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Morality and the Social Instincts 
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Post Morality and the Social Instincts
As an introduction to Primates and Philosophers, people may wish to read de Waal’s Tanner Lecture

Morality and the Social Instincts: Continuity with the Other Primates
FRANS B. M. DE WAAL
The Tanner Lectures on Human Values
Delivered at Princeton University November 19–20, 2003


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Abstract: The Homo homini lupus view of our species is recognizable in an influential school of biology, founded by Thomas Henry Huxley, which holds that we are born nasty and selfish. According to this school, it is only with the greatest effort that we can hope to become moral. This view of human nature is discussed here as “Veneer Theory,” meaning that it sees morality as a thin layer barely disguising less noble tendencies. Veneer Theory is contrasted with the idea of Charles Darwin that morality is a natural outgrowth of the social instincts, hence continuous with the sociality of other animals. Veneer Theory is criticized at two levels. First, it suffers from major unanswered theoretical questions. If true, we would need to explain why humans, and humans alone, have broken with their own biology, how such a feat is at all possible, and what motivates humans all over the world to do so. The Darwinian view, in contrast, has seen a steady stream of theoretical advances since the 1960s, developed out of the theories of kin selection and reciprocal altruism, but now reaching into fairness principles, reputation building, and punishment strategies. Second, Veneer Theory remains unsupported by empirical evidence. Given that it views morality as a recent addition to human behavior, it would predict that morality resides entirely in the newest parts of our enlarged brain and leads to behavior that deviates from anything other animals do. Modern neuroscience, however, has demonstrated that ethical dilemmas activate ancient emotional centers in the brain that originated long before our species. Moreover, studies of nonhuman primates hint at continuity in many areas considered relevant for an evolved morality. Human moral decisions often stem from emotionally driven “gut” reactions, some of which we share with our closest relatives. These animals may not be moral beings, but they do show signs of empathy, reciprocity, a sense of fairness, and social regularities that—like the norms and rules governing human moral conduct—promote a mutually satisfactory modus vivendi. [



Sun May 03, 2009 9:26 pm
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Yes. A version of it is the first piece after the introduction in Primates and Philosophers so it will be of interest to those of you who don't yet have your books but want to get started.


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Sun May 03, 2009 9:36 pm
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