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Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved – A Book Review

heather's picture

Frans de Waal’s Primates and Philosophers is an intriguing exploration of animal and human behavior, and a fierce attempt to link them intrinsically and inseparably.  De Waal attacks the notion that morality is a uniquely human trait – opposing those who believe that homo sapiens is a loner in ethics, and that our species rose magnificent out of the barbaric and uncomplicated ashes of our ancestors.

In this book, you will learn the flaws of the aforementioned “veneer theory,” and be presented with numerous charming stories of animal behavior which (justly) claim to be proof of greater non-human complexity than one would think.  One example that stays in mind is that of a younger chimp who removes a series of tires in order to access the last one in the row; this last tire (unique and special in that it is filled with water) he offers to a relative who had previously showed signs of wanting it.

Though this book is of theory, it is refreshing to become acquainted with the facts as well.  The ability to interpret for oneself behavioral events which have actually taken place is much appreciated.  This book has been a philosophical friend to me in an anthropocentric world.


Paul Grobstein's picture

primates and philosophers

"greater non-human complexity" than WHO might think? And who is living primarily in "anthropocentric world"?