Morality In Animals Essay

1234 words - 5 pages

For many years, people assumed that humans are significantly different from other species, which made them somewhat superior. However, research on animal behavior, especially our closest relatives, the apes has led to new discoveries that show many similarities between human and animals. Some of these similarities have questioned the uniqueness of humans and have led to debates not only among scientists but in the public as well. Frans de Waal, a renowned primatologist and the author of The Ape and the Sushi Master, is among the scientists that claim animals and humans are quite similar. The main focus of his book is to show that culture is not exclusive to humans. De Waal was not the first ...view middle of the document...

These pillars are reciprocity, which relates to fairness and empathy, which relates to compassion. After studying primates, he was able to observe behaviors that indicate empathy, reaction to unfairness, sharing, punishing, encouraging and mutual cooperation which all represent moral behavior. For example, he observed chimpanzees and bonobos reconcile after a fight. Chimpanzees reconcile through grooming each other while bonobos reconcile through sexual activities. This reconciliation after a fight symbolizes empathy in the apes. He also observed cooperation and encouragement between two chimpanzees even when there is no immediate reward available. Moreover, an experiment carried out between two chimpanzees also showed that the chimpanzees cared for the welfare of other. While de Waal views these actions as moral behave, some scientists argue that primate research is based on anthropomorphism. They argue that we anthropomorphize in scientific research, that is, we “project thoughts and feelings onto animals, making them more humanlike than they are” (35). Ultimately, this makes us see what we want to see and interpret behaviors based on human characteristics. De Waal responds to this by claiming that anthropomorphism cannot be avoided and that it acts as a good starting point when studying animal behavior. In the book Anthropomorphism, Anecdotes, and Animals, the authors mention that “we cannot assume that anthropomorphism carries exactly the same connotations at all times or for all scientists” (23). Moreover, “anthropomorphism rests largely on cultural biases and certain linguistic terms” (23). Therefore scientists who study animal behavior using an anthropomorphic lens are subject to cultural cognition.
Another aspect he explores is the origin of morality through reflecting on the reasons why humans are good. Referencing the philosopher and sociologist Edward Westermarck, de Waal argues that morality develops naturally in humans and is part of the evolutionary process. Morality just like any other trait is adaptive and has a positive effect on survival and reproduction. For this reason, morality cannot be credit solely to humans; Animals are also able to acquire moral behavior through the evolutionary process. On the contrary, Sigmund Freud, a neurologist and Claude Levi-Strauss, an ethnologist argued that humans have to be taught how to be moral, influenced by Thomas Huxley and Thomas Hobbes. De Waal contends that both Huxley and Hobbes “Preached that the original state of human kind, and of nature in general, is one in which selfish goals are pursued without regards for other” (339), implying that humans cannot be naturally moral. The incest taboo was the moral behavior that was used to test the two claims. Westermarck argued that individuals who grow up together develop a sexual aversion for each other which kills...

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