Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 611–618 | Cite as

Primates, philosophers and the biological basis of morality: a review of primates and philosophers by Frans De Waal, Princeton University Press, 2006, 200 pp

  • Massimo PigliucciEmail author


Philosophical inquiries into morality are as old as philosophy, but it may turn out that morality itself is much, much older than that. At least, that is the main thesis of primatologist Frans De Waal, who in this short book based on his Tanner Lectures at Princeton, elaborates on what biologists have been hinting at since Darwin’s (1871) book The Descent of Man and Hamilton’s (1963) studies on the evolution of altruism: morality is yet another allegedly human characteristic that turns out to be built over evolutionary time by natural selection.

This sort of intellectual project has historically generated tension between “the two cultures” (Snow 1959), and just a few years ago E. O. Wilson (1998) was predicting an eventual reduction of all humanities to biology by a continuing expansion of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. It is interesting, therefore, to find in De Waal’s book a clear willingness toward dialog, both on the part of the scientist and by the four...


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Ecology and Evolution and of PhilosophyStony Brook UniversityNew YorkUSA

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