The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2020)

Stephen Setman
St. Bonaventure University
Daniel Kelly
Purdue University
From an early age, humans exhibit a tendency to identify, adopt, and enforce the norms of their local communities. Norms are the social rules that mark out what is appropriate, allowed, required, or forbidden in different situations for various community members. These rules are informal in the sense that although they are sometimes represented in formal laws, such as the rule governing which side of the road to drive on, they need not be explicitly codified to effectively influence behavior. There are rules that forbid theft or the breaking of promises, but also rules which govern how close it is appropriate to stand to someone while talking to them, or how loud one should talk during the conversation. Thus understood, norms regulate a wide range of activity. They exhibit cultural variability in their prescriptions and proscriptions, but the presence of norms in general appears to be culturally universal. Some norms exhibit characteristics that are often associated with morality, such as a rule that applies to everyone and prohibits causing unnecessary harm. Others norms apply only to certain people, such as those that delimit appropriate clothing for members of different genders, or those concerning the expectations and responsibilities ascribed to individuals who occupy positions of leadership. The norms that prevail in a community can be more or less fair, reasonable, or impartial, and can be subject to critique and change. This entry provides an overview of interdisciplinary research into the psychological capacity for norm-guided cognition, motivation, and behavior. The notions of a norm and normativity occur in an enormous range of research that spans the humanities and behavioral sciences. Researchers primarily concerned with the psychology distinctive of norm-governed behavior take what can be called “cognitive-evolutionary” approaches to their subject matter. These approaches, common in the cognitive sciences, draw on a variety of resources and evidence to investigate different psychological capacities. This entry describes how these have been used to construct accounts of those cognitive and motivational features of minds that underpin the capacity to acquire, conform to, and enforce norms. It also describes how theories of the selective pressures and adaptive challenges prominent in recent human evolution have helped to inform and constrain theorizing about this psychological capacity, as well as how its features can influence the transmission and cultural evolution of norms. By way of organization, the entry starts with basics and proceeds to add subsequent layers of intricacy and detail. Researchers taking cognitive-evolutionary approaches to norms come from a wide range of disciplines, and have formulated, explored, and debated positions on a large number of different issues. In order to present a comprehensible overview of these interconnected literatures, the entry starts by laying out main contours and central tenets, the key landmarks in the conceptual space common to different theories and claims. It goes on to provide a more detailed description of the kinds of theoretical resources that researchers have employed, and identifies important dimensions along which more specific accounts of the psychology of norms have varied. It then canvasses different sources of empirical evidence that have begun to illuminate other philosophically interesting features of the capacity for norms. Finally, it ends with a discussion of the relationship between norm cognition and morality, with a few illustrations drawn from recent debates in moral theory.
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Culture and Cognitive Science.Andreas De Block & Daniel Kelly - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Evolving Resolve.Walter Veit & David Spurrett - 2021 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 44.
A Framework for the Emotional Psychology of Group Membership.Taylor Davis & Daniel Kelly - forthcoming - Review of Philosophy and Psychology:1-22.

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