- Series: The University Center for Human Values Series
- Paperback: 232 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; 60586th edition (February 1, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691141290
- ISBN-13: 978-0691141299
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #753,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (The University Center for Human Values Series) Paperback – February 1, 2009
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"Frans de Waal defends against philosopher critics his view that the roots of morality can be seen in the social behavior of monkeys and apes. . . . [H]e argues that human morality would be impossible without certain emotional buildings blocks that are clearly at work in chimps and monkey societies. . . . Dr. de Waal sees human morality as having grown out of primate sociality, but with two extra levels of sophistication. People enforce their society's moral codes much more rigorously with rewards, punishments and reputation building. They also apply a degree of judgment and reason, for which there are no parallels in animals."---Nicholas Wade, The New York Times
"De Waal is one of the world's foremost authorities on nonhuman primates, and his thoughtful contribution to Primates and Philosophers is enriched by decades of close observation of their behavior. . . . He argues that humans are like their closest evolutionary kin in being moral by nature. . . . [A]n impressively well-focused collection of essays."---John Gray, New York Review of Books
"Celebrated primatologist Frans de Waal . . . demonstrates through his empirical work with primates the evolutionary basis for ethics." (Publishers Weekly)
"Frans de Waal . . . argues that . . . morality is actually a gift from animal ancestors and that people are good not by choice but by nature. . . . He argues that . . . critics fail to recognize that while animals are not human, humans are animals." (Science News)
"Dutch-born psychologist, ethologist and primatologist Frans de Waal has spent his career watching the behavior of apes and monkeys, mostly captive troupes in zoos. . . . His work . . . has helped lift Darwin's conjectures about the evolution of morality to a new level. . . . [De Waal argues that] sympathy, empathy, right and wrong are feelings that we share with other animals; even the best part of human nature, the part that cares about ethics and justice, is also part of nature."---Jonathan Weiner, Scientific American
"Frans de Waal . . . show[s] how elements of morality such as empathy, sympathy, community concern and a sense of fairness also exist in our closest primate relatives."---David Sloan Wilson, American Scientist
"Exceptionally rich but always lucid. . . . Intellectual soul food for biology-minded ethicists."---Ray Olsen, Booklist
"In his new book, Primates and Philosophers, Frans de Waal argues that the origins of human goodness can be seen in apes and monkeys. He claims that we have evolved from a long line of social animals for whom close co-operation is 'not an option but a survival strategy'. Not only are we nice by nature, but our ancestors were too, ever since they came down from the proverbial trees."---Stephen Cave, Financial Times
"Frans de Waal, an acclaimed primatologist, has much to say about what he considers the biological origins of morality. Unlike many recent antireligion writers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, who use the latest socio-biological research to campaign against religion, de Waal has no antireligious agenda. This both keeps his writing more focused and helps him avoid many of the argumentative errors of Dawkins and company...De Waal is a keen social observer, but he focuses mostly on what we can learn from what he knows best–the study of primates, including the human variety."---Joe Pettit, Commonweal
"[A] remarkably interesting and rich set of reflections about the nature of morality, the social experiences of nonhuman primates, and the continuities and differences between the social experiences of human and nonhuman primates. The book can be read both as discussion on the nature of evolution and as a primer on ethical theory. . . . All in all this is an extremely interesting book on a central human preoccupation–the question of our relationship with Nature–and is a demonstration that the collaboration of sympathetic points of view can produce a wider and wiser whole."---Eric Dayton, The Structurist
From the Back Cover
"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 ofWhy 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 ofOn 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 ofDemonic 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 ofHierarchy in the Forest
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The main thrust of de Waal's essay is what he calls "Veneer Theory," which is the argument that morality is only a thin veneer overlaid on an amoral or immoral core. The first to respond is Robert Wright (The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life), who states that he is in fact not an adherent to de Waal's Veneer Theory. Second is Christine M. Korsgaard (Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity), who denies that Veneer Theory is even real. Third is Philip Kitcher (Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith (Philosophy in Action)), who generally attacks Veneer Theory as not being relevant to bridging the divide between primates and humans. The fourth, last, and my personal favorite, comes from Peter Singer (The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty). Singer, I believe, does the greatest justice to the entire argument and I happen to agree with almost everything he says. Singer states, "The issue, then, is not so much whether we accept the Veneer Theory of morality, but rather how much of morality is veneer, and how much is underlying structure. Those who claim that all of morality is a veneer laid over a basically individualistic, selfish human nature, are mistaken. Yet a morality that goes beyond our own group and shows impartial concern for all human beings might well be seen as a veneer over the nature we share with other social mammals."
In conclusion, I think this is a valuable book and do recommend it. I would also recommend getting Michael Tomasello's Why We Cooperate (Boston Review Books) as it is similar in nature and style. Lastly, I would also mention that Frans de Waal mentions a research experiment in which he "demonstrates" primate empathy, but as Tomasello points out, "But studies [contra de Waal] from three different laboratories in the case of the capuchins, and from our laboratory in the case of the chimpanzees, have all found that this is a spurious result in that it does not depend on a social comparison at all. One of the studies found that simply seeing and expecting to receive the grape makes the cucumber look less attractive to chimpanzees. No other individuals need to be around. There is no social comparison going on, only food comparison. So nothing related to norms of fairness are at work either (pg. 32)." Hope that helps.
Robert Wright, Christine Koorsgard, Philip Kitcher and Peter Singer respond to De Waal's arguments with their own observations, and De Waal responds with an final argument to close the book.
Most of the counterarguments agree with DeWaal's hypothesis that the basis of morality can be observed time and again in other species, and that empathy, sympathy and the rudiments of self-sacrifice are already present in the higher primates. They criticize De Waal's oversimplification of their positions. However Koorsgard, with the longest and densest response entry, seems recursive, and her final position is not clearly far from "veneer theory".
This book, along with the previous books and journal articles by Frans De Waal and other scientists and philosophers, adds tremendous weight to the idea that by studying other species, especially our closest relatives, we can understand much more about our psychology, our cognitive abilities (including morality), and our place in nature.
However, this is not the best book for those who want to start getting information about this subject. De Waal's "Chimpanzee Politics", "Good Natured", "Peacemaking Among Primates", "Our Inner Ape" and "Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape" are much better starters into De Waals research and hypotheses.
De Waal is the star of this show, and he delves more deeply than ever before on the relationship between the quasi-moral behavior of non-human primates and the moral behavior of humans. De Waal has some very interesting things to say about human morality, and generally comes off as being wise and self-confident in his treatment of the sociobiology of morality.
"The moral domain of action," says de Waal, "is Helping or (not) Hurting others...Anything unrelated to the two H's fall outside of morality. Those who invoke morality in reference to, say, same sex marriage or the visibility of a naked [...] on prime time television are merely trying to couch social conventions in moral language." (p. 162) This statement is wildly incorrect, but incorrect in an interesting way. We know that social conventions take on moral weight with great regularity in all societies. How you pray, how you copulate, what you eat and wear, all become grist for the moralist's mill. Why is that? De Waal does not say. At any rate, this aspect of human morality appears to have little echo in the lives of non-human primates.
Because de Waal believes that Helping and (not) Hurting is the true subject of morality, he locates the pre-human roots of morality in empathy and sympathy, thus siding with David Hume and Adam Smith, and against Kant, who finds the roots of morality in Reason. There is little doubt but that apes have some significant endowment of capacity for sympathy, and that sympathy is an ineluctable part of human morality. This fact alone is strong support for de Waal's argument.
I venture, however, that there are other roots of human morality in the animal world. One of these is the respect for private property, which is exhibited in many animals as territoriality and in the great apes as respect for a "personal sphere of control" over valuable resources. The interested reader can refer to Herbert Gintis, "The Evolution of Private Property", Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 64,1 [sep] (2007):1-16, where the biological basis for such respect takes the form of loss aversion. Needless to say, by "private property" I do not mean private property in the legal sense, but rather the personal sense that individuals have a private sphere in which their will is law, and this sphere is intimately related to having "personal possessions" that are respected by others as a matter of course.
De Waal does not say what forms of human morality are not legacies of, or continuations of, the characteristics of the great apes. I suggest the following, which are therefore virtually exclusively human.
First is the notion of a "character virtue," such as honesty, bravery, piety, considerateness, trustworthiness, cleanliness, and the like. These are supremely moral virtues and although they generally promote prosocial ends, they are not Helping or Hurting, and do not depend on empathy or sympathy. I am honest because it is the right way to be, not because I care about other people.
Second is the notion that there are social norms, and it is right and good that individuals follow these norms, and it is right and good that we punish people who violate these norms, even when it is costly to do so. The notion that we "obey the rules" of society even when it is costly to do so, and even if we can profit by violating these norms, is a distinctly human form of morality. It also accounts for why humans treat social conventions (e.g., what forms of food and clothing are permissible, who is allowed to marry whom) as within the realm of the moral, although they may be arbitrary from the point of view of Helping and Hurting.