Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved

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Princeton University Press, 2006 - Psychology - 209 pages
12 Reviews

"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, primatologist Frans de Waal argues that modern-day evolutionary biology takes far too dim a view of the natural world, emphasizing our "selfish" genes. Science has thus exacerbated our reciprocal habits of blaming nature when we act badly and labeling the good things we do as "humane." 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 both Darwin and recent scientific advances, de Waal demonstrates a strong continuity between human and animal behavior. In the process, he also probes issues such as anthropomorphism and human responsibilities toward animals.

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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Review: Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved

User Review  - Garry Alexander - Goodreads

Primates and Philosophers is offering us to analyse the origins of morality, but focuses on one of the subject: whether human morality goes deep into our evolutionary past or is new with the arrival of our evolving brains and cultures. The answer depends on how morality is defined. Read full review

Review: Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved

User Review  - Colin Bendell - Goodreads

A slow and dense read but a fantastic primer that I would use if I were ever to teach a Normative Philosophy class. Throughout the book, de Waal presents 5 essays and rebuttals by other prominent ... Read full review

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About the author (2006)

Josiah Ober is Constantine Mitsotakis Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, where he holds joint appointments in the departments of political science and classics. He is the author of several books on classical Athenian political and intellectual history, most recently Political Dissent in Democratic Athens. He is now working on a project about the relationship between democratic political culture and the social circulation of knowledge.

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