Can we recognize a sense of morality in creatures other than ourselves? De Waal (Peacemaking Among Primates, 1989, etc.)...


GOOD NATURED: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals

Can we recognize a sense of morality in creatures other than ourselves? De Waal (Peacemaking Among Primates, 1989, etc.) asks, then smartly, rangingly, appealingly deploys his ethozoological background to see what he can find. Since moral systems are universal among humans, de Waal considers this tendency to be an integral part of human nature--biologically significant, rather than a cultural counterforce. Yet from the standpoint of evolutionary biology, whence came such moral attributes as self-sacrifice and communal interests, dubious traits in the Darwinian scheme (but only when Darwin is narrowly interpreted, as de Waal notes)? And since the moral ingredients of sympathy, reciprocity, and peacemaking are found scattered throughout the animal kingdom, what is their evolutionary advantage? De Waal isn't looking for proofs--at this stage of research there aren't any. He's more interested in cross-pollinating his delicious array of intuitions, anecdotes, and random observations, with theories from neurobiology, visual anthropology, comparative psychology, evolutionary science, and cognitive ethology (his command of the fields that touch upon the biological roots of morality is dazzling; the guy did his homework, then went for the extra credit). Two theories in particular give some beef to his hunch that animals have a moral faculty: kin selection (in which the genetic imperative is satisfied even at one's own expense) and reciprocal altruism (immediate costs balanced by long-term benefits). The greatest truth emerging from juxtaposing genetic self-interest with intense sociality, de Waal figures, is that human and beast are both noble and brutish, both nurtured and natured. Unpretentious, open, humorous, and with a flair for language, de Waal nimbly displays that rare and wonderful scientific mind: as much at home with contradiction, clutter, and illogic as with systematic data.

Pub Date: March 15, 1996


Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996