The Moral Lives of Animals

The Moral Lives of Animals

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by Dale Peterson

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Wild elephants walking along a trail stop and spontaneously try to protect and assist a weak and dying fellow elephant. Laboratory rats, finding other rats caged nearby in distressing circumstances, proceed to rescue them. A chimpanzee in a zoo loses his own life trying to save an unrelated infant who has fallen into a watery moat.

The examples above and many

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Wild elephants walking along a trail stop and spontaneously try to protect and assist a weak and dying fellow elephant. Laboratory rats, finding other rats caged nearby in distressing circumstances, proceed to rescue them. A chimpanzee in a zoo loses his own life trying to save an unrelated infant who has fallen into a watery moat.

The examples above and many others, argues Dale Peterson, show that our fellow creatures have powerful impulses toward cooperation, generosity, and fairness. Yet it is commonly held that we Homo sapiens are the only animals with a moral sense. This rigorous and stimulating book challenges that notion and shows the profound connections--the moral continuum--that link humans to many other species. Understanding the moral lives of animals offers new insight into our own.

Editorial Reviews

Jane Goodall
Dale Peterson adds originality and astonishing clarity to a discussion that has engaged science and philosophy in sometimes heated debate. This book is a delight to read. The Moral Lives of Animals will change the way many think of animals, and it will vindicate what others have always known intuitively. It deserves to be an instant bestseller.
author of The Age of Empathy Frans de Waal
Instead of humanity having developed morality from scratch, by means of its superior intellect, things may well have started simpler. In our fellow primates, we already recognize many of the tendencies that gave rise to the moral emotions. Dale Peterson does an excellent and engaging job explaining how the one may have led to the other. In doing so, he places us closer to other animals than many a moral philosopher would ever admit.
author of The Hidden Life of Dogs Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
The Moral Lives of Animals is without question the most fascinating book I've read in many, many years—a marvelously written page-turner about an important subject which until now has received little if any attention. Well, all that has changed. I can think of no other work that so clearly depicts our place in the animal kingdom, showing as it does how the forces of society work on other species much as they do on ours. The large number of stories that make this point are riveting. Everything in the book is riveting. You will read it with your hair on end and your eyes wide, just like some of the animal subjects herein when faced with an intense situation. There's a special place in the hearts of many of us for books that express the 'one-ness' of life on earth, and this book tops them all.
Sy Montgomery
The Moral Lives of Animals is a breathtaking tour-de-force of enormous scope and deep importance. Filled with vivid and compelling stories, backed by numerous scientific studies, these pages should change the way we look at the workings of the hearts and minds of other species—as well as our own. Every literate human on earth should read it.
Marc Bekoff
The Moral Lives of Animals is a most-welcomed discussion of a complex and controversial question—are nonhuman animals moral beings whose lives are regulated by social codes of conduct and who know right from wrong? Renowned author Dale Peterson takes us on a wide-ranging discussion of a wide variety of animals who clearly show that they know what's expected of them in various social situations and what they're supposed to do so that they're accepted into their society and their social groups can run smoothly. Packed with good stories and scientific data, and grounded in sound evolutionary theory, this book provides a convincing argument that animals have rich moral lives that remind of us of our own. It will change the way in which 'mere animals' are viewed and open our eyes to who these beings truly are.
As he breaks down moral issues of behavior into larger issues such as authority, possession, cooperation, flexibility and peace, Peterson gives examples from scientific studies of animal behavior that demonstrate the moral "rule" in question. Species range from fireflies to bonobos, but all illustrate moral behavior and all show us that we are not alone in possessing a moral code.
For people who think that humans are the only species to live with any kind of morality, Peterson's book might be a game-changer. The Moral Lives of Animals is a thoroughly interesting read.
Scientific American "Recommended Books" column
Cooperative hyenas, scorekeeping impalas, heroic rats—humans are not the only creatures with a code of ethics. Dale Peterson of Tufts University argues that animals across many species exhibit behaviors that reveal evolutionary continuity between us and them. The rules and values Homo sapiens shares with other species provide a basis for Peterson to speculate about the future of our relationship with our fellow fauna.
Time Out Chicago
This isn't another book about the splendor of the animal kingdom and how much we have to learn from the blessed beasts. Dredging through numerous studies and directly observing animal behavior, Peterson takes a more epistemological approach … Peterson's examples are often short stories in themselves, and it's not as though all this talk of morality means the animal kingdom is full of goodly souls. He uses fireflies to demonstrate how animals employ deceit, and the opening image of an elephant silently stalking her human prey makes Moby Dick seem as if he's having a bad day. Peterson's book also serves as a fine text on moral theory, why we ascribe moral value to a variety of actions. But because it's about elephants, foxes and especially bonobos, it's a lot more fun than that sounds.
Well written, well researched, and forward looking … The Moral Lives of Animals is eye opening, original, wide-ranging, and ambitious book … Peterson's book gives us a wealth of new and powerfully original ideas for future research and debate.
American Scholar
[Peterson's] skills as a chronicler of animal goings on are highly developed.
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Peterson does develop a provocative case for the existence of a broadly shared evolutionary imperative that under pins human moral instincts … It is hard to argue with his proposition that the powerful emotional saliency moral issues have for us, and their connection to serious matters of social organization and conflict—sex, territory, possessions, reciprocity, kinship—point to a hard-wired evolutionary adaptation of group-dwelling animals.
[Peterson's] arguments are lucid and his writing is compellingly based upon decades of research and observation. Told in a loose anecdotal style, with plenty of thought-provoking details, The Moral Lives of Animals is likely to have you reconsidering your relationship with Fido or Mouser … propelling the book is Peterson's gift for graceful, illustrative expression…This is a very serious book, one in which serious ideas are explored thoughtfully but also in a style accessible to the interested non-specialist. As for why anyone should be interested—well, many of us share our lives with animals every day. Even those of who do not, nonetheless share the planet with them.
Scientific American Mind
A thought-provoking read that glimpses into the minds and behaviors of mammals.
Library Journal
This book gathers the knowledge Peterson (Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man) has gained from more than 30 years' experience in psychology and animal behavior. Through well-organized chapters and many examples, he clearly develops his thoughts on how morality evolved in mammals, including humans. He initially concentrates on where morality comes from, covering basic concepts, linguistic bias, definitions of morality, and a theory of morality's structure. Rules of morality follow with topics such as authority, violence, sex, possession, and communication. Coverage of cooperation and kindness, forming attachments, and altruism and selflessness round out the book, which is capped by a summary of Peterson's speculations on where morality is going. He concludes with controversial thoughts on how evolving human morality could lead to greater tolerance and empathy—and peace—among humans and nonhumans alike. VERDICT Although written for a general audience, this book challenges readers to absorb new information in an area unfamiliar to most. It is definitely worth the effort and is highly recommended for high school-age readers and up. Those engaged in human social relationships and concerns will also be interested.—Edell M. Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI

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Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

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