Cohen Hall, Room 402
Are adult humans the only normative creatures? Recent research by development psychologists and animal behaviorists has begun to challenge the idea that adult humans are the only normative folk; children countenance specific cooperative norms (Hamlin et al. 2007), and some nonhuman animals act consistently with some of the moral foundations found across human cultures (Vincent et al. 2018). Such findings feed the current interest in examining the evolution of morality.
In this paper I take another angle on investigating the evolution of morality. Normative thought is a cognitive capacity that includes thinking about what one should do regardless of the source of authority, or whether the end is categorical, instrumental, self-justifying, or objectively valuable. It isn’t limited to moral cognition, and it isn’t sufficient for moral participation, but it is necessary. Drawing on recent research in social cognition suggesting that the way we understand others is essentially regulative and normative (Andrews 2012, 2015; McGeer 2007, 2015; Zawidzki 2008, 2013), I argue that there are four early-developing cognitive capacities that are necessary for human social cognitive practices; I call the set of these capacities naïve normativity. From this perspective, I will show how agential thinking is normative thinking. Finally, in a review of the current ape cognition literature, I will show how great apes fulfill the requirements for naïve normativity, thus supporting the view that normative thought is an ancient cognitive endowment.