Friday, June 22, 2007
Primates and Philosophers, How Morality Evolved - from Josh
Hey Kids, I just read a supercool book called Primates and Philosophers, How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal, a world-famous primatologist at Emory. One of the big beefs that everyone has with evolution (especially evolution of man) is that it has a dog eat dog mentality, that there is only thin veneer of morality that masks our evil, selfish biological instincts. This theory which de Waal attacks, called unsurprisingly the veneer theory, was at the root of the Scopes trial (Bryan disliked evolution ONLY on the grounds that seemed to discard "weaker" members of society) and has been further criticized by people saying that Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene equates evolutionary behavior with selfish behavior according to anthropocentric morality (which Dawkins vehemently denies). De Waal takes the cool position that the emotions of sympathy and compassion and consequently outpourings of philanthropy are actually part of our biology because such phenomena are commonly seen in many other primates. Of course our capacity to deal with philanthropy is much more sophisticated than a bonobo. It is reassuring that one does not need to resort to mysticism to explain morals and such.
By the way, that's Jane Goodall, the only primatologist more famous than de Waal.