Virtuous violence theory is an explanation for human violence, but naturally one would like to know whether it is “natural” for violence to be morally motivated. Has Homo sapiens been morally violent since the species emerged? Do other primates shape their social relationships violently? How early in life do moral motives for violence emerge?
In fact, Homo sapiens is not the only species that uses violence to constitute social relationships. In non-human animals, violence is not simply a way of gaining access to resources: it is about regulating relationships. And in certain circumstances, it may be evolutionarily adaptive to violently regulate social relationships. As de Waal (1992: 43) points out, “aggressive behavior is not by definition antisocial or maladaptive.” As in humans, much of the aggression observed in non-human primates and other mammals enforces social coordination and indirectly promotes cohesion, or organizes dominance relations that are adaptively beneficial for all participants. For example, in captive chimpanzees and other primates, reconciliation after conflict results in increased proximity after fights, compared to other times. De Waal (1992: 45) also observed that in captive chimpanzees, stinginess in food sharing is “sanctioned” by aggression. In cercopithecine monkeys (vervets, baboons, etc.), “older relatives (e.g., mothers) use aggressive behavior to punish and inhibit ‘unacceptable’ behavior patterns in young monkeys” (p. 46). De Waal interprets this aggression as “teaching” and “active socialization” (p. 49). Although one might argue that he uses these terms in an overly broad and anthropomorphic sense, the violence he describes and analyzes is certainly constitutive of relationships, and evidently intended to do so.