The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679763994
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/1995
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 86,738
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.97(d)

About the Author

Robert Wright is the bestselling author of Three Scientists and Their GodsThe Moral AnimalNonzero, and, most recently, The Evolution of God, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and his awards include the National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism. A contributing editor for The New Republic, Wright has also written for The Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, Time, and Slate.com. He is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of the website Bloggingheads.tv. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with his wife and their two daughters.

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The Moral Animal 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an amazingly clear, concise, and well-written account of how genetics and survival/selection have evolved over the eons to affect both animal and human behavior. The reasoning and theories Mr. Wright puts forth make good sense, and he does a great job of providing examples-- from ant colonies to singles bars-- to support his hypotheses. This book gave me incredible insight into the complex workings of the human mind, and provides a succinct, elegant explaination as to why we do the wierd things we do, or are motivated to act seemingly irrationally. Genetics is the core. Evolution is the playground. But with awareness, the final choices, the ultimate decisions, are up to us.
lzumerling1 More than 1 year ago
Amazing book! The author does a great job with giving explanations for certain human behaviors by making comparisons to animals. He brings up the theory of Darwinism and evolution. This book made me want to learn more about evolution and the study of animals.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is well written, at times humorous, not as dry as it could be, and interesting in it's use of Darwin's life to explain it's theories. Though some critics have not liken this take, I find it clever and well done. While some areas are left gray, Wright is quick to admit that he doesn't have all the answers. However, the theories he does provide are well thought out and generally make sense. His dismissal of some Freudian psychology is refreshing. The topic of evolutionary psychology has taken alot of heat lately, and in this book Wright tends to tread lightly in certain areas. My only criticism is that he should not have pulled any punches whatsoever. All in all, a very important book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
On the whole, I think this book is great. It discusses connections between evolution and contemporary life that I wouldn't have thought of, and it certainly is thought-provoking. I found myself putting down the book numerous times just so I could mull over one of Wright's points. However, I could have done without all of the correlaries back to Darwin -- as interested as I am in evolutionary psychology, I'm not nearly as interested in, say, Darwin's home life. Some of the points need to be worked on, but it was an entertaining read overall.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an extremely well written book, combining scientific seriousness with wit and humor. It is a wonderful introduction to the theory of natural selection that gives strong insights about how and why certain traits, both physical and psychological, have been selected for our genes to be passed on from generation to generation. For psychologists in general it offers the wonderful option to solve the nature/nurture conflict. Indeed, it shows how it is the environment that selects certain genes, and then in turn how our genes can influence the environment, leading to a new selection and thus going full circle. Therefore, it becomes obvious that genes and environment are entertwined for ever, and that it is their interaction that makes us who we are. It is also a wonderful tool to understand how very complex behaviors can be executed automatically (or unconsciously), either for strategic reasons or because the number of variables to consider is way too big for our limited consciousness to grasp. Indeed, haven't you ever found yourself saying 'I am not sure why I did that...' or 'I know it was stupid but I just could not help it...'? Evolutionary psychology is trying to understand why we sometimes feel compelled to do certain things, or why we are attracted toward certain persons, even though we are not aware of the powerful forces behind our actions. Among other things, the author presents compelling evidence about why males and females are so fundamentally different psychologically, why we feel love toward our offsprings and which ones we are likely to favor over others, why and how frienships emerge, and the role of social status in the search for a mate. Additionally, one of the most impressive things I found in the book was the explanation of the emergence and purpose of feelings. Indeed, feelings seem to be so deeply routed in our animal nature that it is extremely hard, if not impossible, for us not to react in very emotional ways in many situations. Evolutionary psychology offers a logical way for us to make sense out of this fact, and provides insights about why it is such a central part of us to feel outraged, humble, grateful, indignant, proud, etc... Do not expect to feel very good about yourself after you read this book. Indeed, the author points out that the most noble behaviors emerged for a very selfish end, that is, for our genes to be passed on to the next generation. This is why the last couple of chapters are dedicated to ethics. If you ask me, this part sounds way too patronizing for my taste, and I would have been glad to draw my own conclusions about what is to be done with the knowledge I acquired reading the book. However, it is important to note that we evolved to be moral animals; that is, we became able to be aware of unconscious forces and thus to slowly learn how to master them. Finally, the author indicates that our genes were selected in what he calls the 'ancestral environment,' when we lived in small groups in a world where the word civilization did not even exist. Thus, it allows us to understand why so many people either feel out of touch with their environment or are considered deviant. In the past our genes were selected for their fitness in a particualr environment and our children were thus fit for it as well, as the environment remained virtually the same. However, in our modern world where everything is changing so fast, the genes that had been fit for hundreds of thousands of years are now lost and clueless, and our ever changing environment is leaving us no hope to ever adapt ourselves to it. It is obviously impossible to go back to our ancestral environment for our genes to feel at home again. However, we still can stop our mad race toward destruction and allow human beings to once again feel like they are belonging to this world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has to be studied in schools instead of religion.It woud serve young people much better then ten comandments.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed this book. The author does a nice job of presenting complex processes in a simple way. I agree with the positive comments of the other reviewers, so I won't re-hash. However, I do think that the author could have provided additional foundation for his arguments. Given that the primary thesis of the book is that psychological processes are transmitted via genes, it seems like he could have provided some evidence (other than to argue that it makes sense) that love or ambition are actually in the genes. He gets around this by saying that every culture has these characteristics and since there are so many differences in the cultures and we all share the same genes, then it must be in the genes. Not very convincing. I am guessing that there is additional evidence, but the author (perhaps not wanting to make things too complex) chooses not to present additional arguments.
Awfki on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A great book, very thought provoking, but it left me kind of pessimistic about humanity's ability to transcend it's primitive origins. Then again, if we acknowledge those origins they don't have to limit us, they just need to taken into account.
rivkat on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Double colon in the title aside, this is actually a pretty good overview of evolutionary psychology, with some (less successful) attempts to use Darwin¿s own personal life to illustrate particular strategies people use as a result of evolved traits. Wright generally does a good job of reminding readers that traits evolved to improve reproductive success in the environment of evolutionary adaptation may be useless or counterproductive outside that environment, and he strongly argues that there is no moral force to evolution. Indeed, properly understood, he contends, evolution can make us more moral: recognizing that many of our impulses (to punish, to cheat, to love our children, to favor ourselves and our relatives over other people) are directed by biology frees us to become more universally minded, since in fact we have no unique moral claims and should treat all humans as having equal interests in well-being.Still, Wright also demonstrates the temptation to equate ¿evolved¿ with ¿unchangeable,¿ for example by equivocating in his definition of equality. He argues that we have to choose between equality for men (that is, roughly equal access to women imposed by monogamy) and equality for women (that is, roughly equal access to resources held by men, which would be possible if multiple women could marry the same wealthy man). Obviously he¿s defining equality differently for each condition, which is a problem, but the bigger problem is the acceptance of the constraint that wealth will be so unequally distributed that an individual woman (or her family) might prefer marriage as a subsequent wife to a very wealthy man over marriage to a very poor one. As he then touches on briefly, without recognizing that it avoids the ¿choice of inequalities¿ issue, the third way to solve the problem of potentially conflicting preferences is to avoid huge resource disparities (and, not for nothing, to allow women to accumulate wealth in ways other than by marrying men). Oddly, he is only willing to allow for ¿mildly¿ progressive taxation, for no evolutionarily grounded reason I can discern.There may be a more technical literature on this, but I was also unsatisfied with his discussion of Victorian morality (and hypocrisy, which he thinks is fine from an evolutionary perspective). He cogently explains why ¿high-quality¿ women might prefer a madonna/whore morality and condemn ¿lower-quality¿ women who were more promiscuous, who would be pursuing their own strategy of getting as much investment from multiple men as they could given their relative undesirability as long-term mates (this is a consequence of the idea that any fertile female can expect to reproduce, but not every fertile male can). However, he then skips to the idea that the beneficial effects of repressive sexuality for ¿high-quality¿ women grounded social morality, and I just don¿t understand why (1) ¿low-quality¿ women wouldn¿t fight back or (2) the overall effects on society would be positive, as he suggests. He might well say that multiple equilibria are possible since competing strategies co-exist, but I still don¿t get from there to his apparent assumption that Victorian morality was either shared by all Victorians¿even the poor people excluded from respectability and often sexually exploited by it¿or a good idea on balance despite its excesses. I don¿t get how you can say prudery for upper-class women combined with unspoken but widespread sexual access of upper-class men to prostitutes and servants is a stable and/or productive strategy without addressing the interests of, you know, all the other people on which this strategy relied. More generally, there just wasn¿t enough about change over time. Obviously Victorian morality was not so stable that it couldn¿t change; Wright suggests that sexual mores are likely to move in cycles, but to me this just highlights the gap between evolutionary psychology and real explanations. There are too many moving parts between what the sci
donmccrmck on LibraryThing 8 months ago
One of the best and most interesting books I've ever read, Wright applies principles of Darwinian evolution analysis to human psychology.
DarkWater on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I imagine if there is a bible for Darwinians, this would be it. It's as much a biography of Darwin himself as it is an examination of human behavior through the lens of evolutionary biology. I think that this is a deeply important read, and thanks to Wright's masterful penmanship, it's also deeply engaging.
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