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Sharing our Normative Worlds: A Theory of Normative Thinking


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This thesis focuses on the evolution of human social norm psychology. It addresses issues about the cognitive and motivational underpinnings of this particular form of normative thinking as well as their emergence in ontogenetic and evolutionary time. More precisely, this thesis aims to provide a lineage explanation of this capacity, i.e., an explanation that specifies a sequence of changes that takes us from agents with a certain baseline capacity for social cognition to agents with a human norm psychology that enables us to engage in social normative thinking. I want to argue that at least some important aspects of this capacity are closely linked to the psychological phenomenon of shared intentionality. In particular, I want to show how the emergence of our distinctive capacity to follow social norms and make social normative judgments is connected to the lineage explanation of our capacity to form shared intentions, and how such capacity is related to a diverse cluster of prototypical moral judgments. I argue that in explaining the evolution of this form of normative cognition we also require an understanding of the developmental trajectory of this capacity. As a result, we need a comprehensive view of human social norm psychology, one that relies on data about both the cognitive machinery and the development of normative cognition in order to explain its evolution. For this purpose, the thesis is organized as follow. In the first chapter, I make some methodological remarks and provide the general overview and plan for the thesis. In the second chapter, I explain what my explanatory target is and why it matters. On the view I am defending, shared intentional psychology gives rise to a special form of psychology that enables us to engage in social normative thinking. These norms are represented as shared, collective intentional states that create emergent, social level facts. Moral psychology is more diverse, for moral judgments define a quite heterogeneous class of mental states—although some moral judgments may involve the representation and execution of norms, certainly not all them do. I show that although much of our distinctive social norm psychology can be explained within the framework of shared intentionality, moral judgments cannot be unified in the same way. In the third chapter, I provide the baseline of social-cognitive capacities that serve as starting point for my lineage explanation. I argue that hominin social cognition was for a very long period of our evolutionary history essentially a matter of low-level cognitive and motivational processes. On this picture, bottom-up affective processes regulated the social lives of early hominins without requiring any special top-down mechanism of normative thinking such as a capacity for understanding and representing social norms. In the fourth chapter, I argue that human-like social norm psychology evolved as a result of the selective pressures that gave rise to shared intentionality, especially the demands that came from collective hunting. Yet collective hunting was not the whole story of the evolution of shared intentionality, for our capacity to form shared intentional mental states emerged from the interplay between the selective pressures that led to cooperative breeding in humans as well as organized, goal-oriented, collective hunting. Thus, I propose an evo-devo account of shared intentionality and its normative dimension since I argue that explaining the evolution of this particular form of normative thinking crucially depends on information about the developmental trajectory of this capacity. Finally, in the fifth chapter, I focus on how social norms are acquired and how the way we learn them gives rise to a prototypical cluster of moral judgments that has been traditionally associated with the sentimentalist tradition in moral philosophy. So this chapter returns to some of themes and arguments of the first chapter by explaining how the distinction between moral judgments and nonmoral judgments can be culturally transmitted and by explaining how moral cognition can be prototype- or exemplar-based.
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... I argue that goal-directed behavioral control in the reinforcement learning and control literature defines an important class of intentional normative mental states, within which the representation of social norms is a special subclass. Following Tomasello (2016Tomasello ( , 2020 and Gonzalez-Cabrera (2017), I claim that our capacity to represent and execute social norms was the result of the coadaptation of phylogenetically old capacities for instrumental reasoning in our great ape lineage and evolutionarily more recent skills for shared intentionality, which supported the representation and execution of commonly held social norms in humans. ...
... Although mechanisms such as gossip, social disapproval, or ostracism create selection pressures for people to avoid punishment by learning what actions are considered permissible and creating an intrinsic motivation to comply, these models are not meant to be accounts of the algorithmic implementation involved in the process. This computational gap is even more evident in approaches based on instrumental rationality and shared intentionality, which often rely on comparative and developmental data (Gonzalez-Cabrera, 2017;Tomasello, 2016Tomasello, , 2020. ...
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This paper aims to contribute to the existing literature on normative cognition by providing a lineage explanation of human social norm psychology. This approach builds upon theories of goal-directed behavioral control in the reinforcement learning and control literature, arguing that this form of control defines an important class of intentional normative mental states that are instrumental in nature. I defend the view that great ape capacities for instrumental reasoning and our capacity (or family of capacities) for shared intentionality coadapted to each other and argue that the evolution of this capacity has allowed the representation of social norms and the emergence of our capacity for normative guidance.
It is generally accepted that the earliest human ancestors grew more like apes than like humans today. If they did so, and we are now different, when, how and why did our modern growth patterns evolve? Originally published in 2003, this book focuses on species within the genus Homo to investigate the evolutionary origins of characteristic human patterns and rates of craniofacial and postcranial growth and development, and to explore unique ontogenetic patterns within each fossil species. Experts examine growth patterns found within available Plio-Pleistocene hominid samples, and analyse variation in ontogenetic patterns and rates of development in recent modern humans in order to provide a comparative context for fossil hominid studies. Presenting studies of some of the newer juvenile fossil specimens and information on Homo antecessor, this book will provide a rich data source with which anthropologists and evolutionary biologists can address the questions posed above.
The great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans) are our closest living relatives, sharing a common ancestor only five million years ago. We also share key features such as high intelligence, omnivorous diets, prolonged child-rearing and rich social lives. The great apes show a surprising diversity of adaptations, particularly in social life, ranging from the solitary life of orangutans, through patriarchy in gorillas to complex but different social organisations in bonobos and chimpanzees. As great apes are so close to humans, comparisons yield essential knowledge for modelling human evolutionary origins. Great Ape Societies provides comprehensive up-to-date syntheses of work on all four species, drawing on decades of international field work, zoo and laboratory studies. It will be essential reading for students and researchers in primatology, anthropology, psychology and human evolution.