Mind Reads; December 2006/January 2007; Scientific American Mind; by Jonathan Beard, Kurt Kleiner, Rick Lipkin, Karen A. Frenkel; 2 Page(s)
Frans de Waal believes that humans are, by nature, good and social. A primatologist who has devoted his life to studying chimpanzee behavior, de Waal says we have evolution to thank for our moral behavior, the essential antecedents of which can be found among lower animals.
Primates and Philosophers contains the text of lectures de Waal delivered in 2004, together with responses from four philosophers who agree with some of his ideas and reject others. De Waal is reacting to the idea of selfishness, in both evolutionary and philosophical thought. Although we may have "selfish genes," he believes we have evolved as social creatures to care and share. And although Western philosophy emphasizes individual autonomy and rationality, he stresses social bonds and our emotions--and he sees evidence for both in other animals. Mice will forgo food if pushing a lever to get it also delivers a painful shock to another mouse; the same reaction is stronger and longer lasting for monkeys and even more so for apes. In fact, de Waal says, "the building blocks of morality are evolutionarily ancient," and a clear continuum links animal and human moral behavior.