cover image Good Natured

Good Natured

F. B. M. De Waal, Frans de Waal, Waal De. Harvard University Press, $24.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-674-35660-3

Is morality a biological or cultural phenomenon? Can nonhuman animals be humane? Primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) explores these questions in a provocative book and makes a strong case for biology. He is convinced that social tendencies come into existence via a genetic calculus rather than rational choice. He defends anthropomorphism, noting that it serves the same exploratory function as intuition in the sciences. He discusses aggression and altruism and offers abundant anecdotal evidence of moral behavior among primates and other animals--food sharing, protection, sympathy, guilt. De Waal argues that the remarkable trainability among certain species, e.g., sheepdogs and elephants, hints at a rule-based order among them. He takes issue with the animal rights movement; rights, he says, are normally accompanied by responsibilities, which cannot possibly apply to apes and other animals. Readers who enjoyed Why Elephants Weep (Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy) will welcome this volume. Illustrations. (Mar.)