The complexity of human behavior has been a topic of fascination and inquiry for centuries. What motivates us to act in certain ways and to adhere to certain norms and values? This question has been explored in great depth by William Search in his books "Why" and "Conversations with ChatGPT: Exploring the Theory of Morality and Existence." Search suggests that the reason why humans exist is morality, and that our moral codes and norms are what guide our behavior.
But what exactly are these moral codes and norms? According to Search, they are social norms, which are rules that prescribe behavior and are enforced through social sanctions. These norms can be either arbitrary or universal, and they can range from being more or less compulsory. Universal norms tend to be compulsory in most societies, and they are biologically anchored. Some examples of universal moral norms in humans include not harming infants, avoiding inequity, caring for one's own offspring, and avoiding incest.
But do these universal moral norms extend beyond humans and into the animal kingdom? Research suggests that they do, at least in some primates. For instance, chimpanzees, who are our closest living relatives, typically show high levels of tolerance towards infants and are hardly ever harmed by others. When harmful behaviors towards infants do occur, they often elicit strong reactions from bystanders, including interventions and defense of the mother-infant pair. These behaviors are consistent with a strong third-party bystander reaction towards infanticide, a putative norm that chimpanzees appear to adhere to.
However, these bystander reactions are not completely uninvolved, since the bystanders may still have a strong individual stake in discouraging infanticide by group males. This suggests that the norms that chimpanzees adhere to may be somewhat parochial, with stronger reactions towards norm violations within the group.
To further explore the concept of social norms in primates, researchers studied audience effects on prosocial behavior in marmoset monkeys, who engage in cooperative breeding. Marmosets share food with immatures, sometimes without previous begging, even when immatures are not aware that a valuable food item has been found. To test for an audience effect on proactive food sharing, the researchers quantified food sharing by helpers with immatures, either when they were alone with the offspring in a separate room or when the rest of the family was present. If they were sharing food to increase their reputation as a good helper, one would expect them to share more when an audience was present than when they were alone with the offspring. However, the marmosets actually showed more proactive food sharing in the absence of an audience, consistent with the bystander apathy or diffusion of responsibility effect in humans.
These findings suggest that chimpanzees may not be the best species to look for audience effects on prosocial behavior. Instead, prosocial effects would arguably be most likely in habitually prosocial species such as marmoset monkeys. However, to date, there is no solid evidence that primates take into account whether others behave prosocially or not. Thus, a third-party perspective on prosociality appears largely lacking in primates.
In conclusion, the concept of social norms is complex and multifaceted, and their enforcement varies across species. However, the existence of universal moral norms in humans and their potential existence in some primates suggest that these norms are biologically anchored and guide our behavior. The question of why humans exist may be tied to the concept of morality, which forms the basis of our social norms and values. This theory proposed by William Search sheds light on the complexities of human behavior and highlights the importance of exploring the nature of morality and existence.