Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved

Princeton University Press
11
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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.

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About the author

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.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jan 12, 2009
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Pages
232
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ISBN
9781400830336
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Psychology / Social Psychology
Science / General
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
Science / Life Sciences / Zoology / Primatology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In a world supposedly governed by ruthless survival of the fittest, why do we see acts of goodness in both animals and humans? This problem plagued Charles Darwin in the 1850s as he developed his theory of evolution through natural selection. Indeed, Darwin worried that the goodness he observed in nature could be the Achilles heel of his theory. Ever since then, scientists and other thinkers have engaged in a fierce debate about the origins of goodness that has dragged politics, philosophy, and religion into what remains a major question for evolutionary biology.

The Altruism Equation traces the history of this debate from Darwin to the present through an extraordinary cast of characters-from the Russian prince Petr Kropotkin, who wanted to base society on altruism, to the brilliant biologist George Price, who fell into poverty and succumbed to suicide as he obsessed over the problem. In a final surprising turn, William Hamilton, the scientist who came up with the equation that reduced altruism to the cold language of natural selection, desperately hoped that his theory did not apply to humans.


Hamilton's Rule, which states that relatives are worth helping in direct proportion to their blood relatedness, is as fundamental to evolutionary biology as Newton's laws of motion are to physics. But even today, decades after its formulation, Hamilton's Rule is still hotly debated among those who cannot accept that goodness can be explained by a simple mathematical formula. For the first time, Lee Alan Dugatkin brings to life the people, the issues, and the passions that have surrounded the altruism debate. Readers will be swept along by this fast-paced tale of history, biography, and scientific discovery.


Sam Harris’s first book, The End of Faith, ignited a worldwide debate about the validity of religion. In the aftermath, Harris discovered that most people—from religious fundamentalists to nonbelieving scientists—agree on one point: science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Indeed, our failure to address questions of meaning and morality through science has now become the most common justification for religious faith. It is also the primary reason why so many secularists and religious moderates feel obligated to "respect" the hardened superstitions of their more devout neighbors.

In this explosive new book, Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, arguing that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge. Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a "moral landscape." Because there are definite facts to be known about where we fall on this landscape, Harris foresees a time when science will no longer limit itself to merely describing what people do in the name of "morality"; in principle, science should be able to tell us what we ought to do to live the best lives possible.

Bringing a fresh perspective to age-old questions of right and wrong and good and evil, Harris demonstrates that we already know enough about the human brain and its relationship to events in the world to say that there are right and wrong answers to the most pressing questions of human life. Because such answers exist, moral relativism is simply false—and comes at increasing cost to humanity. And the intrusions of religion into the sphere of human values can be finally repelled: for just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, there can be no Christian or Muslim morality.

Using his expertise in philosophy and neuroscience, along with his experience on the front lines of our "culture wars," Harris delivers a game-changing book about the future of science and about the real basis of human cooperation.
For all that science knows about the living world, notes David P. Barash, there are even more things that we don't know, genuine evolutionary mysteries that perplex the best minds in biology. Paradoxically, many of these mysteries are very close to home, involving some of the most personal aspects of being human. Homo Mysterious examines a number of these evolutionary mysteries, exploring things that we don't yet know about ourselves, laying out the best current hypotheses, and pointing toward insights that scientists are just beginning to glimpse. Why do women experience orgasm? Why do men have a shorter lifespan than women? Why does homosexuality exist? Why does religion exist in virtually every culture? Why do we have a fondness for the arts? Why do we have such large brains? And why does consciousness exist? Readers are plunged into an ocean of unknowns--the blank spots on the human evolutionary map, the terra incognita of our own species--and are introduced to the major hypotheses that currently occupy scientists who are attempting to unravel each puzzle (including some solutions proposed here for the first time). Throughout the book, readers are invited to share the thrill of science at its cutting edge, a place where we know what we don't know, and, moreover, where we know enough to come up with some compelling and seductive explanations. Homo Mysterious is a guide to creative thought and future explorations, based on the best, most current thinking by evolutionary scientists. It captures the allure of the "not-yet-known" for those interested in stretching their scientific imaginations.
How should we live? What do we owe to other people? In Goodness and Advice, the eminent philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson explores how we should go about answering such fundamental questions. In doing so, she makes major advances in moral philosophy, pointing to some deep problems for influential moral theories and describing the structure of a new and much more promising theory.

Thomson begins by lamenting the prevalence of the idea that there is an unbridgeable gap between fact and value--that to say something is good, for example, is not to state a fact, but to do something more like expressing an attitude or feeling. She sets out to challenge this view, first by assessing the apparently powerful claims of Consequentialism. Thomson makes the striking argument that this familiar theory must ultimately fail because its basic requirement--that people should act to bring about the "most good"--is meaningless. It rests on an incoherent conception of goodness, and supplies, not mistaken advice, but no advice at all.


Thomson then outlines the theory that she thinks we should opt for instead. This theory says that no acts are, simply, good: an act can at most be good in one or another way--as, for example, good for Smith or for Jones. What we ought to do is, most importantly, to avoid injustice; and whether an act is unjust is a function both of the rights of those affected, including the agent, and of how good or bad the act is for them. The book, which originated in the Tanner lectures that Thomson delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 1999, includes two chapters by Thomson ("Goodness" and "Advice"), provocative comments by four prominent scholars--Martha Nussbaum, Jerome Schneewind, Philip Fisher, and Barbara Herrnstein Smith--and replies by Thomson to those comments.

In this lively and illuminating discussion of his landmark research, esteemed primatologist Frans de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above but instead comes from within. Moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution. For many years, de Waal has observed chimpanzees soothe distressed neighbors and bonobos share their food. Now he delivers fascinating fresh evidence for the seeds of ethical behavior in primate societies that further cements the case for the biological origins of human fairness. Interweaving vivid tales from the animal kingdom with thoughtful philosophical analysis, de Waal seeks a bottom-up explanation of morality that emphasizes our connection with animals. In doing so, de Waal explores for the first time the implications of his work for our understanding of modern religion. Whatever the role of religious moral imperatives, he sees it as a “Johnny-come-lately” role that emerged only as an addition to our natural instincts for cooperation and empathy.

But unlike the dogmatic neo-atheist of his book’s title, de Waal does not scorn religion per se. Instead, he draws on the long tradition of humanism exemplified by the painter Hieronymus Bosch and asks reflective readers to consider these issues from a positive perspective: What role, if any, does religion play for a well-functioning society today? And where can believers and nonbelievers alike find the inspiration to lead a good life?

Rich with cultural references and anecdotes of primate behavior, The Bonobo and the Atheist engagingly builds a unique argument grounded in evolutionary biology and moral philosophy. Ever a pioneering thinker, de Waal delivers a heartening and inclusive new perspective on human nature and our struggle to find purpose in our lives.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow directs his attention here to one of today's most controversial social issues: how to get people off welfare and into jobs. With characteristic eloquence, wit, and rigor, Solow condemns the welfare reforms recently passed by Congress and President Clinton for confronting welfare recipients with an unworkable choice--finding work in the current labor market or losing benefits. He argues that the only practical and fair way to move recipients to work is, in contrast, through an ambitious plan to guarantee that every able-bodied citizen has access to a job.

Solow contends that the demand implicit in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act for welfare recipients to find work in the existing labor market has two crucial flaws. First, the labor market would not easily make room for a huge influx of unskilled, inexperienced workers. Second, the normal market adjustment to that influx would drive down earnings for those already in low-wage jobs. Solow concludes that it is legitimate to want welfare recipients to work, but not to want them to live at a miserable standard or to benefit at the expense of the working poor, especially since children are often the first to suffer. Instead, he writes, we should create new demand for unskilled labor through public-service employment and incentives to the private sector--in effect, fair "workfare." Solow presents widely ignored evidence that recipients themselves would welcome the chance to work. But he also points out that practical, morally defensible workfare would be extremely expensive--a problem that politicians who support the idea blithely fail to admit. Throughout, Solow places debate over welfare reform in the context of a struggle to balance competing social values, in particular self-reliance and altruism.


The book originated in Solow's 1997 Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University. It includes reactions from the distinguished scholars Gertrude Himmelfarb, Anthony Lewis, Glenn Loury, and John Roemer, who expand on and take issue with Solow's arguments. Work and Welfare is a powerful contribution to debate about welfare reform and a penetrating look at the values that shape its course.

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