Pity and The Origin of Inequality Can be Found on Infants

Recently, I have seen a collection of lecture notes from Standford University. The main theme of the course is the origin of human cooperation. In this collection, Prof. Tomasella talks about several experiments they performed on infants. In the experiments, researchers give infants several tasks which they can only complete by cooperating with others. By observation, researchers found that helping others is a naturally emerging behavior to help others. This conclusion is concordant with my assumption of human nature in The Basic Political Writings that “Pity is what carries us without reflection on the aid of those we see suffering” (p.64). What is more, researchers also found another interesting phenomenon that infants who work well with others are more popular. Researchers thought this is what we can esteem in society. This fact proved my idea that esteem is one origin of inequality in The Basic Political Writings “as soon as men had begun mutually to value one another, and the idea of esteem was formed in their minds, each one claimed to have a right to it, and it was no longer possible for anyone to be lacking it with impunity” (p.73).


2 thoughts on “Pity and The Origin of Inequality Can be Found on Infants

  1. Zijia Guo, I understand and support your viewpoint that esteem in an origin of inequality, but I disagree with your point about the infants cooperating due to pity. In fact, I think it’s the opposite; they did not necessarily help each other because one of them was suffering but because they needed to work together in order to complete the task. Cooperation to complete a goal is indeed a very human quality, but equating it to pity may not be entirely accurate, in my opinion. After all, humans are innately social creatures; we live in society and work together because it is beneficial to us and society as a whole. That being said, working together does build trust and respect among partners (esteem), so I share your views on that point.

  2. Although I get where your claims and views are coming from, I do not necessarily with the idea that the infants are helping each other out of “pity.” I do not believe that babies early on have a sense or understanding the ideas of struggling and suffering. Therefore, they could not comprehend the struggles of another human being. Also, I believe that the babies only helped each other out because they knew that this was the only way for them to complete the task. They can see that they could not complete the task on their own so they must allow the help from others to attain their end goal. This also pertains to why the babies who help out are the most popular. In admiration and gratitude, the infants shower the helpful infants with popularity and attention.

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