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The Moral Animal : Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of…

by Robert Wright

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,543178,263 (4.03)30
Are men literally born to cheat? Does monogamy actually serve women's interests? These are among the questions that have made The Moral Animal one of the most provocative science books in recent years. Wright unveils the genetic strategies behind everything from our sexual preferences to our office politics--as well as their implications for our moral codes and public policies. Illustrations.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Not quite what I expected but in a way so much more.

I am interested in the genetic underpinnings of our moral codes. I know that there are evolutionary reasons that we think killing is wrong, that we believe it's best to treat others as we'd like to be treated. This kind of code is in the genes. It doesn't come from a religious book, although many religions would like to take the credit.

In this book Wright explains "evolutionary psychology" in an interesting way. He offers theories on why it is in our best interest to behave certain ways. To be more specific, that would be why it is in the best interests of our bloodlines to behave in certain ways during the dawn of humankind. After all, humans have not changed a whole lot in thousands of years, so we need to look at what was necessary for survival of the species back in hunter-gatherer days.

And thus we learn about the differences between the way males and females approach sex, the law of reciprocal altruism and how it extends past the immediate family, the role of social status in our actions, why we lie and deceive even ourselves. What makes this investigation even more interesting is that each topic is then applied to a human example: Charles Darwin. Darwin, as many know, was well known for his modesty and empathy, and for having a warm, loving personality. He was also plagued with frequent illnesses and depression. His life is well-documented, which provides a good basis for an evaluation of the man in relation to his psychological behaviors.

Darwin figured out some evolutionary morality behaviors early on. Others were left for over 100 years to be picked up by other scientists.

While I loved this book I found one aspect of it a little disturbing. I may have read it wrong, of course. I understood the chapters on ethics to suggest that essentially when a person is born into a certain culture he learns that culture's ethics. I do believe that, to an extent, this is true. But while I believe self-serving criminals find it easier to rob and steal than do those who had a more compassionate upbringing, I also believe that these criminals do know that what they are doing is "wrong" - not just illegal, but wrong. And I believe that certain behaviors are considered "wrong" in all cultures. There will always be psychopaths but apart from them humankind does appear to share some basic moral codes. And we get them in our genes.

Nothing, of course, is all that simple. There is a lot of room for maneuver within "human nature". ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
it's taking me a while to get through this, but it's absolutely fascinating ( )
  mvayngrib | Mar 22, 2020 |
A fairly new field of psychology that attempts to align present day humanistic behavioral traits of virtues and vices to natural selection and social anthropology . I found certain chapters about how today's current economic structures and hierarchy have evolved through hunter gatherer societies and behavioral commonalities between social apes and homo sapiens due to genetic similarities quite engaging .

This also shows how moral values which is supposedly conceived by modern man very possibly predates him as it is seen in prehistoric man and social mammals, ingrained in genes which propagated through natural selection .

Where this book falls short , is trying to theorize every single current day socio-cultural phenomena to genetic codes , which sometimes can be testing . ( )
  Vik.Ram | May 5, 2019 |
An excellent insightful book. Explains some of the complexity of the mind through evolution and how the combination of Reciprocal Altruism (tit for tat) and Social Hierarchy has led to our behaviour and understanding of morals. He uses Utilitarianism as a lens to look man behaviour and its compatibility with morality. A bit waffly towards the end, but, as I say, very insightful. ( )
  jvgravy | Feb 23, 2018 |
Keep me awake and thinking for days. ( )
  Steven_Burgauer | Oct 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Wrightprimary authorall editionscalculated
Anderson, MarjorieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Béraud-Butche… AnneTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Deutsch, AntoniaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thornton, GregNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Without thinking what he was doing, he took another drink of brandy. As the liquid touched his tougue he remembered his child, coming in out of the glare: the sullen unhappy knowledgeable face. He said, "oh God, help her. Damn me, I deserve it, but let her live for ever." This was the love he should have felt for every soul in the world: all the fear and the wish to save concentrated unjustly on the one child. He began to weep; it was as if he had to watch her from the shore drown slowly because he had forgotten how to swim. He thought: This is what I should feel all the time for everyone....
    —Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
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Are men literally born to cheat? Does monogamy actually serve women's interests? These are among the questions that have made The Moral Animal one of the most provocative science books in recent years. Wright unveils the genetic strategies behind everything from our sexual preferences to our office politics--as well as their implications for our moral codes and public policies. Illustrations.

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