Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

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Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

Postby psionic11 on April 14th, 2012, 4:30 am 

So there's this scene in episode 2, season 1 of Game of Thrones, where Joffrey is being a bully and Aria and her wolf take justice against the foul prince.

It's an obvious example of pack mentality and primitive mores where there is a defined right and wrong that transcends species.

My question is this: do you agree, after LETTING GO of our Years of Aristotelian and Church erudition, that there is a set of more basic ethical/moral principles that apply to mammals in general? That the basic ideas of herd mentality, animal social grouping, tribe codes, and more specifically, the human-to-pet bonding, altogether describes a basic morality that transcends species?

I argue that basic moral premises originate within our (mammalian) genes, and are only later shaped/changed by subsequent cultural rituals and traditions.

Is there a school of thought (and its teachings) that acknowledges these obvious, demonstrable, repeatable, and transcendent/persistent behaviors? Or are most people simply unaware of the animal kingdom and our animal heritage? Do most trade human fictions for animal facts?

Did I make sense? Do you recognize animal morality? Or is Ethics dependent alone on Western fictions and fancies?
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Re: Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

Postby BadgerJelly on April 14th, 2012, 9:51 am 

I think to say this is a purely "mammal" thing is a blinkered view.

Birds, fish, bacteria etc ... Anything that groups together can be considered it this way and to some degree literally everything can IMO.

Its certainly an interesting idea and could easily be expanded to the Biosphere or Mother Earth idea.

Thoughts on that?
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Re: Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

Postby psionic11 on April 14th, 2012, 11:31 am 

Very true, social behavior is not limited to just mammals. There are patterns of behavior in the ways schools of fish or flocks of birds react, of course. And even herd mammals have definable reactions to external threats.

My question, though, has more to do with what we normally would call "morals" or "ethics." The unique behaviors and reactions that a loyal dog will show to its owner versus a hostile reaction to a stranger starts to show the basis of many "moral" behaviors... trust and loyalty, approval, favor, wrong behavior, territory and personal space, sharing, dominance and subservience, etc.

From my understanding, mammmals show more of these traits than, say, reptiles or birds. Chimpanzee tribes have different cultures and habits, bonobo politics is fairly diverse and complicated, packs of wolves have "codes" that they go by, and even hyenas have rules.

Human culture is much more diversified than any of these, but there is a large fundamental base we share with mammals. I wonder if there are pet theories that strive to base human morals on animal tendencies rather than abstracts like metaphysics or religion....
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Re: Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

Postby psionic11 on April 14th, 2012, 1:26 pm 

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Re: Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

Postby Whut on April 14th, 2012, 2:20 pm 

I wonder if there are pet theories that strive to base human morals on animal tendencies rather than abstracts like metaphysics or religion....


The idea of an ethics theory built on an evolutionary framework has interested me for a while, but I've never come across something like it. If it exists I'd love to see it. I imagine the "Darwinism" stigma would present major problems though.

"The greatest good is the knowledge of the union which the mind has with the whole of nature."- Spinoza

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The evolution of empathy

We tend to think of empathy as a uniquely human trait. But it’s something apes and other animals demonstrate as well, says primatologist Frans de Waal. He shows how our evolutionary history suggests a deep-rooted propensity for feeling the emotions of others.

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Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce

Publisher's synopsis wrote:...Marrying years of behavioral and cognitive research with compelling and moving anecdotes, Bekoff and Pierce reveal that animals exhibit a broad repertoire of moral behaviors, including fairness, empathy, trust, and reciprocity. Underlying these behaviors is a complex and nuanced range of emotions, backed by a high degree of intelligence and surprising behavioral flexibility. Animals, in short, are incredibly adept social beings, relying on rules of conduct to navigate intricate social networks that are essential to their survival...


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The Moral Lives of Animals by Dale Peterson

The Moral Lives of Animals began as an argument at a dinner party, where I introduced the idea that animals have morality. I was provoked by the incredulity this idea seemed to cause in the distinguished scholar sitting across the table from me—and persuaded by our dinner host and my friend, philosopher Ajume Wingo, that it was worth writing a book about.


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Youtube wrote:A pair of capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) show very compelling signs of cooperation and a sense of fairness, by working together to solve a problem using tools, and then sharing the reward.


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Re: Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

Postby psionic11 on April 14th, 2012, 7:48 pm 

Thanks for those links, Whut. The books about the moral lives of animals is exactly what I'm talking about. I'm not surprised that one of the authors was rebuffed by a scholar on the "incredulity" of the notion of morality in animals; that scholar was likely a student of the solely religious foundations/source of moral thought.

Another case in point:

Dog loyally protects dead partner from traffic
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Re: Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

Postby Paralith on April 14th, 2012, 10:14 pm 

psionic11 wrote:So there's this scene in episode 2, season 1 of Game of Thrones, where Joffrey is being a bully and Aria and her wolf take justice against the foul prince.

It's an obvious example of pack mentality and primitive mores where there is a defined right and wrong that transcends species.


As BadgerJelly and Whut have already pointed out, there are many animals besides mammals that exhibit cooperative and/or group living behavior. I'd like to add the counterpoint that there are many mammals that do not exhibit much cooperative or group living behavior. Many mammal species are solitary and only interact with each other non-aggressively for the purposes of mating.

You're also pointing out a very specific behavior - punishing a member of the group for being unjustifiably aggressive to another member of the group. The problem with this is what is or is not "justifiable" for a given species. Many social animals, like wolves, have a distinct group hierarchy, and an individual at the top of the hierarchy is often aggressive to his subordinates. Joffrey, being a prince, is pretty high up the hierarchy. And he may be pushing his subordinates a bit far but he is also allied with other powerful individuals that are high up in the hierarchy. For most animals this means he gets to be aggressive and there's not much you can do about it unless you form a larger coalition of individuals to challenge Joffrey and his cohorts. Which more or less is what happens in the broader course of the story.

But the point here is that the "morality" being exhibited in this particular scene is in fact something that's largely limited to humans. And where something similar exists in other species, it's fairly rudimentary in comparison and found in a limited number of species, most of which are primates. It is certainly not found in all mammals. For most animals species, might does make right.
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Re: Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

Postby neuro on April 16th, 2012, 5:37 am 

I am sorry I tend to sidetrack the discussion, as usual, but I believe that the question is twofold: (a) morality in animals, (b) moral relation of humans with animals and human perception of such morality.

In appreciating all the important information and valid opinions expressed above, I would suggest that empathy and the resulting "theory of mind" (recognizing the motivation, aims and strategy that underlie observed behaviors by others, by attributing them a "mind" which operates as ours) work much better when we can "identify" with the other critter we are observing - i.e. when we can imagine being the subject of the observed behavior. This is much easier with mammals than, say, with fishes or worms or crows.

Thus, it is much more likely (a) that we "recognize" a moral basis on the behavior of a mammal than in that of a fish; (b) that we develop an empathic relation with a mammal than with a serpent.
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Re: Game of Thrones: loyalty and animal morality

Postby owleye on July 8th, 2013, 10:53 am 

Rather than specific behavior being identified, it may be worth while focussing on something else, namely whether or not the behavior could be considered wrong or mistaken. Could any behavior taken be taken back. If your going to go for genetic or biological determinism, while it may yield something interesting about genetics and biology, I'm not sure it tells us anything about ethics.

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