Chimpanzee normativity: evidence and objections

Biology and Philosophy 35 (4):1-28 (2020)
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This paper considers the question of whether chimpanzees possess at least a primitive sense of normativity: i.e., some ability to internalize and enforce social norms—rules governing appropriate and inappropriate behaviour—within their social groups, and to make evaluations of others’ behaviour in light of such norms. A number of scientists and philosophers have argued that such a sense of normativity does exist in chimpanzees and in several other non-human primate and mammalian species. However, the dominant view in the scientific and philosophical literature is that psychological capacities for social norms evolved uniquely in the human lineage, after our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos. After reviewing some of the existing evidence for normative capacity in chimpanzees, I defend the thesis of chimpanzee normativity against three key theoretical objections that have been presented in the literature, each of which have played a part in motivating the dominant sceptical position. I argue that, while we still have much to learn about the nature and extent of the normative capacities of other animals, there is strong prima facie evidence for social norms and normative evaluation in chimpanzees and the main theoretical objections to chimpanzee normativity are not at all compelling.

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Simon Fitzpatrick
John Carroll University


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