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Primates and Philosophers: How Morality…
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Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (2006)

by Frans de Waal, Stephen Macedo (Editor), Josiah Ober (Editor)

Other authors: Philip Kitcher (Contributor), Christine M. Korsgaard (Contributor), Peter A. Singer (Contributor), Robert Wright (Contributor)

Series: University Center for Human Values Series

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An interesting and important topic, poorly handled. The scientists and philosophers who contribute to this discussion write as if they are arguing against each other's conclusions, but the truth is that they not only have not defined the terms of the debate, they have not defined the question to be debated.

Also, de Waal listed each reference in text. That is to say, instead of using end- or foot-notes, the reader is constantly bumping into such as (Williams 1988:438) and being jarred out of the development of understanding of the sentence that note interrupts.

Moreover, there are no notes about the other contributors, Singer et al. What is a lay reader like me supposed to think of them? Why should I give any weight to their contributions? None wrote clearly enough to illuminate the debate, and apparently none have done actual research, so I don't feel guilty for not being able to understand every intricacy of their essays.

What is perhaps most interesting is that the straw man concept most thoroughly discussed (VT) is that which says that humans are completely self-centered and only behave as if moral and/or altruistic for Machiavellian reasons. This implies that we're polite only as a social 'grease.' And then the reader is cued to wonder why the authors so often refer to 'my respected colleague' and 'the minor flaw in an intelligent theory' etc.... Do they really respect one another, or do they type those words while gritting their teeth?

Some studies reported, some ancient philosophies compared, some animal anecdotes shared... adds up to a book that could be provocative. But I'm waiting for another one - one based on real science that is, perhaps, inspired by the work of de Waal. ( )
1 vote Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
"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.
  GalenWiley | Apr 13, 2015 |
A discussion of the evolution of morality. The author is a primatologist, and brings his experience to the question by asking whether there is any evidence of consciousness and altruism in our nearest relatives, which would help support the argument for an evolutionary origin of morality. The paper is actually quite short, and there are answers from other writers, mostly philosophers, who disagree with all or part of what de Waal has to say, followed by his response. The questions raised are interesting, the articles are well written, and none of them seem to be disagreeing with the idea of an evolutionary basis for morality; they are mostly quibbling about details. ( )
  Devil_llama | Oct 5, 2013 |
Celebrated primatologist de Waal expands on his earlier work in Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals to argue that human traits of fairness, reciprocity and altruism develop through natural selection. Based on his 2004 Tanner Lectures at Princeton, this book argues that our morality grows out of the social instincts we share with bonobos, chimpanzees and apes. De Waal criticizes what he calls the "veneer theory," which holds that human ethics is simply an overlay masking our "selfish and brutish nature." De Waal draws on his own work with primates to illustrate the evolution of morality. For example, chimpanzees are more favorably disposed to others who have performed a service for them (such as grooming) and more likely to share their food with these individuals. In three appendixes, de Waal ranges briefly over anthropomorphism, apes and a theory of mind, and animal rights. The volume also includes responses to de Waal by Robert Wright, Christine M. Korsgaard, Philip Kitcher and Peter Singer. Although E.O. Wilson and Robert Wright have long contended that altruism is a product of evolution, de Waal demonstrates through his empirical work with primates the evolutionary basis for ethics. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. ( )
  MarkBeronte | Jul 28, 2013 |
Frans de Waal is one of my favorite writers about what makes us human, and in that context I was a bit disappointed in this book. I had expected a bright and breezy de Waal book, like "Our Inner Ape" or "Chimpanzee Politics". Instead, this book consists of a longish academic article by de Waal, preceded by an introduction, and followed by commentary and appendices. There is lots of interesting stuff in the the book; my problem is that it's not nearly as much fun to get at. Worth ready, but also worthy reading. ( )
  annbury | May 25, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frans de Waalprimary authorall editionscalculated
Macedo, StephenEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Ober, JosiahEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Kitcher, PhilipContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Korsgaard, Christine M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Singer, Peter A.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wright, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
We approve and we disapprove because we cannot do otherwise. Can we help feeling pain when the fire burns us? Can we help sympathizing with our friends?

-- Edward Westermarck ([The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, v.1, 2d ed.])
Why should our nastiness be the baggage of an apish past and our kindness uniquely human? Why should we not seek continuity with other animals for our "noble" traits as well?

-- Stephen Jay Gould (["So Cleverly Kind an Animal," in Ever Since Darwin])
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In the Tanner Lectures on Human Values that became the lead essay in this book, Frans de Waal brings his decades of work with primates, and his habit of thinking deeply about the meaning of evolution, to bear on a fundamental question about human morality. (Introduction)
Homo homini lupus -- "man is wolf to man" -- is an ancient Roman proverb popularized by Thomas Hobbes.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691124477, Hardcover)

"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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:23 -0400)

'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.

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