

prisoner s dilemma
Prisoner’s Dilemma

2 suspects caught by police

Cooperate (stay silent)

Defect (testify against other guy)

Players should always defect

Nash equilibrium does not equal globally optimum solution

iterated prisoner s dilemma
Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma

Can cooperation be elicited if game is played multiple times?

If total number of trials is known, continue to defect

Should defect on last trial, since no opportunity for other player to “punish”

If both will defect on last trial, should defect on 2nd last… etc.

If total number of trials is not known, defection may not be dominant strategy

Tit-for-Tat: Cooperate, then copy

pd in animals
PD in animals?

Studies show that animals tend to defect, even in iterated problems

Temporal Discounting?

Stephens, McLinn & Stevens (2002)

IPD with blue jays

Food held in ‘accumulator’ to reduce discounting

Cooperate in Tit-for-Tat strategy

learned or innate
Learned or Innate?

Moral values change with cultural & lifestyle

e.g. smoking, working mothers, divorce, homosexuality

Vegetarian lifestyles:

Health vegetarians – don’t eat meat for practical, health reasons

Moral vegetarians – don’t eat meat for ethical reasons

More likely to see meat as ‘contaminant’, believe other people should be vegetarians, associate vegetarianism with other virtues (less aggressive)

learned or innate1
Learned or Innate?

But “instinct” or gut-feelings seem to have control:

Moral Dilemma 1a:

A surgeon walks into the hospital as a nurse rushes forward with the following case. “Doctor! An ambulance just pulled in with 5 people in critical condition. Two have a damaged kidney, one a collapsed lung and one a completely ruptured liver. We don’t have time to search for possible organ donors, but a healthy young man just walked in to donate blood and is sitting in the lobby. We can save all five patients if we take the needed organs from this young man. Of course, he won’t survive, but we will save all five patients.”

Is it morally permissible for the surgeon to take this young man’s organs?

learned or innate2
Learned or Innate?

Moral Dilemma 1b:

A train is moving at a speed of 150 mph. All of a sudden, the conductor notices a light on the panel indicating complete brake failure. Straight ahead of him on the track are five hikers, walking with their backs turned, apparently unaware of the train. The conductor notices that the track is about to fork, and another hiker is on the side track. The conductor must make a decision: He can let the train continue on its current course, thereby killing the five hikers, or he can redirect the train onto the side track and thereby kill one hiker, but save five.

Is it morally permissible for the conductor to take the side track?

what s the difference
What’s the difference?

Most people:

“no!” to question 1 (organs)

“yes!” to question 2 (trains)

Parallel structure, same calculus

What’s the difference?

Hints at moral intuition

Search for Universal Moral Grammar

Parallel to language

Cross-cultural similarities

moral dilemma 2
Moral Dilemma 2:

Julie is traveling in France on summer vacation from college with her brother Mark. One night they decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. Julie was already taking birth-control pills, but Mark uses a condom, too, just to be safe. They both enjoy the sex but decide not to do it again. They keep the night as a special secret, which makes them feel closer to each other. What do you think about that — was it O.K. for them to make love?

Haidt (2001)

the moral sense
The Moral Sense

Broken down into 5 main themes:






moral instinct
Moral Instinct

If morality is “built-in”, based on instinct, parts of human morality may have precursors in animal behaviour

Moral building blocks?

Focus on 2 dimensions:



avoiding harm
Avoiding Harm

Rhesus monkeys trained to pull a chain for food reward

Now response leads to another monkey getting shocked (in addition to food)

Monkeys will go hungry for days

Masserman et al (1964)

empathy in rats
Empathy in Rats

Rats trained that pressing a lever lowered a styrofoam block

Tested with “suspended rat”

All rats worked to lower the other rat

Rice & Gainer, 1962

fairness ultimatum game
Fairness: Ultimatum Game

Player 1 is given $100, must offer a split to Player 2

Player 2 can accept or reject offer

If reject, neither player gets any money

Rational: Accept anything

But, offers less that 20% are often rejected

Why? Violates principle of ‘fairness’

ultimatum game for chimps
Ultimatum Game for Chimps?

Chimp version of ultimatum game

Jensen, Call & Tomasello (2007)

Must work together to pull in food reward

inequity aversion in chimps
Inequity Aversion in Chimps?

Chimps rarely refused offers

Rational response

Design problems?


“Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections begin here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed, or nearly as well developed, as in man.”

  • Darwin, The Descent of Man