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Building elements of morality are not elements of morality

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Do monkeys and apes display ‘elements of rudimentary moral systems'? If these elements correspond to individual abilities, it could be misleading to label them moral. The prosocial abilities of non-human primates may just constitute the foundations necessary to the emergence of morality in human beings, yet their Darwinian significance should be explained on their own, without reference to their possible functions in human beings. On the other hand, if moral elements refer to parts of moral systems, this implies the development of shared norms through cultural evolution. In this respect, the absence of communication about mental representations forbids the directional transmission of learned social rules in non-human primates.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Laboratoire d'Ethologie et Neurobiologie, URA CNRS 1295, Universite Louis Pasteur, 7 rue de l'Universite, 67000 Strasbourg, France.

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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