Re: Chimps may lack altruism

From: Jeff Medina (
Date: Mon Nov 07 2005 - 00:20:42 MST

On 11/3/05, Ben Goertzel <> wrote:
> This article seems relevant to various issues discussed on this list in the
> past regarding the evolution of altruism:
> Basically, these folks did experiments indicating that chimps will not
> behave altruistically, i.e. they don't want to carry out actions that
> benefit other chimps if no benefit comes to themselves in the process.

Unsure of the content of those past discussions of the evolution of
altruism (I'd look them up, but see the META email that follows), I'm
unsure if this comment is totally off-base, but here goes anyway.
Since when do humans behave altruistically? Non-reciprocal altruism is
so uncommon in humans as to be more easily categorized as a disorder
than some sort of higher, grand trait of humanity that puts us on a
moral pedestal above the non-human animals.

Chimps don't tend toward non-reciprocal altruism. Humans don't. Almost
no animals do. In fact, I can't think of any that do; I'm just hedging
my claim given I'm not an encyclopedia of all the animal kingdom's
behavioral patterns.

The short answer for why this is so: Tit for Tat. (I'm reminded of
Eli's pithy, reference-lacking footnote in CFAI, chapter 2, I believe;
paraphrasing -- "You *have* heard of this, haven't you?")

Given all this, I'm not sure why "chimps aren't altruistic in
non-reciprocal scenarios" is newsworthy, aside from its use as
anti-evolution rhetoric, as in the case of the linked article.

Jeff Medina
Community Director
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
Relationships & Community Fellow
Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies
School of Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:53 MDT