The Moral Lives of Animals by Dale Peterson

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Wild elephants walking along a trail stop and spontaneously try to protect and assist a weak and dying fellow elephant. Laboratory rats, finding other rats caged nearby in distressing circumstances, proceed to rescue them. A chimpanzee in a zoo loses his own life trying to save an unrelated infant who has fallen into a watery moat.

The examples above and many others, argues Dale Peterson, show that our fellow creatures have powerful impulses toward cooperation, generosity, and fairness. Yet it is commonly held that we Homo sapiens are the only animals with a moral sense-that we are somehow above and apart from our fellow creatures.

This rigorous and stimulating book challenges that notion, and it shows the profound connections-the moral continuum-that link humans to many other species. Peterson shows how much animal behavior follows principles embodied in humanity's ancient moral codes, from the Ten Commandments to the New Testament. Understanding the moral lives of animals offers new insight into our own.


About Dale Peterson

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Dale Peterson's biography Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and Boston Globe Best Book of 2006. His other publications include Visions of Caliban (with Jane Goodall) and Demonic Males (with Richard Wrangham). Peterson lectures in the English Department at Tufts University.
Published March 15, 2011 by Bloomsbury Press. 352 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Education & Reference, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Professional & Technical, Sports & Outdoors. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Sharing fascinating anecdotes about elephants, whales and primates, Peterson highlights the unity rather than diversity of social structures around sharing food, intimacy, competition for resources, grooming, mourning and dominance.

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The Wall Street Journal

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Though stories of seemingly altruistic animals tug at the heartstrings, humans are nature's sole moralists

Mar 12 2011 | Read Full Review of The Moral Lives of Animals

National Review Online

A book review in the Wall Street Journal of a new book called The Moral Lives of Animals (by Dale Peterson) highlights the ongoing threat to human exeptionalism posed by those who are working to erase the moral boundaries between us and fauna.

Mar 12 2011 | Read Full Review of The Moral Lives of Animals

Open Salon

My collection of linked short stories, In an Uncharted Country (Press 53, 2009), won the Maria Thomas Fiction Award and a Gold Medal (IPPY) from Independent Publisher.

Jun 03 2011 | Read Full Review of The Moral Lives of Animals

Time Out Chicago

Animals have minds, he claims, and those minds are capable of complex moral decision making, but humans are not often able to credit animals with moral actions because our minds operate so differently.

Mar 16 2011 | Read Full Review of The Moral Lives of Animals


Peterson is examining morality in animals, but his point — my paraphrase — is striking and ironic: animals are not only moral, but perhaps more so than humans.

Jun 07 2011 | Read Full Review of The Moral Lives of Animals

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