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Kristin Andrews (York, Toronto): “Can Animals Be Moral?”

7 December 2020, 3:00 pm4:30 pm

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This event will take place online via Zoom. 

Everyone is welcome to join using a computer with access to the internet and Zoom. To take part just follow these instructions:

Please note that these events are routinely recorded, with the edited footage being made publicly available on our website and YouTube channel. We will only record the audio, the slides and the speaker and will not include the Q&A section. However, any question asked during the talk itself will feature in the final edit.

Abstract: Recent research challenges the idea that adult humans are the only actors whose behavior is evaluable by other members of their group. Very young children, great apes, dolphins, and monkeys appear to find some actions acceptable, and others not. Normative thinking, that is, seeing actions as right or wrong, is an indisputable foundation of morality, and the current science suggests these roots run deep in the animal kingdom.

To investigate normative thinking in other animals I present an account of animal social norms and show that there are four cognitive capacities involved in normative thinking: identification of agents; sensitivity to in-group/out-group differences, social learning of group traditions, and the conscious awareness of appropriateness. Drawing on comparative cognition and developmental psychology research, I show that these capacities of naïve normativity are part of typical human social cognitive practices, they are seen in other species, and they are likely an ancient human cognitive endowment.

To address the title question, we might ask ethicists to consolidate a view about the nature of ethics, which is currently lacking. Or we might follow anthropologists who have identified morality as a human universal. My positive answer to the title question will follow the anthropologist’s lead, and offers a challenge to ethicists.

This research is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on Animals and Moral Practice and the Templeton World Foundation.

Kristin Andrews is York Research Chair in Animal Minds and Professor of Philosophy at York University (Toronto)


7 December 2020
3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Event Category:




Online via Zoom