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Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674356610
ISBN-10: 0674356616
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Editorial Reviews Review

In Good Natured Frans de Waal, ethologist and primatologist, asks us to reconsider human morality in light of moral aspects that can be identified in animals. Within the complex negotiations of human society, a moral action may involve thoughts and feelings of guilt, reciprocity, obligation, expectations, rules, or community concern. De Waal finds these aspects of morality prevalent in other animal societies, mostly primate, and suggests that the two philosophical camps supporting nature and nurture may have to be disbanded in order to adequately understand human morality. A theoretician, de Waal is meticulous in his research, cautious not to extrapolate too much from his findings, and logically sound in his arguments. He also writes with precision and a flair for the dramatic, carrying readers along with graceful ease and vivid examples.

From Publishers Weekly

Is morality a biological or cultural phenomenon? Can nonhuman animals be humane? Primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) explores these questions in a provocative book and makes a strong case for biology. He is convinced that social tendencies come into existence via a genetic calculus rather than rational choice. He defends anthropomorphism, noting that it serves the same exploratory function as intuition in the sciences. He discusses aggression and altruism and offers abundant anecdotal evidence of moral behavior among primates and other animals?food sharing, protection, sympathy, guilt. De Waal argues that the remarkable trainability among certain species, e.g., sheepdogs and elephants, hints at a rule-based order among them. He takes issue with the animal rights movement; rights, he says, are normally accompanied by responsibilities, which cannot possibly apply to apes and other animals. Readers who enjoyed Why Elephants Weep (Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy) will welcome this volume. Illustrations.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674356616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674356610
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 1998
Format: Hardcover
A colleague and I chose this book as our "science selection" for our freshman studies classes at a small private college in the midwest. It's been a great choice. De Waal's approach is careful and considered; he is able to talk about ethics among non-human primates without anthropomorphizing. Even better, unlike some of his predecessors in what he calls "classical sociobiology," De Waal does not leap primate species in a single bound. Rather, he considers such issues as altruism and hierarchy in the bonobo, chimp and monkey universes on their own terms. This book is post-sociobiology and post-ethology without succumbing to glib anti-science perspectives.
De Waal is a superb writer. His style has absolutely captivated two classrooms full of bright college freshmen. The subject matter is fascinating. This book is a marvelous mix of natural and social sciences.
I envy De Waal's Emory office with the window view of Yerkes Center chimp life. What an amazing way to live!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 13, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Frans de Waal is one of the best known primatologists in the United States, and GOOD NATURED shows why. This careful study of primate behavior, both non-human and human, explores the issue of morality and the complex emotions that give rise to it. De Waal's topics range from empathy to social rules to diplomacy as he describes specific examples across primate species.
The black and white pictures illustrate his points, but they are by no means the highlight of this book. De Waal's insights, which never read too much into specific behaviors, walk the fine line between objective scientific reporting and an acknowledgment of the kinship between all primates. Seeing primates through his expert eyes is an enlightening experience.
This is truly an extraordinary book. I recommend it to readers who have a keen interest in primatology, sociology, and/or the kinship between humans and other species.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Paul Maury Lewis on October 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
This work succeeds most of all by gradually eroding invisible assumptions about morality as an exclusively human prerogative. Chapter by chapter, Frans De Waal builds a convincing and rich assembly of proto-moral practices among nonhuman primates, defining and illustrating terms such as empathy, nurturance, cognitive altruism, and many others along the way. The result, which can sometimes feel like a complicated mass of overlapping and related terms, is a kind of ground shift in perception. This, at any rate, seems to be what he aims to accomplish, staying within the warrant of observational evidence. For some readers this might be a kind of Copernican Revolution against the absolute centrality of human beings in the moral universe. We are not alone: we have moral ancestry and moral companionship (fast disappearing) in the wilderness, in the zoos, and in the animal research laboratories. [As an aside, it also seems clear that there could be no effective substitute for the actual first-hand experience of social primates that De Waal reports]

De Waal's occasional jabs against contemporary moral philosophers (Peter Singer seems to be a main target) are suggestive but not thorough (which is perhaps just as well given the aim of the work). In particular, I found De Waal's "floating pyramid" a poor improvement on the more common notion of an "expanding circle" of moral empathy, as employed by Singer and others. The two are the same except for De Waal's addition of a resource constraint, which ensures that one's circle of moral concern only expands as resources become available. On this account, the affluent will (or should) demonstrate greater moral concern than the poor for strangers in need. This is not in accord with facts as far as I can tell. In all, however, this is an exciting read with some especially memorable tales of animal morality.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By algo41 on December 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
De Waal is brilliant, objective, careful in reaching conclusions, ethical, a good writer, and has a lot to say. He is very much aware of research in related fields, such as developmental psychology. He and others place great store on observation of animals in natural settings, but also use controlled experimentation, analogous to the type of studies psychologists are always performing on college students. While I think this was an outstanding book, I would acknowledge that the beginning is slower reading than the end: more focused on the necessary vocabulary, some of the controversies, more argumentative, a little redundant.

De Waal contrasts "lower" primates and chimpanzees so that we can better understand the evolution of morality, and such distinctions as that between learned adjustment and true empathy. Chimps will mourn, console, deceive; the alpha male will intervene in disputes where the only objective can be restoration of harmony. As all animals, their adaptive potential exceeds the range of behavior observed in natural settings. For example, in the wild, females do not usually spend much time with other adult females, whereas in captivity they do. In captivity, they may use their friendships/alliances to control overly aggressive males, and even influence who becomes the alpha male. While morality has a genetic basis, even in monkeys there is a cultural component. In one experiment, aggressive rhesus adolescents learned to be more tolerant after living with more peaceful stump tailed macaques for 6 months.

The adaptive potential of morality is that it fosters group cohesion, which for many species is essential for defense against predators, or to find or protect resources. This is not to deny that one basis of morality is the selfish gene: by helping kin, you are helping some of your own genes to survive, so "altruistic genes" tend to perpetuate themselves.
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