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The Moral Lives of Animals by Dale Peterson

The Moral Lives of Animals (2011)

by Dale Peterson

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10420116,035 (3.5)6
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A fascinating and only-too-relevant idea, but mired in confusing discussions, controversial evo-psych descriptions of people, and a lack of organization.

It is interesting to learn about the concept of morality and altruism as seen in animals, but I will have to look elsewhere. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
While the subject matter was quite interesting, there were a lot of tangents and some of it was completely irrelevant to the core information being presented.

Do I really need to read about different positions seen in bonobo sexual behavior to contemplate morality? No. I'm not prudish and I welcome information that enhances my knowledge base, but some of it seemed absolutely unnecessary and merely served to distract from the underlying theme.

And using Moby Dick as a means of cohesion...not a good idea.

Still, some of the information was new to me, and overall I felt like I got something worthwhile out of this book. ( )
  ratastrophe | Mar 28, 2013 |
I had not realized that the impression of non-human animals as, essentially furry machines was an Enlightenment invention! I';d love to read more about that, including speculation as to why it happened.

This whole book was full of fascinating information, all woven into a coherent and compelling whole. After all, it seems only reasonable to me that we share commonality with other creatures; just like many creatures have livers and eyes, we also share brain constructs... and thus it makes complete sense to me that "lesser creatures" share emotions and rationality with us humans. He calls the refusal to do so "Dar5winian narcissism", which seems about right (though all animals, us included, do tend to focus more on our conspecific companions than those of other species).

I will want to read this again; it's a very rich book with many fascinating ideas that deserve more thought. Also, very well-written, with a good mix of data, anecdotes, and theory weaving it all together. Rather amazingly, given a number of the nonfiction books I've read recently, it it not repetitive; I did not wish, at the end, that an editor had told him to cut it back! Rather the reverse.

I think I should add that it is not a polemic at all. There's data; there's conclusions; there's theorizing based on these... but it's not "shrill" or single-mindedly trying to prove a point.

Highly recommended! ( )
  cissa | Jun 8, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Great book. Author was here recently. ( )
  vegetarian | Oct 14, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Here is a look inside from my local library
Peterson, who holds a PhD in English from Stanford University, has written numerous books on studying animals in the wild. Here, he draws on research, theory, and philosophy of the past 500 years, from Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, and Charles Darwin to Jane Goodall and Richard Dawkins. He describes a way of thinking about animals which allows for the existence of animal minds yet recognizes the great differences between animal and human minds. The author's discussion of morality begins by viewing morality as a gift of biological evolution. He then describes two dynamic aspects of morality: rules and attachments. He posits that the rules of morality evolved in response to social conflict over authority, violence, sex, possessions, and communication. Attachment morality is described next; it involves mechanisms promoting cooperation and kindness. Human and nonhuman examples of antisocial and prosocial behaviors are given. In the most speculative section of the book, the author theorizes that the future evolution of human morality could bring an expanded role for empathy, leading to greater tolerance and peace between humans and nonhumans. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)" Not to be read in one sitting for sure, but worth reading.... ( )
  tobiejonzarelli | Sep 24, 2011 |
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Examines the moral behavior observed in animals and argues that human beings are not the only species to live by the principles of cooperation, kindness, and empathy.

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