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My work in greyhound and horse rescue has shown me over the years something very clearly: animals understand a moral act done toward them (rescuing them from rugged and abusive situations), appreciate it, and return the favor in acts of protection, devotion and love. This book covers such aspects of four-legged morality as well as how animals care for, protect and sacrifice for each other. Several now famous studies have shown how voles are monogamous, vampire bats (yes!) practice reciprocal altruism (one bat has a bad night, a bat that had a good night will spit up some of his collected blood into the hungry bat's mouth--and later, the favor is returned when the tables are turned--yummy!), and I can tell you that horses instantly recognize a good person or a cruel one and remember a friend forever...and remember as well those who have done them a wrong turn at some point. From an evolutionary standpoint, it only makes sense. Neo-Darwinian sociologists stand in line these days to write books about how humans developed a sense of morality in order for the greater number of the group to survive due to group protection and caring and justice--why in the world would we think that other mammals had not developed the same tendencies in order to keep their species going as well?!
21 of 22 people found this review helpful
After thoroughly loving my last non-fiction nature read, I excitedly picked this one up - a book that I have been meaning to get around to for the past six years... I have wanted to read this book so much that I actually have it in hardcover, Kindle and Audible... so needless to say, I have really wanted to read this one...
And I think that may have fed into my ultimate disappointment. The authors spend a lot of time defending their word choices and repeat their anecdotal evidence quite a bit, too. Maybe this wouldn't be as noticeable if I was the sort of reader who set a book aside for days, weeks or months at a time, but in listening and reading to it over a few days, I have to say that I found it repetitive for being so short. What evidence there was that was discussed was certainly interesting, well-presented and definitely balanced, but I just with that there had been more of it! Even the examples were repeated and overall, I just had wanted the book to be more engaging than it was... I wanted more anecdotal evidence as these examples clearly illustrated the authors' main points... I am not sure, the book kind of felt like an overly long introduction without ever really getting "there"... I wish that I didn't have quite so many formats of it... I don't know that I will be re-visiting this one...
Do animals have a moral sense? I believe we seriously underestimate the sentience and mental capacities of most animals, so I welcome a book such as this, which challenges our anthropocentric prejudices. By making us think, it does a valuable service in raising our awareness.
The thesis seems sensible, that our own ethical sense might not have sprung fully formed out of nowhere, but have evolutionary antecedents in the animal world, especially among highly social animals. This is backed by experimental work described in the book, and numerous anecdotal observations in the wild, such as the mature female elephant who fended off an attack on a hurt female elephant by a younger male, and seemed to tend her wounds with her trunk, or the mouse who feeds and fetches water for another trapped and injured mouse.
However, it was when I tried to find references for some of the experiments that I began to get more skeptical. One that is oft quoted in the book, and echoed widely on the Internet is the alleged experiment where a hungry rat refuses to press a lever to get food, once he realises it causes another rat to receive an electric shock. No references are given in the book, nor in any of the sources quoting this experiment, and I cannot find any information as to the original published experiment. Is it just heresay? Other experiments are referenced, but raise further questions, such as the rat who first releases another caged rat, rather than obtain a piece of chocolate. Were they related, or mates, or total strangers? Were the rats naive or had they done this many times? How had they learned to obtain the chocolate or release the cage door?
The style of narration is clear, somewhat stentorian, and serious, and this is the nub for me. This is a book with a message, a manifesto, who's aim is to convince. What it lacks as a scientific work is a willingness to critique the evidence or search for other explanations than the thesis put forward. However, if it brings the end of inhumane animal experiments a day closer, it will have been worthwhile.
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