Philosophy > Morality > Speciesism
The Animal Roots of Human Morality

14 October 2006
Frans de Waal
Magazine issue 2573
We insist that morality is something uniquely human that goes against our nasty, natural instincts. Yet many animals also have an inbuilt sense of fair play and can show compassion to others in their group, argues Frans de Waal

IMMANUEL KANT saw about as little value in human kindness as US vice-president Dick Cheney does in energy conservation. Cheney mocks conservation as "a sign of personal virtue" that will fail to do the world much good; Kant, while not denying that compassion is "beautiful", declared it irrelevant to a virtuous life. Who needs tender feelings? Duty is all that matters.

We live in an age that celebrates the cerebral. Strangely enough, this also applies to my field of study, animal behaviour, where just a couple of decades ago, the words "animal" and "cognition" couldn't be mentioned in the same sentence. With this fight behind us - at least on most days - emotions have become the new taboo. Anyone suggesting that a dog can be "jealous", "loving" or "mean" had better watch out: this kind of language doesn't belong in science.

This is unfortunate, because emotions nudge an organism ...

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