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mise à jour du
 26 novembre 2006
HarperCollins Publishers
New York 2006
Moral Minds
How nature designed our universel sense of right and wrong
page 351-352
Marc D Hauser
Cognitive Evolutionary Laboratory


Tempted by the truth of another
When is it permissible for one animal to harm another? The discussion thus far suggests that animals harm others during predation, while attacking members of a neighboring group, while beating up a lower-ranking group member, during an infanticidal run, and while redirecting aggression as a mechanism to reduce postconflict tension. Paralleling our discussion of human violence, there is no single deontological principle guiding animal violence that dictates, plain and simple, that harming another is forbidden. Nor is there a principle that states that harm is permissible whenever it feels right. We explain variation in the expression of harm by appealing to principles and parameters that are grounded in action, and especially the causes and consequences of different actions. But in addition to the Rawlsian contribution, there is also a Humean component. Let's return to an earlier example to see how this might work.
When an aggressor reconciles with its victim, there is some sense in which this interaction looks like a sympathetic or perhaps empathetic response. In chapter 4, I discussed some of the work on human empathy, inspired by Hoffman's pioneering research, and mapped out more recently in terms of development and neural correlates by Nancy Eisenberg, Andrew Meltzoff, and Tania Singer. For some, empathy entails more than feeling the same way as someone else. It entails knowing or being aware o1 what it is like to be someone else. In its simplest formulation, empathy grows out of a mirror neuron-like system, where my perception of an event is mirrored by my enactment of the very same event. Once in place, however, this form of empathy is transformed-either in evolution or in development-by the acquisition of mind-reading skills. With this new capacity, individuals can think about what someone else feels, imagine how they would feel in the same situation, work out what would make them feel better, and from this deduce how to make the other person feel better.
Do animals have anything like the first or second form of empathy? In my discussion of empathy in humans, I mentioned the interesting observation that people who are more empathetic are more susceptible to yawning. Yawning is generally contagious. But it is really contagious if you have a big heart, unable to turn off your compassion for others. Based on this correlation between yawning and empathy, the psychologist James Anderson wondered whether other animals might also be susceptible to contagious yawning. 39 Captive chimpanzees watched videos of other chimpanzees yawning and doing other things. Though inconsistent across individuals, some individuals consistently yawned back. We can't say that the yawners are empathetic while the non-yawners are not. What we can say is that given the observation that contagious yawning is a signature of empathy in humans, it is possible that the same holds true for chimpanzees and other species. This possibility, as well as other observations of caring in animals, sets up a more specific look for empathy.
In nature, rats forage in the company of other rats and often learn from them. In the laboratory, naïve animals learn what to eat either by following knowledgeable individuals or by smelling their breath. Although rats are social eaters, they do not naturally forfeit the opportunity

How do humans develop their capacity to make moral decisions? Harvard biologist Hauser (Wild Minds) struggles to answer this and other questions in a study that is by turns fascinating and dull. Drawing on the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky, Hauser argues that humans have a universal moral grammar, an instinctive, unconscious tool kit for constructing moral systems. For example, although we might not be able to articulate immediately the moral principle underlying the ban on incest, our moral faculty instinctually declares that incest is disgusting and thus impermissible. Hauser's universal moral grammar builds on the 18th-century theories of moral sentiments devised by Adam Smith and others. Hauser also asserts that nurture is as important as nature: "our moral faculty is equipped with a universal set of rules, with each culture setting up particular exceptions to these rules." All societies accept the moral necessity of caring for infants, but Eskimos make the exception of permitting infanticide when resources are scarce. Readers unfamiliar with philosophy will be lost in Hauser's labyrinthine explanations of Kant, Hume and Rawls, and Hauser makes overly large claims for his theory's ability to guide us in making more moral, and more enforceable, laws.
Marc Hauser's eminently readable and comprehensive book Moral Minds is revolutionary. He argues that humans have evolved a universal moral instinct, unconsciously propelling us to deliver judgments of right and wrong independent of gender, education, and religion. Experience tunes up our moral actions, guiding what we do as opposed to how we deliver our moral verdicts.
For hundreds of years, scholars have argued that moral judgments arise from rational and voluntary deliberations about what ought to be. The common belief today is that we reach moral decisions by consciously reasoning from principled explanations of what society determines is right or wrong. This perspective has generated the further belief that our moral psychology is founded entirely on experience and education, developing slowly and subject to considerable variation across cultures. In his groundbreaking book, Hauser shows that this dominant view is illusory.
Combining his own cutting-edge research with findings in cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, economics, and anthropology, he examines the implications of his theory for issues of bioethics, religion, law, and our everyday lives.