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Chimpanzee Culture WarsRethinking Human Nature alongside Japanese, European, and American Cultural Primatologists$
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Nicolas Langlitz

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691204284

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691204284.001.0001

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Controlling for Pongoland

Controlling for Pongoland

(p.145) 4 Controlling for Pongoland
Chimpanzee Culture Wars

Nicolas Langlitz

Princeton University Press

This chapter investigates how Christophe Boesch's colleague and codirector Michael Tomasello derived truth claims about the anthropological difference between Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes from controlled experiments comparing the social cognition of human children with that of grown chimpanzees. Tomasello's claim that humans were the only primates capable of culture and cooperation received an enthusiastic reception by German philosophers. Yet Boesch called into question the validity of Tomasello's findings by pointing out that the social behavior of both humans and apes was too contingent on local circumstances for Leipzig kindergarten children and zoo chimpanzees rescued from a Dutch pharmaceutical company to represent all of humanity and chimpanzeehood. He accused Tomasello of not controlling for the different conditions under which Tomasello tested humans and apes. The ensuing controversy over the relationship between laboratory work and fieldwork happened at a time when new statistical methods were opening up vast new possibilities for chimpanzee ethnography, even fostering hopes that experimentation with captive animals would become superfluous because uncontrolled observations in the wild would allow the establishment of causal relations. The chapter then assesses whether Boesch's cultural primatology could inform a different philosophical anthropology than the one drawing from Tomasello's comparative psychology.

Keywords:   Christophe Boesch, Michael Tomasello, humans, apes, social behavior, statistical methods, chimpanzee ethnography, cultural primatology, philosophical anthropology, comparative psychology

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