Normative Animals

June 17- June 18, 2021

9:00 to 17:20 EDT

Registration (Closed)

What are the psychological and evolutionary foundations of moral and social norms? Are these normative capacities uniquely human, or are they also present in other species? How might the presence of normativity in nonhuman animals change our ethical obligations towards them? 

This two-day online conference will bring together an international group of philosophers, primatologists, and psychologists investigating the cognitive foundations of culture, morality, and social norms from a comparative, evolutionary perspective. We envision this as a first step in building a network of researchers to plan and carry out an interdisciplinary program of research looking into the scope and limits of normative cognition and practice in other species. 

Thursday, June 17 

1. Normativity in non-human primates

Chair: Joshua Plotnik, CUNY

9:00-9:05 am: Opening remarks.

9:05-9:45 am: Carel van Schaik, University of Zurich. “The biological foundations of morality and normativity: A primate perspective.”

9:50-10:30 am: Chris Krupenye, Durham University and Johns Hopkins University. “Apes’ expectations of the social world.”

10:35-11:15: Sarah Brosnan, Georgia State University. “A bottom-up view of normativity in non-human primates.”

11:15-11:25 am: Break

2. Animals as moral beings

Chair: Cecilia Heyes, Oxford University

11:25-12:05 pm: Susana Monsó & Birte Wrage, Messerli Research Institute, Vienna. “Tactful animals: How the study of touch can inform the animal normativity debate.”

12:10-12:50 pm: Birte Wrage & Judith Benz-Schwarzburg, Messerli Research Institute. “What if animals are moral beings? Mapping the ethical implications.”

12:50-1:30 pm: Lunch

3. Normative animals and moral obligations

Chair: Simon Fitzpatrick, John Carroll University

1:30-2:10 pm: Nicolas Delon, New College of Florida. “Letting animal agents off the hook.”

2:15-2:55 pm:  Andrew Fenton, Dalhousie University. “Intersubjective expectations, shared norms, and captive animal well-being.”

2:55-3:10 pm: Break

4. The psychology of norms

Chair: Suzanne MacDonald, York University

3:10-3:50 pm: Daniel Kelly, Purdue University. “Normative psychology and the (many) taxonomies of norms.”

3:55-4:35 pm: Jordan Theriault, Northeastern University. “The Sense of Should: A biologically grounded framework for modeling normative motivation.”

4:40-5:20 pm: Evan Westra & Kristin Andrews, York University. “The pluralistic psychology of norms.”

Friday, June 18

5. Toolmaking, culture, and the evolution of norms

Chair: Noam Miller, Wilfred Laurier University

9-9:40 am: Jonathan Birch, London School of Economics. “Toolmaking and the evolution of normative cognition.”

9:45-10:25 am: Thibaud Gruber, University of Geneva. “Affect and cultural norms in primates”

10:30-11:10 am: Lydia Luncz, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “How social is tool use in primates?”

11:10-11:25 am: Break

6. Animals, normativity, and language

Chair: Evan Westra, York University

11:25-12:05 pm: Bart Geurts, Radboud University. “How normativity and language coevolved.”

 12:10-12:50 pm: Giuseppe Lorini, University of Cagliari. “Are there non-human nomic animals?”

12:50-1:30 pm: Lunch

7. The natural foundations of normativity

Chair: Valerie Schoof, York University

1:30-2:10 pm:   Rachell Powell, Boston University & Irina Mikhalevich, Rochester Institute of Technology. “Social Norms and Superorganisms: A Case for Deep Convergence.”

2:15-2:55 pm: Joseph Jebari, Georgetown University. “Reasons, actions, and ecology.”

2:55-3:10 pm: Break

8. Animal ought-thoughts

Chair: Kristin Andrews, York University

3:10-3:50 pm: Laura Danón, University of Córdoba. “Ought-thoughts and animal minds.”

3:55-4:35 pm:  Erik Nelson, Dalhousie University. “Chimpanzees in the Space of Reasons:A Semantic Analysis of Chimpanzee Behaviour.”

4:40-5:20 pm: Simon Fitzpatrick, John Carroll University. “The evolution of animal norms: a how-possibly model and some questions.”


Simon Fitzpatrick, Philosophy, John Carroll University

Kristin Andrews, Philosophy, York University

Evan Westra, York University

Sponsored by:

The Don Shula Endowment in Philosophy at John Carroll University (JCU)
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant # 425-2016-1051
Templeton World Charity Foundation grant # 0469
York University

Questions? Email Evan Westra at

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