Human Exceptionalism

More on Chimps as “Rational Maximizers”

I blogged earlier today on a UPI report of a study of chimps, which found, according to the story, that chimpsprotect their self interest and are unwilling to pay a cost to punish someone they perceive as unfair.” I suggested that what the study seemed to actually demonstrate, based on the UPI story, was that chimps don’t have a sense of what is ‘fair’ or what is ‘just.'” In other words, the story’s assertion that the chimps could even perceive something as “unfair,” is ludicrous.

I have now read the actual study, and its conclusions support my position. Indeed, it states explicitly that the sense of fairness in humans is apparently absent in chimps, and that this is one profound way in which we and they differ. Specifically, in the study “Chimpanzees are Rational Maximizers in an Ultimate Game,” the Science (no link available) study concludes (Keith Jensen, et. al., Vol 318, October 5, 2007):

We gave chimpanzees the most widely recognized test for a sensitivity to fairness, the ultimate game [see earlier post for description], and found that they did not systematically make fair offers to conspecifics, nor did they systematically refuse to accept unfair offers from conspecifics even though they could discriminate between the quantities [of food] available to themselves and their partners. It thus would seem that in this context, one of humans’ closest relatives behaves according to traditional economic models of self interest, unlike humans, and that this species does not share human sensitivity to fairness. (My emphasis.)

Chimps are animals, not people. The “rational self interest” they exhibit is the same that is exhibited by all animals–they want food. It is a primary drive. Being amoral, they are not concerned whether they cheat others or are treated unfairly by them to get it. It is the food that matters. They do not understand the concept of fairness or justice.

Of course, that is not a criticism. No one should expect them to be moral beings. No one should expect them to treat each other (or us) “fairly.” But I expect to hear from animal liberationists and others accusing me of being arrogant for illustrating just one of the plethora of differences that distinguish humans from the animal world.

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