"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
"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)
I found the first part, Frans de Waal's observations of animal behaviour and his thoughts, very interesting and engaging. This is followed by commentary from a number of different experts which I am finding to be extremely dry at times, struggling to focus, especially as some of the arguments presented by them seem to misinterpret or completely ignore parts of de Waal's writing. It's not a light listen. I am currently stuck with about 1 hour left. Narrator's performance is fine, perhaps a little monotonous at times.
"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.
"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
"Are humans just another primate?"
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.
How de Waal explains why moral systems are bound to mammal biology aspects for us.
"Not too good for listening"
An scholar of primatology.
Make it more linear with clear conclusions at the end of each chapter.
Good.Not the problem.
None.Needs somehow a conclusion, with a short review by the end of each chapter.More linear story as well.
Just compare it with
"really good reading of a sometimes boring book."
I was able to do it pretty much whenever I was able to listen to my Ipod.
Many of the conclusions drawn about things that I previously thought were
Possibly the inflections in the reading, striking important points of interest.
Not really. Maybe some people can read about psychology of anyone in one sitting, but I can't.
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.
"A interesting, objective account"
This is a very thought provoking book. It builds a very strong case that human ethics developed from primate
Yes, if they like to think.
It was a little dry. Could have used different voices for different philosophers.
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.
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