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Wright Contra de Waal
So maybe we can move things along a bit by talking about the modifications the four philosophers make to de Waal's presentation. Their disagreements with him are mannerly and not fundamental or radical, but if you get beyond the polite language, you see some sharp differences in perspective. None of the four dispute de Waal's statements of facts about primate behavior. Being non-scientists, they really can't. It's a weakness of the format that no other scientist is given a chance to comment. Another ethologist might have some scientific criticisms, for example De Waal's reliance on zoo-kept chimps for his observations.
I'll try to summarize Wright's answer to de Waal, and if I get it close, I hope others will want to give their reactions.
Wright might say this if speaking directly to de Waal:
"Frans, I think you have judged correctly that if we see patterns of behavior in both chimps (to choose that species) and humans that are similar, we have good reason to suspect a likeness in brain processing. Then we need to pin down just how similar the processing is. At this point, I have a disagreement with a few of your conclusions in your other books. You attribute conscious strategizing and intent to chimp behavior when it looks similar to human behavior, but it is more likely that with chimps, emotional, not cognitive processing is what's really going on. It's likely that chimps do not have an awareness of why they're doing what they're doing, which is the definition of human intent. You therefore at times use cognitive anthropomorphism when emotional anthropomorphism is more appropriate. I agree that to say, "Chimp A felt insecure about his status after the fight with Chimp B, so he paid special attention to some other chimps in the band," is a valid use of anthropomorphism. If we could know what insecurity looks likes neurally in the brain, we might well see that it is the same for chimps as for humans.
But Chimp A's actions do not have to be the product of conscious strategizing. Evolution has given both chimps and humans strategically sound emotional responses that are employed automatically and that have allowed those who possess them to reproduce and pass along their genes. There is every reason to conclude that these emotional tools came first in evolution and are therefore used quite heavily, though maybe not to the exclusion of reasoned responses, by chimps. We humans are heavily reliant on strategically sound emotional responses, too, but we also have a level of cortical functioning that chimps just don't have.
Now I come to my second point. You label me a “Veneer Theorist,” but it ain’t me , babe. According to your definition, a Veneer Theorist believes that we arrive at our moral behaviors through cultural conditioning, these learned behaviors forming a thin veneer over our selfish inner selves. But in my book I clearly state my belief that behaviors we describe as moral have deep genetic roots. I don’t doubt, either, that studying other primates can give us a true picture of the early evolutionary stages of our morality.
Where you might get the idea of me as a Veneer Theorist is my belief that our emotional biases do sometimes get the upper hand when we are intending to act truly morally. Then, I suppose, our claims to be still acting morally do constitute a veneer overlying the emotional core of our actions. But let me say again that the moral intent is deep within us, too. It’s just that emotions that have had such a powerful role in evolution continue to influence us because they still continue to “work.” The problem is that they conflict with our recently developed, cognitively sophisticated idea of morality.
The value to us of this view of morality as under threat by emotional currents, is that it might incline us to become more aware of when this is happening to us, so that we can at least bring our emotional “reasons” out into the open, which might help us avoid using morality as a 'veneer.'”
The Chinese philosopher is one who dreams with one eye open, who views life with love and sweet irony, who mixes his cynicism with a kindly tolerance, and who alternately wakes up from life's dream and then nods again, feeling more alive when he is dreaming than when he is awake.
Lin Yutang (1895-1976), The Importance of Living