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Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals Hardcover – May 30, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cognitive ethologist Bekoff (The Emotional Lives of Animals) and philosopher Pierce (Morality Play) explore the moral lives of such commonly studied animals as primates, wolves, household rodents, elephants, dolphins—and a few uncommon critters as well. Citing too few examples (though the authors say that the more we look, the more we'll see) and too many term definitions, this book presents studies of rats refusing to obtain food if it means hurting another rat; the care given by chimpanzees to a chimp stricken by cerebral palsy; and comfort offered to grieving elephants by members of the same herd. The authors contend that, in order to understand the moral compass by which animals live, we must first expand our definition of morality to include moral behavior unique to each species. Studies done by the authors, as well as experts in the fields of psychology, human social intelligence, zoology and other branches of relevant science excellently bolster their claim. (May)
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From Booklist

Do animals feel empathy for each other, treat one another fairly, cooperate toward common goals, and help each other out of trouble? In short, do animals demonstrate morality? Bekoff and Pierce answer with an emphatic “yes!” in this fusion of animal behavior, animal cognition, and philosophy. The authors discuss the sense of fair play and justice in nonhuman animals. Social animals form networks of relationships, and these relationships rely on trust, reciprocity, and flexibility—just as they do in humans. Calling these behaviors morality, the authors present evidence that morality is an adaptive strategy that has evolved in multiple animal groups. Basing their argument for animal morality on published research (listed in the generous bibliography) and anecdotal evidence, the authors group moral behaviors into three clusters: cooperation, empathy, and justice, each of which is discussed in turn. A final chapter is a synthesis of moral behavior and philosophy, suggesting areas for further study and discussion. The conversational tone and numerous illustrative examples make this an excellent introduction to a new science. --Nancy Bent

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 204 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226041611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226041612
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Barbara J. King on June 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I'm glad Wild Justice is bringing in comments, as it deserves a wide readership. It's fine science coupled with fascinating stories, and I disagree avidly with its being labelled as 'wild speculation' (see earlier review). I'd like to point out, as a primate studies-oriented anthropologist who has observed apes for many years, that the reviewer who brings up the now-cliche 'the plural of anecdote is not data' misses the point of what Bekoff and Pierce set out to do. B&P realize that we've barely scratched the surface of understanding animal cooperation, empathy, and morality/justice, and that we need to go beyond statistics to embrace what animals do (sometimes, not all the time) under different circumstances, with social partners of certain social histories, etc. They are as interested in negative evidence for their hypotheses, it seems to me, as in positive evidence. After all, individual variation is key to their endeavor, just as it is key to the workings of natural selection. They note, furthermore, that animal morality has its limits; they do not conflate nonhumans with humans. In sum, the case-study approach DOES have merit scientifically. It can be beautifully combined with statistical studies, so no one is arguing for either/or. It's time for long-term, rigorously done qualitative work on animal behavior to get its due, and there's no place better to start than with what Bekoff and Pierce have accomplished here. Read my full review here:

PS Please don't take anyone's word for Bekoff's expertise in this arena: look him up. His website is full of credentials.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By morehumanthanhuman on June 22, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
. . . I just wish that this was that book.

The authors seek to convince us that when we see animals working together we aren't seeing "veneers of cooperation, fairness, and trust, but the real thing." "Wild Justice" is the name they give to the combination of behaviors they group under the names "cooperation," "empathy," and "justice." They adopt a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on observations of animals (captive and wild), neurological studies, and philosophy. Of special interest to them is whether or not animals can be said to have moral agency and how our own observational bias comes into play via our expectations that animal morality look like human morality.

While I was ideologically prepared to accept their argument at the beginning of the book, I was unconvinced when I finished. I wish they had spent more time on the argument of moral agency and what it means to behave morally if one may not be making the decision to do so. Too many studies were presented as leading inevitably to the conclusion that an animal acting in a certain way was behaving morally -- it would have been much more convincing if Beckoff and Pierce had explored other theories that attempt to explain why the animals acted the way they did before simply drawing the conclusion that animals have moral lives.

As reading, this was relatively dry. Those expecting the more anecdote-driven style of, say, Jeffrey Masson, will be disappointed. This wasn't convincing enough to be an outstanding addition to the growing body of scientific/philosophical justifications for changing the way we relate to animals. Nor was it emotionally engaging in a way that will win hearts. However, if you have interest in the subject, it may provide a good place to start your research.
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34 of 48 people found the following review helpful By A. Coleman on May 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
First, this book in general is interesting. It presents several interesting experiments and events. But it is fairly dry.

The authors spend way too much time precisely describing what it will talk about, definitions, etc. The kind of thing that is definitely required for a scientific journal, but boring in a book. Then the descriptions of the animal behavior are too short. The examples are used to push certain views/conclusions, as opposed to encouraging creative thinking and debate, and possible future experiments.

I was hoping for far more detailed descriptions and analysis of possible different explanations, as opposed to a statement of view with short descriptions intended to defend that viewpoint. It is clearly written by scientists and works hard to be taken seriously as a work of science. But this is not a peer-review scientific paper. Less of a sense of rigorous argument and more a sense of wonder would have made the book much more interesting.

For example, it discusses how rats sometimes refuse to push a lever to get food if they see another rat be shocked when the lever is pushed. This is very interesting, but instead of delving further into it, the book provides little more information then I just did.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By B. Wilson on April 28, 2012
Format: Paperback
It seems the emotional lives of animals can be just as complex as humans. Empathy, compassion, sadness, and outrage at injustice are shared by many non-human animals, and this book lays out some fine examples. Highly recommended.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Joel Marks on September 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is notable for both its brazenness and its modesty. Bekoff and Pierce dare to argue for the moral agency of nonhuman animals; yet they do so in an entirely sober and scientific way, as well as with philosophic circumspection.

Why is their thesis bold? Because it is common, even among animal-lovers, to attribute total moral innocence to other animals. Among animal users and abusers it is a chief argument for withholding moral consideration from them. One of the standard kinds of moral theory maintains that only beings who are capable of being moral agents deserve to be treated with moral concern and respect. While there are plausible considerations for holding such a view, theorists such as Bekoff and Pierce (and myself) ultimately reject it. The ethicist Tom Regan has put forward the classic rebuttal, which is that a being can be a so-called moral patient, and not (or not only) a moral agent. This means that one can fully merit moral regard even if one is incapable of holding others in moral regard. An obvious example among human beings would be a severely mentally retarded person, who might have no conception of how to treat others properly but who nevertheless would merit being treated properly by others.

So a standard "move" by animal advocates such as Regan is to argue that nonhuman animals are moral patients if not moral agents and hence deserving of our moral consideration even if they are incapable of having any for us or even other members of their own species. But Bekoff and Pierce roll out the red carpet even further to welcome our fellow animals into the moral community by attributing moral agency to them and not just moral patiency.

A great strength of the book, as I have noted, is that the authors do all of this circumspectly.
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