Primates and Philosophers

  • by Frans de Waal
  • Narrated by Alan Sklar
  • 6 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

"It's the animal in us," we often hear when we've been bad. But why not when we're good? Primates and Philosophers tackles this question by exploring the biological foundations of one of humanity's most valued traits: morality.
In this provocative book, primatologist Frans de Waal argues that modern-day evolutionary biology takes far too dim a view of the natural world, emphasizing our "selfish" genes. Science has thus exacerbated our reciprocal habits of blaming nature when we act badly and labeling the good things we do as "humane". Seeking the origin of human morality not in evolution but in human culture, science insists that we are moral by choice, not by nature.
Citing remarkable evidence based on his extensive research of primate behavior, de Waal attacks "Veneer Theory", which posits morality as a thin overlay on an otherwise nasty nature. He explains how we evolved from a long line of animals that care for the weak and build cooperation with reciprocal transactions.
Drawing on both Darwin and recent scientific advances, de Waal demonstrates a strong continuity between human and animal behavior. In the process, he also probes issues such as anthropomorphism and human responsibilities toward animals.
Based on the Tanner Lectures de Waal delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 2004, Primates and Philosophers includes responses by the philosophers Peter Singer, Christine M. Korsgaard, and Phillip Kitcher, and the science writer Robert Wright. They press de Waal to clarify the differences between humans and other animals, yielding a lively debate that will fascinate all those who wonder about the origins and reach of human goodness. The book is published by Princeton University Press.

More

What the Critics Say

"De Waal is one of the world's foremost authorities on nonhuman primates, and his thoughtful contribution to Primates and Philosophers is enriched by decades of close observation of their behavior.... He argues that humans are like their closest evolutionary kin in being moral by nature." (New York Review of Books)
"Exceptionally rich but always lucid... Intellectual soul food for biology-minded ethicists." (Booklist)

More

See More Like This

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Having Just Read...

Bekoff and Pierce's WILD JUSTICE, Peterson's THE MORAL LIVES OF ANIMALS and Morell's ANIMAL WISE, de Waal's PRIMATES AND PHILOSOPHERS came in as the perfect follow-up book to round out the line of thought. This collection of "debate essays," penned by Frans de Waal, Peter Singer, Christine M. Korsgaard, Phillip Kitcher, and Robert Wright (see my review of his THE MORAL ANIMAL), put forth the idea that morality is neither relative nor the sole property of human beings, but qualities that have developed for group survival and prospering through the process of evolution and natural selection, namely that characteristics such as empathy, fairness, justice, and rule-based interactivity are intimate parts of nature which all beings share in greater or lesser degree. (The question of degree is important, as no one wants to argue that a rat and a dog have the same level of moral sense as a human being--even though a rat can show a degree of empathy and a dog can participate in rule-based interactions.) I suggest the books listed above be read first and this be the cap--the ideas dovetail quite nicely, and the books on animal morality serve as a great preparation for a book about how animal morality evolved into human morality.
Read full review

- Douglas

Found myself in a discussion over semantics

I was looking for an audio book based on Frans de Waal's works. This audio book is not about explaining about evolutionary biology. In this audio book you get to hear some things Frans de Waal has found out and then get to hear what opponents in his field think about that. I really wonder why they wanted to make that into an audio book.
Content: 2/5, voice: 3/5, "in-car-listenable": 1/5
Read full review

- Marcel-Jan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-16-2010
  • Publisher: University Press Audiobooks