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Primates and Philosophers:
How Morality Evolved
Frans de Waal
Edited by Stephen Macedo & Josiah Ober

Paperback | 2016 | $17.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691169163
232 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 9 halftones. 3 tables.
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Can virtuous behavior be explained by nature, and not by human rational choice? "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, renowned primatologist Frans de Waal argues that modern-day evolutionary biology takes far too dim a view of the natural world, emphasizing our "selfish" genes and reinforcing our habit of labeling ethical behavior as humane and the less civilized as animalistic. 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 Darwin, recent scientific advances, and his extensive research of primate behavior, de Waal demonstrates a strong continuity between human and animal behavior. He probes issues such as anthropomorphism and human responsibilities toward animals. His compelling account of how human morality evolved out of mammalian society will fascinate anyone who has ever wondered about the origins and reach of human goodness.

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.

Frans de Waal is the C. H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory University and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta.


"Frans de Waal defends against philosopher critics his view that the roots of morality can be seen in the social behavior of monkeys and apes. . . . [H]e argues that human morality would be impossible without certain emotional buildings blocks that are clearly at work in chimps and monkey societies. . . . Dr. de Waal sees human morality as having grown out of primate sociality, but with two extra levels of sophistication. People enforce their society's moral codes much more rigorously with rewards, punishments and reputation building. They also apply a degree of judgment and reason, for which there are no parallels in animals."--Nicholas Wade, The New York Times

"De Waal is one of the world's foremost authorities on nonhuman primates, and his thoughtful contribution to Primates and Philosophers is enriched by decades of close observation of their behavior. . . . He argues that humans are like their closest evolutionary kin in being moral by nature. . . . [A]n impressively well-focused collection of essays."--John Gray, New York Review of Books

"Celebrated primatologist Frans de Waal . . . demonstrates through his empirical work with primates the evolutionary basis for ethics."--Publishers Weekly

"Frans de Waal . . . argues that . . . morality is actually a gift from animal ancestors and that people are good not by choice but by nature. . . . He argues that . . . critics fail to recognize that while animals are not human, humans are animals."--Science News

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments vii
Introduction by Josiah Ober and Stephen Macedo ix

PART I: Morally Evolved: Primate Social Instincts,Human Morality, and the Rise and Fall of "Veneer Theory" by Frans de Waal 1

Appendix A: Anthropomorphism and Anthropodenial 59
Appendix B: Do Apes Have a Theory of Mind? 69
Appendix C: Animal Rights 75

PART II: Comments: The Uses of Anthropomorphism by Robert Wright 83
Morality and the Distinctiveness of Human Action by Christine M. Korsgaard 98
Ethics and Evolution: How to Get Here from There by Philip Kitcher 120
Morality, Reason, and the Rights of Animals by Peter Singer 140

PART III: Response to Commentators: The Tower of Morality by Frans de Waal 161

References 183
Contributors 197
Index 201

This book has been translated into:

  • German
  • Spanish


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