WORKSHOP Explanatory roles of Emotions in Comparative Cognition and Philosophy

June 16 2022, ABSTRACT:

In the philosophy of emotions some theories describe emotions as either essentially cognitively simple and embodied or as cognitively complex states. Furthermore basic emotions like fear are sometimes perceived as evolutionarily hardwired, while other theories may describe emotions generally as socially developed. Given the lack of unity on what emotional states actually amount to even for the case of human animals, work on animal emotions face the difficulty of how to cognitively describe the positive and negative valences that are identified in other species such as rats, farm animals and other primates. The workshop aims to discuss this issue with researchers from different fields working on different species. Based on the discussion on the nature of emotions the goal is to to derive if, why and how emotions play a role in human and nonhuman social learning and interaction.

Invited speakers are: Jessie Adriaense (University of Zurich), Elodie Briefer (University of Copenhagen), Constant Bonard (University of Geneva), Thibaud Gruber (University of Geneva)

The number of participants is limited. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to:

ONLINE LECTURE Hugo Mercier: “Not born Yesterday: Why humans are less gullible than we think”*

May 25 2022, 15:30 – 17:00

ABSTRACT: It is often thought that humans are gullible, easily manipulated by demagogues, advertisers, and politicians. I will argue that the opposite is true: humans are equipped with a set of psychological mechanisms that allow them to properly evaluate communicated information, and to reject information that is false or harmful. I will rely on experimental psychology data, as well as studies showing the failures of mass persuasion, from Nazi propaganda to American presidential campaigns. I will also suggest that, with the right argument, people can be persuaded to acquire more accurate beliefs.

Hugo Mercier is a research scientist at the CNRS (Institut Jean Nicod, Paris), where he works with the Evolution and Social Cognition team and the Collective Intelligence team. He studies human reasoning and epistemic vigilance and is the author of The Enigma of Reason and Not Born Yesterday.

To register for the online lecture send an e-mail to

*Updated title and abstract.

Talk ETH: Revival of the Undead: The Nature Nurture Debate and Reactionary Ideology

14 Dec. 2021, 18:15, Rebekka Hufendiek

Looking at public debates, we can observe an apparently never ending interest in supposed scientific facts about biological differences between groups of human beings: be it between the sexes, races or classes. A study that claims to have observed differences in play behavior between boys and girls or in IQ between black and white people, no matter how obviously marginal or even poorly conducted it is, will almost certainly find great resonance within public media debates as well as in the subreddits and YouTube Channels of the so called Intellectual Dark Web.In this talk, I argue that the current prominence of largely outdated views on sex, race, and class differences in human behavior and cognition in popular science books and throughout the Intellectual Dark Web is part and parcel of current reactionary ideology. The reference to „science“ is used to justify social inequalities by framing them as natural. I suggest that this justificatory use of marginal and poorly conducted studies needs to be analyzed and addressed by scientists, philosophers of science, and social critics alike. I conclude by making some suggestions for successful argumentative interventions in this field.

ONLINE LECTURE Richard Moore: “Learning (to learn) from others”

November 17 2021, 15:30 – 17:00 (CET)

In this talk I argue that two skills identified as central to human cognitive uniqueness – pointing and imitation – may result from a common underlying cognitive shift in human or late hominin history. While they are typically argued to be the result of independent adaptations for cooperative communication and high-fidelity social learning, I will suggest that there are relatively weak grounds for thinking they derived from independent biological changes rather than a single cultural or ecological change. 

I will argue that the development of both pointing comprehension and imitation likely resulted from an ecological change in our ancestral environment, which led our ancestors to look to each other, rather than to their environment, as sources of information about the world. I’ll explain why both ape emulation and pointing failure can be thought of as resulting from individualistic information gathering strategies, and sketch a scenario that would have made such strategies non-viable. I’ll also present some empirical data collected by my collaborators and I, and argue that it supports a new explanation of why great apes are typically poor at pointing comprehension – one in line with the hypothesis I develop here. 

Finally I’ll argue that since both pointing and imitation have been trained with enculturation, they should not be assumed to result from biological adaptations in the hominin lineage.

Richard Moore is a research fellow at the department of philosophy at the University of Warwick and the leader of the research group The Communicative Mind. He studies the nature and origins of uniquely human forms of cognition and culture. His papers and studies deal with the communicative abilities of human children, non-human great apes, and domestic dogs, his current research tackles the relationship between ‘Theory of Mind’ and communication in ontogeny, phylogeny, and in human history. You can find a list of his publications on these topics here.

To register for the online lecture send an e-mail to

ONLINE LECTURE Judith Burkart: “The Cooperative Breeding Model of Human Evolution. Insights From Marmoset Monkeys”

October 6 2021, 15:30 – 17:00 (CET)

To understand the primate origins of the human mind, it is worthwhile to focus not only on great apes, but also on the callitrichid monkeys. Like humans, but unlike great apes, callitrichids are cooperative breeders: group members other than the mother cooperate in raising offspring, including proactively offering food. According to the cooperative breeding model, this reproductive system played an important role during human evolution, explaining many of our life-history traits and our demographic success. Here, we focus on the psychological dimension of the cooperative breeding model, and present comparative data that show that across primates, prosociality and social tolerance are associated with cooperative breeding, and can have downstream consequences of increased performance in socio-cognitive contexts and vocal communication. Next, we turn to the perspective of immatures – what are the implications of growing up as a cooperative breeder? Since helpers are not always readily available, and mothers typically already busy with the next offspring, immatures have to work hard to engage them.  Callitrichid immatures use babbling-like behavior to do so; it not only speeds up vocal development, but adults are more likely to approach and interact with babbling immatures. When during evolutionary time, human immatures where first exposed to the challenges of growing up as a cooperative breeder, they already had inherited from their great-ape like ancestors rather strong socio-cognitive skills that they could now use to master these novel challenges. The explicit focus on immatures may thus well explain why many socio-cognitive skills emerge so early during human development.

Judith Burkart is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Zürich. She studies cognitive and psychological consequences of cooperative breeding, primate cognitive evolution, evolution of prosociality, and the cooperative breeding hypothesis. You can find a list of her publications on these topics here.

To register for the Online lecture send an e-mail to

Check the recorded lecture here. Please do not circulate without permission.

Talk at DGPHIL’s Graduate Conference

Basil will give a talk at the DGPHIL’s graduate conference on the 10th of September 2021, at 14:45 – 15:15. The title of the talk is: “What or whom do we depend on when we acquire cumulative cultural knowledge? Expanding the notion of epistemic dependence.” You can find the abstract below. For more infos, check out the DGPHIL-Website or get in touch:

Abstract: The main aim of this talk is to argue that we need to broaden our notion of epistemic dependence if we’d like to capture how we humans attain arguably our most important epistemic achievement – cumulative cultural knowledge (CCK). Roughly put, CCK is knowledge that is socially learned and the product of several rounds of intergenerational refinement. To be more precise, I argue that we need to broaden our understanding of the relata of the epistemic dependence relation – whom and/or what we depend on.

Present-day social epistemology takes testimonial exchanges to be the most important instances of epistemic dependence. Though I agree that these are of considerable importance, I will show that in attaining CCK we depend on much more than others testimony. I argue that in acquiring CCK, we depend on (at least) three factors that haven’t received sufficient attention in the existing literature: What I call i) non-deliberately informational practices, ii) demographic and structural properties of social groups and iii) a social group’s (selection) history.

Workshop Online Radicalization

Ideology Formation and Online Radicalization

Time: Jun 4, 2021 02:15 PM Zurich

Zoom Meeting


02:15 – 02:30 Welcome and Introduction: Round of introductions

02:30 – 02:50   Aleksandra Urmann (University of Bern): The Largest  Digital Migration

02:50 – 03:10 Jeremy Blackburn (Bingham University): A Primer on Fringe Online Communities

20 min break

03:30 – 03:50 Manoel Ribeiro (EPFL): Auditing Radicalization Pathways on YouTube

03:50 – 04:10 Rebekka Hufendiek (University of Bern): Revival of the Undead: Reactionary Ideology Online

04:10 – 04:30 Elisabeth Hell (Violence Prevention Network, Berlin): What is Deradicalization and How Could it Happen Online?

20 min break

04:50 – 05:10 Andrei Chitu: (Streetwork Online, Berlin): Prevention Through Engagement in Online Communities

05:10 – 05:30 Becca Lewis (Stanford University): TBA

  20 min break
5:50 – 06:30 Roundtable