The Nature of Cooperation in Animals and Humans
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Can the study of cooperation in animals facilitate human sociability, asks evolutionary biologist Dugatkin? Yes, he concludes—after a run through evidence from the animal kingdom—though exactly how remains unclear Dugatkin suggests to readers that animals have something to tell us about the nature of cooperation; their actions can serve as a baseline, he adds, since they have no morality. We can study their raw behavior and apply an ethical framework to the findings to better shape our own cooperative acts. He then spends most of the book discussing four types of animal cooperation: family dynamics, reciprocal transactions, mutual teamwork, and universal altruism. Hermaphroditic fish, for example, divide up the reproductive chores, and vampire bats vomit blood meals to feed unrelated nest mates. But little discussion is devoted to how these acts play out when applied to the human condition. Can they prod us toward Lockean nobility, help us avoid Hobbesian entropy? Can they fix the Golden Rule in our everyday actions or blunt our reputation as “remarkable scorekeepers— (—we know who did what to us and when”)? Dugatkin believes they can, if we “turn them into guides . . . by focusing moral will on those areas.” The problem is that he never defines his notion of “moral will,” which can mean a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people. And Dugatkin concludes with a statement that is so dismissive of his animal subjects, one has to wonder why he uses them as potentially illuminating and positive examples of behavior: “I believe that the worth of animals does indeed lie in their relationship to humans. Inherently, other species are not important.” Maybe it’s better that Dugatkin doesn’t define “moral will” after all. He may be an expert in animal behavior, but he’s clearly not a moral philosopher.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-84341-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998