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Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals Paperback – May 30, 2009
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PS Please don't take anyone's word for Bekoff's expertise in this arena: look him up. His website is full of credentials.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A first rate foray into uncharted territory. Long-overdue in a world of behaviorist dogma that has denied interiority to animals for a century and a half. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Mike
This book is a worthy effort to philosophically consider the kinds of sensitivity, empathy, altruism or morality that animals display. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Brian Griffith
Bekoff consistently reminds the reader that these topics will always evade definitive definition because of dynamic and contextual multiplicity of factors that influence the ideas... Read morePublished 18 months ago by WoodWizard
This is such an important book at a time where our media is run by people who only want wildlife killers. Animals deserve to be treated so much better than they are.Published 19 months ago by Raini
If you've ever wondered about the interior lives of animals, this book will provide fascinating insights into levels of intelligence, depths of emotions, and abilities to empathize... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Jerry Parisella