Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals

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Overview

To observe a dog's guilty look.

to witness a gorilla's self-sacrifice for a wounded mate, to watch an elephant herd's communal effort on behalf of a stranded calf--to catch animals in certain acts is to wonder what moves them. Might there he a code of ethics in the animal kingdom? Must an animal be human to he humane? In this provocative book, a renowned scientist takes on those who have declared ethics uniquely human Making a compelling case for a morality grounded in biology, he shows how ethical behavior is as much a matter of evolution as any other trait, in humans and animals alike.

World famous for his brilliant descriptions of Machiavellian power plays among chimpanzees-the nastier side of animal life--Frans de Waal here contends that animals have a nice side as well. Making his case through vivid anecdotes drawn from his work with apes and monkeys and holstered by the intriguing, voluminous data from his and others' ongoing research, de Waal shows us that many of the building blocks of morality are natural: they can he observed in other animals. Through his eyes, we see how not just primates but all kinds of animals, from marine mammals to dogs, respond to social rules, help each other, share food, resolve conflict to mutual satisfaction, even develop a crude sense of justice and fairness.

Natural selection may be harsh, but it has produced highly successful species that survive through cooperation and mutual assistance. De Waal identifies this paradox as the key to an evolutionary account of morality, and demonstrates that human morality could never have developed without the foundation of fellow feeling our species shares with other animals. As his work makes clear, a morality grounded in biology leads to an entirely different conception of what it means to he human--and humane.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

Evolutionary continuities have been sought in intelligence, language, tool making—anywhere but in morality. Now a respected ethologist, Frans de Waal, tackles the problem from a novel angle...Good Natured is no touchy-feely celebration of animal innocence, but a hardheaded study by a specialist in primate behavior with a wealth of observational experience. Mr. de Waal, a research scientist at the Yerkes Regional Primate Center at Emory University, presents his rich data in an accessible prose lit with flashes of wry humor and beautifully illustrated with his own vivid photographs...Far from being half ape, half angel, torn between a moral sense that strives upward and an eons-old bestial viciousness that drags us down, [we are portrayed by de Waal] as inheritors of a basically moral view of life that has evolved over countless millenniums—not through some fictitious social contract between self-sufficient individuals, but through the inevitable give-and-take of communal living...Anyone who cares about humans or their future will profit from this excellent book, which sheds at least as much light on our own lives as it does on those of other creatures.
— Derek Bickerton

Village Voice Literary Supplement

So lucid is de Waal's manner of setting things forth that each time he finishes drawing an aspect of animal morality, your first response is to wonder why you hadn't noticed it around the house, if not at a primate research center, a remote island, or the zoo...[His] startling contributions to the way the general reader, or general citizen, has of thinking seriously about "humans and other animals" might be permanent.
— Vicki Hearne

Los Angeles Times

A sparkling master work...de Waal...is perhaps the most literate, entertaining, and soulful of the cognitive ethologists...In Good Natured, [he] takes his humanizing project a step further, employing the rich lexicon of human moral concepts as figures of speech to depict and lend meaning to the behavior of nonhuman animals...[A] provocative, endearing, and brilliantly written book.
— Richard A. Shweder

Scientific American

Modern Darwinian evolutionary theory is based on individual reproduction, on 'selfish' genes that have been selected at the expense of others that might act for the greater good. How then could survival of the fittest lead to empathy?...This profound paradox has led some scholars in the past to assume that the emergence of morals must be a transcendent process beyond the bounds of scientific explanation. Frans de Waal, one of the world's best-known primatologists, has set out to prove that assumption wrong. On the final page of his startling new book, he asserts that "we seem to be reaching a point at which science can wrest morality from the hands of philosophers." How the author...came to this conclusion makes for compelling reading.
— William C. McGrew

Boston Globe

In [this] original and engaging new book...de Waal makes a strong case that the four ingredients of morality—empathy/sympathy, sharing or reciprocity, justice/rules and peacemaking/reconciliation—are very much evident in other mammals...The book employs a solid core of statistical evidence to bolster his case, but what makes his argument so compelling is the richness of detail...De Waal is an original thinker and writes with such a light hand that the reader can take a stimulating ride through his imaginative philosophical discourse...This work is...penetrating and profound.
— Vicki Croke

BBC Wildlife

De Waal [questions]...whether the roots of human morality can be found in the behaviour of other species. He is more or less ideally placed to answer that question, after years of perceptive research on captive chimpanzees, bonobos and monkeys...As de Waal fans will already know, chimpanzees and other primates come alive as individuals under his expert gaze...Sympathy, attachment, social norms, punishment, a sense of justice, reciprocation, peacemaking and community concern—all are writ large in chimpanzee society. Good Natured makes the point with the help of a profusion of gripping examples.
— Stephen Young

Times Higher Education Supplement

As a book of ideas...this is excellent and on the whole I am inclined to believe de Waal's case for the antecedents of our own morality in other species, Perhaps most interestingly, however, is that the domain hitherto of philosophers is now being contested by evolutionary biologists. Not only does this tighten up the terms of the debate (as did ape language research for linguistics), but ironically it injects a special kind of humanism that recognises the origins of our moral failings as well as our successes.
— Thomas Sambrook

Science

[A] well-written, provocative book.
— Charles T. Snowdon

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

A large and entertaining collection of anecdotes about animal behaviour. These are used to bolster the proposition that mental processes governing complex forms of human behaviour, such as sympathy and empathy with others, must have their homologues in the animal kingdom...[This book] is extremely well written and very entertaining.
— Alan Dixson

New Scientist (UK)

[Good Natured] is a tour de force and a landmark in the growing field of cognitive ethology....[It] is an example of the very best in popular science writing. De Waal skilfully weaves together anecdotes, theories and data to create a text that is thought-provoking and a pleasure to read.
— Gail Vines

New York Times Book Review - Derek Bickerton
Evolutionary continuities have been sought in intelligence, language, tool making--anywhere but in morality. Now a respected ethologist, Frans de Waal, tackles the problem from a novel angle...Good Natured is no touchy-feely celebration of animal innocence, but a hardheaded study by a specialist in primate behavior with a wealth of observational experience. Mr. de Waal, a research scientist at the Yerkes Regional Primate Center at Emory University, presents his rich data in an accessible prose lit with flashes of wry humor and beautifully illustrated with his own vivid photographs...Far from being half ape, half angel, torn between a moral sense that strives upward and an eons-old bestial viciousness that drags us down, [we are portrayed by de Waal] as inheritors of a basically moral view of life that has evolved over countless millenniums--not through some fictitious social contract between self-sufficient individuals, but through the inevitable give-and-take of communal living...Anyone who cares about humans or their future will profit from this excellent book, which sheds at least as much light on our own lives as it does on those of other creatures.
Village Voice Literary Supplement - Vicki Hearne
So lucid is de Waal's manner of setting things forth that each time he finishes drawing an aspect of animal morality, your first response is to wonder why you hadn't noticed it around the house, if not at a primate research center, a remote island, or the zoo...[His] startling contributions to the way the general reader, or general citizen, has of thinking seriously about "humans and other animals" might be permanent.
Los Angeles Times - Richard A. Shweder
A sparkling master work...de Waal...is perhaps the most literate, entertaining, and soulful of the cognitive ethologists...In Good Natured, [he] takes his humanizing project a step further, employing the rich lexicon of human moral concepts as figures of speech to depict and lend meaning to the behavior of nonhuman animals...[A] provocative, endearing, and brilliantly written book.
Scientific American - William C. McGrew
Modern Darwinian evolutionary theory is based on individual reproduction, on 'selfish' genes that have been selected at the expense of others that might act for the greater good. How then could survival of the fittest lead to empathy?...This profound paradox has led some scholars in the past to assume that the emergence of morals must be a transcendent process beyond the bounds of scientific explanation. Frans de Waal, one of the world's best-known primatologists, has set out to prove that assumption wrong. On the final page of his startling new book, he asserts that "we seem to be reaching a point at which science can wrest morality from the hands of philosophers." How the author...came to this conclusion makes for compelling reading.
Boston Globe - Vicki Croke
In [this] original and engaging new book...de Waal makes a strong case that the four ingredients of morality--empathy/sympathy, sharing or reciprocity, justice/rules and peacemaking/reconciliation--are very much evident in other mammals...The book employs a solid core of statistical evidence to bolster his case, but what makes his argument so compelling is the richness of detail...De Waal is an original thinker and writes with such a light hand that the reader can take a stimulating ride through his imaginative philosophical discourse...This work is...penetrating and profound.
BBC Wildlife - Stephen Young
De Waal [questions]...whether the roots of human morality can be found in the behaviour of other species. He is more or less ideally placed to answer that question, after years of perceptive research on captive chimpanzees, bonobos and monkeys...As de Waal fans will already know, chimpanzees and other primates come alive as individuals under his expert gaze...Sympathy, attachment, social norms, punishment, a sense of justice, reciprocation, peacemaking and community concern--all are writ large in chimpanzee society. Good Natured makes the point with the help of a profusion of gripping examples.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Thomas Sambrook
As a book of ideas...this is excellent and on the whole I am inclined to believe de Waal's case for the antecedents of our own morality in other species, Perhaps most interestingly, however, is that the domain hitherto of philosophers is now being contested by evolutionary biologists. Not only does this tighten up the terms of the debate (as did ape language research for linguistics), but ironically it injects a special kind of humanism that recognises the origins of our moral failings as well as our successes.
Science - Charles T. Snowdon
[A] well-written, provocative book.
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology - Alan Dixson
A large and entertaining collection of anecdotes about animal behaviour. These are used to bolster the proposition that mental processes governing complex forms of human behaviour, such as sympathy and empathy with others, must have their homologues in the animal kingdom...[This book] is extremely well written and very entertaining.
New Scientist (UK) - Gail Vines
[Good Natured] is a tour de force and a landmark in the growing field of cognitive ethology....[It] is an example of the very best in popular science writing. De Waal skilfully weaves together anecdotes, theories and data to create a text that is thought-provoking and a pleasure to read.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Is morality a biological or cultural phenomenon? Can nonhuman animals be humane? Primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) explores these questions in a provocative book and makes a strong case for biology. He is convinced that social tendencies come into existence via a genetic calculus rather than rational choice. He defends anthropomorphism, noting that it serves the same exploratory function as intuition in the sciences. He discusses aggression and altruism and offers abundant anecdotal evidence of moral behavior among primates and other animals-food sharing, protection, sympathy, guilt. De Waal argues that the remarkable trainability among certain species, e.g., sheepdogs and elephants, hints at a rule-based order among them. He takes issue with the animal rights movement; rights, he says, are normally accompanied by responsibilities, which cannot possibly apply to apes and other animals. Readers who enjoyed Why Elephants Weep (Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy) will welcome this volume. Illustrations. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674356610
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 900,945
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Frans B. M. de Waal is C. H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior in the Psychology Department and Director of Living Links, part of the Yerkes Primate Center, Emory University.
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Table of Contents

Prologue

Darwinian Dilemmas

Survival of the Unfittest

Biologicizing Morality

Calvinist Sociobiology

A Broader View

The Invisible Grasping Organ

Ethology and Ethics

Photo Essay: Closeness

Sympathy

Warm Blood in Cold Waters

Special Treatment of the Handicapped

Responses to Injury and Death

Having Broad Nails

The Social Mirror

Lying and Aping Apes

Simian Sympathy

A World without Compassion

Photo Essay: Cognition and Empathy

Rank and Order

A Sense of Social Regularity

The Monkey's Behind

Guilt and Shame

Unruly Youngsters

The Blushing Primate

Two Genders, Two Moralities?

Umbilical versus Confrontational Bonds

Primus inter Pares

Quid pro Quo

The Less-than-Golden Rule

Mobile Meals

At the Circle's Center

A Concept of Giving

Testing for Reciprocity

From Revenge to Justice

Photo Essay: Help from a Friend

Getting Along

The Social Cage

The Relational Model

Peacemaking

Rope Walking

Baboon Testimony

Draining the Behavioral Sink

Community Concern

Photo Essay: War and Peace

Conclusion

What Does It Take to Be Moral?

Floating Pyramids

A Hole in the Head

Notes

Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Index

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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Barnes & Noble.com Author Essay

My Double Life

My first taste for popularization came in the 1970s when I worked at the Arnhem Zoo, in the Netherlands. For years, I addressed organized groups of zoo visitors, including lawyers, housewives, university students, psychotherapists, police academies, bird-watchers, and so on. There is no better sounding board for a would-be popularizer. The visitors would yawn at some of the hottest academic issues but react with recognition and fascination to basic chimpanzee psychology that I had begun to take for granted. I learned that the only way to tell my story was to bring the individual chimpanzees to life and pay attention to actual events rather than the abstractions that scientists are so fond of.

Writing popular science books is both a pleasure and an obligation. It is a pleasure, because one writes under fewer constraints than in scientific articles that leave no room for an anecdote here and a speculation there. Peer-reviewed journal articles aren't always fun to produce.

There is a need for popularization. This is where the obligation comes in: Someone needs to explain to the larger audience what the field is all about. This may be hard for some disciplines, such as chemistry or mathematics, but if one works with monkeys and apes, as I do, it is a thankful, easy task. Like us, these animals live in soap operas of family affairs and power politics, so that all one needs to do is dig into their personal lives while attaching whatever scientific messages one wishes to discuss. People relate very easily to primate behavior and do so for the right reasons: The similarities with their own experiences are striking and fundamental.

And so, I began to lead a double life early on in my career. On the one hand, I am now a university professor and scientist who needs to write papers and obtain grants. At the same time, I am a popularizer who tries to see the bigger picture. Initially, I mainly communicated about my own work -- such as in Chimpanzee Politics and Peacemaking Among Primates -- but more and more my writings cover the work of others. My later books, such as Bonobo, Good Natured, and my most recent book, The Ape and the Sushi Master, are good examples: My own studies constitute only a fraction of what is going on in the field of primatology.

My mission in The Ape and the Sushi Master is to abolish the traditional Western dualisms between human and animal, body and mind, and especially culture and nature. I don't know why I am so fundamentally opposed to these dualisms -- many other scientists fervently embrace them. It must have something to do with how close or distant one thinks one is to animals. At the very least -- even if I won't convince everyone -- I hope to make my readers reflect on where these attitudes come from: how they are tied to human self-perception shaped by culture and religion.

--Frans de Waal

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