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Norms and social understanding from a comparative perspective

Location: Ruhr University Bochum, Germany and Online via Zoom

Date: April, 4th-6th, 2024

Scientific Organization: Leda Berio, Kristin Andrews, and Albert Newen

The last few decades have been crucial in changing the debate surrounding animal social cognition. Cultural traditions, first reported in the sweet-potato washing in Koshima Island monkeys (Kawai 1965), have now been identified in species from chimpanzees to bumble bees (Whiten 2021); the observation of differences between orangutan populations has led to raise questions on the evolution of material culture in the species (van Schaik et al, 2003), as well as to revisit the elements shaping their vocal behavior to include their sociality (Lameira et al, 2022); increasing evidence has been collected regarding empathic behavior in rodents (Cox and Reichel, 2020); new evidence has brought several researchers to revisit questions about theory of mind in great apes (Kano et al, 2019; Tomasello, 2008). Finally, recent work has also started to analyze the way we define social complexity and other parameters when studying non-mammal species (e.g. Bouchrie et al, 2019), in order to better understand the kind of social pressures that can lead to evolution of complex behavior.

Crucially, the new evidence, as well as the new theoretical accounts of the older studies, push us not only to expand our understanding of social cognition in non-human animals, but also to apply this new understanding to the questions regarding the evolution and development of human behavior, from a comparative perspective. Among the many questions raised in this context, some of the most pressing ones regard our understanding of the role of norms in social cognition. Is normative behavior uniquely human, or are some of the newly observed behaviours in non-human animals to be understood in a normative light? What does the comparison between non-human and human cognition tell us about the role of normative constraints in social interaction? Should we redefine the notion of normatively-constrained behavior, as we have been revising that of social complexity?

We intend to bring together theoretical and empirical perspectives on these questions, by asking philosophers and animal researchers in Social Cognition and Norm Understanding in humans as well as in non-human animals.

The workshop’s aim is to move forward our understanding of social cognition in nonhuman animals, on the one hand, and discussion on the notion of (normative) social interaction from a comparative perspective. In particular, the main questions can be characterized as following:

  1. What are the most philosophically interesting cases of social cognition in different nonhuman species and how are these abilities related to social cognition in humans?
  2. How do norms feature in human social interaction, and how can that inform our understanding of our social world?
  3. What are the most promising instances of normative behavior in other species, how can we identify them, and what can we learn from analyzing norm cognition independently from language?

These questions will be addressed during the workshop by taking into consideration both phylogenetic and ontogenetic evidence; moreover, the relationship between phylogenetic and ontogenetic development will be taken into consideration.

See and download the program below.