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Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved | [Frans de Waal]

Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved

"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.
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Publisher's Summary

"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 Phillip 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. The book is published by Princeton University Press.

©2006 Princeton University Press (P)2010 Redwood Audiobooks

What the Critics Say

"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." (New York Review of Books)

"Exceptionally rich but always lucid... Intellectual soul food for biology-minded ethicists." (Booklist)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 12-14-13
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 12-14-13 Member Since 2008

    College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

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    "Having Just Read..."

    Bekoff and Pierce's WILD JUSTICE, Peterson's THE MORAL LIVES OF ANIMALS and Morell's ANIMAL WISE, de Waal's PRIMATES AND PHILOSOPHERS came in as the perfect follow-up book to round out the line of thought. This collection of "debate essays," penned by Frans de Waal, Peter Singer, Christine M. Korsgaard, Phillip Kitcher, and Robert Wright (see my review of his THE MORAL ANIMAL), put forth the idea that morality is neither relative nor the sole property of human beings, but qualities that have developed for group survival and prospering through the process of evolution and natural selection, namely that characteristics such as empathy, fairness, justice, and rule-based interactivity are intimate parts of nature which all beings share in greater or lesser degree. (The question of degree is important, as no one wants to argue that a rat and a dog have the same level of moral sense as a human being--even though a rat can show a degree of empathy and a dog can participate in rule-based interactions.) I suggest the books listed above be read first and this be the cap--the ideas dovetail quite nicely, and the books on animal morality serve as a great preparation for a book about how animal morality evolved into human morality.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. D. Botet Valencia, Spain 04-09-12
    J. D. Botet Valencia, Spain 04-09-12 Member Since 2008

    Odiseo

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    "Not too good for listening"
    This book wasn???t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    An scholar of primatology.


    What could Frans de Waal have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    Make it more linear with clear conclusions at the end of each chapter.


    What about Alan Sklar???s performance did you like?

    Good.Not the problem.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Primates and Philosophers?

    None.Needs somehow a conclusion, with a short review by the end of each chapter.More linear story as well.


    Any additional comments?

    Just compare it with

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marcel-Jan Gouda, Netherlands 03-26-11
    Marcel-Jan Gouda, Netherlands 03-26-11
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    "Found myself in a discussion over semantics"

    I was looking for an audio book based on Frans de Waal's works. This audio book is not about explaining about evolutionary biology. In this audio book you get to hear some things Frans de Waal has found out and then get to hear what opponents in his field think about that. I really wonder why they wanted to make that into an audio book.
    Content: 2/5, voice: 3/5, "in-car-listenable": 1/5

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andre Lima Sao Paulo, Brazil 07-31-12
    Andre Lima Sao Paulo, Brazil 07-31-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Are humans just another primate?"
    What made the experience of listening to Primates and Philosophers the most enjoyable?

    Frans de Waal is an authority in primate behaviour, with a long and productive academic career and lots of field work. The experiences he share in the book shed light in how many different aspects humans and non-human apes are similar, and how it is ever more convergent to frame those similarities as different grades in a continuum.


    What did you like best about this story?

    How de Waal explains why moral systems are bound to mammal biology aspects for us.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cody Moundsview, MN, United States 12-24-11
    Cody Moundsview, MN, United States 12-24-11
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    "A interesting, objective account"
    What made the experience of listening to Primates and Philosophers the most enjoyable?

    This is a very thought provoking book. It builds a very strong case that human ethics developed from primate


    Would you recommend Primates and Philosophers to your friends? Why or why not?

    Yes, if they like to think.


    Did Alan Sklar do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    It was a little dry. Could have used different voices for different philosophers.


    Any additional comments?

    Great book. I disagree with the conclusions of de Waal. Regardless valuable read for anyone who wants to better understand evolutions place in the role of ethics and morality.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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    William Spring Hill, FL, United States 12-05-11
    William Spring Hill, FL, United States 12-05-11
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    "really good reading of a sometimes boring book."
    What made the experience of listening to Primates and Philosophers the most enjoyable?

    I was able to do it pretty much whenever I was able to listen to my Ipod.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    Many of the conclusions drawn about things that I previously thought were


    What does Alan Sklar bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Possibly the inflections in the reading, striking important points of interest.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Not really. Maybe some people can read about psychology of anyone in one sitting, but I can't.


    Any additional comments?

    Over good book about an overall, and mostly dry subject. As a graduate student of psychology, and a volunteer at a primate santuary, this book made learning psychology interesting.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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