Primates and Philosophers by Frans de Waal
How Morality Evolved (Princeton Science Library)

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Synopsis

"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.

 

About Frans de Waal

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Frans de Waal is a Dutch/American biologist who has been named among Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Our Inner Ape among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor at Emory University and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Primate Center. De Waal lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
 
Published January 12, 2009 by Princeton University Press. 230 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Law & Philosophy, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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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.

Jul 17 2006 | Read Full Review of Primates and Philosophers: Ho...

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