Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals.


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de Waal, Frans. Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. viii+296 p $24.95.This book, intended for a general audience, has already received considerable attention, including a review in The New York Times Book Review (May 11, 1997) and a feature story in The New York Times Magazine (January 26, 1997). De Waal, an ethologist specializing in primatology, was born and educated in the Netherlands and is now professor of primate behavior at Emory University and the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center. His stated goal in writing this book and others over the past 15 years has been to dispel simplistic interpretations of primate behavior, adaptations, and evolution, and to clarify what are the continuities and common grounds shared with human beings. Thereby, he intends to raise the level of debate and discourse and transcend the bitterly emotional antagonisms to evolutionary sociobiology aroused by such works as Richard Ardrey's (1967) The Territorial Imperative, with its images of ancestral "killer apes" and "men in groups." Indeed, there is a human nature, de Waal argues, but it is not a simple matter, "either fundamentally brutish or fundamentally noble, it is both-a more complex picture perhaps, but an infinitely more inspiring one" (p. 5). What makes the picture inspiring as opposed to merely interesting or enlightening are examples of primate behavior that seem touchingly humane, such as (rare) tolerant treatment of group members with handicaps, (occasional) positive rather than indifferent or exploitative responses to injury and death, and everyday examples of cooperation and reciprocal exchange with kin and alliance partners.The particular focus of Good Natured is these relational and cooperative aspects of primate behavior that de Waal claims represent the precursor building blocks of the human moral sense. De Waal speaks of these aspects as "moral" a word some readers might dispute, but, at the very least, "proto-moral" seems reasonable. The social life of the higher apes and social monkeys-when followed systematically over time-reveals the existence of emotions, motivations, and intentions that go far beyond the agonistic behavior, dominance, and nurturant patterns described and well-known for many years. "Evolution has produced the requisites for morality: a tendency to develop social norms and enforce them, the capacities of empathy and sympathy, mutual aid and a sense of fairness, the mechanisms of conflict resolution, and so on" (p. 39).The higher primates, though not possessing anything like humans' capacities for cognitive abstraction and behavioral plasticity, are nevertheless seen by de Waal (and other primatologists) as "knowing, wanting, and calculating beings." At the dyadic level, in relationships between pairs of individuals, they show capacities for chaining together behaviors in exchanges with reciprocity (such as coming to the aid of an animal that has helped before or avenging an injury), for deception, for reconciliation, and for consolation. More rarely, individuals engage in behaviors that involve more complex systems of relationship and serve group rather than purely individual goals, such as mediated reconciliation (where one individual mediates to effect a reconciliation between two others) or peaceful arbitration of disputes (where one individual ensures that two others resolve their conflict without either getting injured).

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