Two articles about animal morality

Re the most recent discussion about whether the rudiments of morality may be found in our relatives, an alert reader has called my attention to two articles in today’s (UK) Telegraph, here and here, that briefly describe Frans de Waal’s work on chimps and monkeys, indicating that they show the building blocks of morality. I am really not an expert on this topic, but it seems to have arisen spontaneously. From the first article:

Although morality has always been viewed as a human trait that sets us apart from the animals, it now appears our closest ancestors share the same scruples.

Scientists have that discovered monkeys and apes can make judgements about fairness, offer sympathy and help and remember obligations.

Researchers say the findings may demonstrate morality developed through evolution, a view that is likely to antagonise the devoutly religious, who see it as God-given.

Professor Frans de Waal, who led the study at Emory University in Georgia, US, said: “I am not arguing that non-human primates are moral beings but there is enough evidence for the following of social rules to agree that some of the stepping stones towards human morality can be found in other animals.”


  1. Mark
    Posted February 17, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    What’s your take on the ‘10,000 year explosion’ by Cochran and Harpending? aldaily dot com is featuring two articles on the book today.

  2. Posted February 17, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I love animals. Great blog and hope to have some time soon to come back and read more!

  3. R Hampton
    Posted February 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Man the Hunted: The Origin and Nature of Human Sociality, Altruism and Well-Being
    March 12-14
    Washington University, St. Louis

    The conference will be the first of its kind to include academics from around the world and across multiple disciplines — anthropology, psychiatry, human evolution, biology, religion, education and medicine — to focus on the evolution of cooperation, altruism and sociality and possible factors that led to the evolution of these characteristics in primates and humans.

    Evolutionary biologists, primatologists, anthropologists and other social scientists have found data on seemingly altruistic behavior in many animal species, as well as in human societies, that do not conform with models of kin selection and altruism based solely on competition and the evolutionary drive to pass on selfish genes.

  4. BicycleRepairMan
    Posted February 18, 2009 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    This blog is cool, I hope you keep up the frequent updates, I’m surely getting WEIT soon, but I’m sort of short on cash, and I’ve got tons of books to get through. I loved Dawkins review of it.

  5. miko
    Posted February 18, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Animals clearly engage in behavior that “looks” altruistic or moral… beyond self-reporting (which is perhaps delusional post hoc rationalization) is there any better evidence for humans?

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