Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (Princeton Science Library)

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9780691124476: Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (Princeton Science Library)

Can virtuous behavior be explained by nature, and not by human rational choice? "It's the animal in us," we often hear when we've been bad. But why not when we're good? Primates and Philosophers tackles this question by exploring the biological foundations of one of humanity's most valued traits: morality.


In this provocative book, renowned primatologist Frans de Waal argues that modern-day evolutionary biology takes far too dim a view of the natural world, emphasizing our "selfish" genes and reinforcing our habit of labeling ethical behavior as humane and the less civilized as animalistic. Seeking the origin of human morality not in evolution but in human culture, science insists that we are moral by choice, not by nature.


Citing remarkable evidence based on his extensive research of primate behavior, de Waal attacks "Veneer Theory," which posits morality as a thin overlay on an otherwise nasty nature. He explains how we evolved from a long line of animals that care for the weak and build cooperation with reciprocal transactions. Drawing on Darwin, recent scientific advances, and his extensive research of primate behavior, de Waal demonstrates a strong continuity between human and animal behavior. He probes issues such as anthropomorphism and human responsibilities toward animals. His compelling account of how human morality evolved out of mammalian society will fascinate anyone who has ever wondered about the origins and reach of human goodness.


Based on the Tanner Lectures de Waal delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 2004, Primates and Philosophers includes responses by the philosophers Peter Singer, Christine M. Korsgaard, and Philip Kitcher and the science writer Robert Wright. They press de Waal to clarify the differences between humans and other animals, yielding a lively debate that will fascinate all those who wonder about the origins and reach of human goodness.

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From the Inside Flap:

"Frans de Waal has achieved that state of grace for a scientist--doing research that is both rigorous and wildly creative, and in the process has redefined how we think about the most interesting realms of behavior among nonhuman primates--cooperation, reconciliation, a sense of fairness, and even the rudiments of morality. In these Tanner lectures and the subsequent dialogue with leading philosophers and evolutionary psychologists, de Waal takes this knowledge to redefine how we think of morality in another primate, namely ourselves. This is superb and greatly challenging thinking."--Robert M. Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers and A Primate's Memoir

"On the basis of a fascinating and provocative account of the remarkable continuities between the social emotions of humans and of nonhuman primates, de Waal develops a compelling case--which moral philosophers would do well to take seriously--for the evolutionary roots of human morality. In addition, he and his commentators conduct an illuminating discussion of some fundamental methodological and ethical issues--such as whether it is necessarily illicit to characterize animal behavior 'anthropomorphically,' and whether it is reasonable to attribute 'rights' to animals. Anyone who is interested in these issues, and especially those interested in the sources of human morality, will find this book exceptionally challenging and worthwhile."--Harry Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit

"Frans de Waal is the perfect guide to the emerging data on moral-like behavior in animals. Strengthened by deep sensitivity to the complexity of social relations and by a strong defense of anthropomorphism, this book shows how evolutionary biology can contribute to moral philosophy not merely through general principles, but by specific phylogenetic comparisons. It is a major advance in the socialization of ethology."--Richard Wrangham, Harvard University, coauthor of Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence

"Here, Frans de Waal, the world's leading researcher on primate behavior, a highly reflective thinker, and a skilled writer, presents the fruits of thirty years of empirical research. Addressing some of the most fundamental issues of social science and moral theory, he and the commentators produce a book that will be of deep and enduring interest to philosophers, social and political theorists, and anyone who wishes to assess their views about human nature and the nature of morality."--John Gray, London School of Economics, author of Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

"This important book centers on Frans de Waal's powerful statement about the psychological nature of moral behavior, which involves strong continuities between humans and apes."--Christopher Boehm, University of Southern California, author of Hierarchy in the Forest

About the Author:

Frans de Waal is C. H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior in the Department of Psychology, and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Center, both at Emory University. In 2007, "Time" magazine selected him as one of the 100 People Who Shape Our World. His books include "Our Inner Ape" (Riverhead) and "The Ape and the Sushi Master" (Basic Books), both "New York Times" Notable Books of the Year.

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