Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Nicholas Wade, in Scientists find beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior (NYTimes), produces a definition of sociality.

Sociality is comprised of four behaviors:

  1. empathy
  2. the ability to learn and follow social rules
  3. reciprocity
  4. peacemaking

So this would answer the question: What does social mean? That’s a core part of what we’re talking about here at Bokardo. If an animal exhibits these four behaviors, then we can say that it is a social animal. This is a good foundational to start with, or at least a quick overview that addresses concrete behavior.

Wade goes on to add to Frans de Waal’s research (which is the basis of the article) that two more behaviors are exhibited by humans that aren’t seen in other primates: “People enforce their society’s moral codes much more rigorously with rewards, punishments and reputation building (than other primates do). They also apply a degree of judgment and reason, for which there are no parallels in animals.”

When talking about sociality in terms of behaviors, we get into interesting questions quickly. What does empathy look like on the Web? Reciprocity? What does Identity have to do with this? (Certainly in the physical world there is much less need to worry about the is-this-person-who-they-claim-to-be? type of Identity) It would seem that online Identity only obfuscates the issue further, and possibly adds more behaviors to the mix as well…and focuses us more on things like trust. But I believe that even though it is more difficult to clarify relationships on the Web they still rely on the same factors as offline, and this list seems like a good place to start.

Another interesting part of this article is the debate between philosophers and biologists on the origin of morality. Philosophers generally think it begins with conscious reasoning while biologists lean toward emotions.