Cover: Good Natured in PAPERBACK

Good Natured

The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals

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Product Details


$31.00 • £24.95 • €28.00

ISBN 9780674356610

Publication Date: 10/15/1997


368 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

78 halftones, 13 line illustrations


Evolutionary continuities have been sought in intelligence, language, tool making—anywhere but in morality. Now a respected ethologist, Frans de Waal, tackles the problem from a novel angle… Good Natured is no touchy-feely celebration of animal innocence, but a hardheaded study by a specialist in primate behavior with a wealth of observational experience. Mr. de Waal, a research scientist at the Yerkes Regional Primate Center at Emory University, presents his rich data in an accessible prose lit with flashes of wry humor and beautifully illustrated with his own vivid photographs… Far from being half ape, half angel, torn between a moral sense that strives upward and an eons-old bestial viciousness that drags us down, [we are portrayed by de Waal as] inheritors of a basically moral view of life that has evolved over countless millenniums—not through some fictitious social contract between self-sufficient individuals, but through the inevitable give-and-take of communal living… Anyone who cares about humans or their future will profit from this excellent book, which sheds at least as much light on our own lives as it does on those of other creatures.—Derek Bickerton, The New York Times Book Review

[A] well-written, provocative book.—Charles T. Snowdon, Science

Modern Darwinian evolutionary theory is based on individual reproduction, on ‘selfish’ genes that have been selected at the expense of others that might act for the greater good. How then could survival of the fittest lead to empathy?… This profound paradox has led some scholars in the past to assume that the emergence of morals must be a transcendent process beyond the bounds of scientific explanation. Frans de Waal, one of the world’s best-known primatologists, has set out to prove that assumption wrong. On the final page of his startling new book, he asserts that ‘we seem to be reaching a point at which science can wrest morality from the hands of philosophers.’ How the author…came to this conclusion makes for compelling reading.—William C. McGrew, Scientific American

So lucid is de Waal’s manner of setting things forth that each time he finishes drawing an aspect of animal morality, your first response is to wonder why you hadn’t noticed it around the house, if not at a primate research center, a remote island, or the zoo… [His] startling contributions to the way the general reader, or general citizen, has of thinking seriously about ‘humans and other animals’ might be permanent.—Vicki Hearne, The Village Voice Literary Supplement

De Waal [questions]…whether the roots of human morality can be found in the behaviour of other species. He is more or less ideally placed to answer that question, after years of perceptive research on captive chimpanzees, bonobos and monkeys… As de Waal fans will already know, chimpanzees and other primates come alive as individuals under his expert gaze… Sympathy, attachment, social norms, punishment, a sense of justice, reciprocation, peacemaking and community concern—all are writ large in chimpanzee society. Good Natured makes the point with the help of a profusion of gripping examples.—Stephen Young, BBC Wildlife

As a book of ideas…this is excellent and on the whole I am inclined to believe de Waal’s case for the antecedents of our own morality in other species. Perhaps most interestingly, however, is that the domain hitherto of philosophers is now being contested by evolutionary biologists. Not only does this tighten up the terms of the debate (as did ape language research for linguistics), but ironically it injects a special kind of humanism that recognises the origins of our moral failings as well as our successes.—Thomas Sambrook, The Times Higher Education Supplement

In [this] original and engaging new book…de Waal makes a strong case that the four ingredients of morality—empathy/sympathy, sharing or reciprocity, justice/rules and peacemaking/reconciliation—are very much evident in other mammals… The book employs a solid core of statistical evidence to bolster his case, but what makes his argument so compelling is the richness of detail… De Waal is an original thinker and writes with such a light hand that the reader can take a stimulating ride through his imaginative philosophical discourse… This work is…penetrating and profound.—Vicki Croke, The Boston Globe

A sparkling master work… de Waal…is perhaps the most literate, entertaining, and soulful of the cognitive ethologists… In Good Natured, [he] takes his humanizing project a step further, employing the rich lexicon of human moral concepts as figures of speech to depict and lend meaning to the behavior of nonhuman animals… [A] provocative, endearing, and brilliantly written book.—Richard A. Shweder, The Los Angeles Times

[Good Natured] is a tour de force and a landmark in the growing field of cognitive ethology… [It] is an example of the very best in popular science writing. De Waal skilfully weaves together anecdotes, theories and data to create a text that is thought-provoking and a pleasure to read.—Gail Vines, New Scientist

A large and entertaining collection of anecdotes about animal behaviour. These are used to bolster the proposition that mental processes governing complex forms of human behaviour, such as sympathy and empathy with others, must have their homologues in the animal kingdom… [This book] is extremely well written and very entertaining.—Alan Dixson, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

Awards & Accolades

  • A Library Journal Best Science & Technology Book of 1996
Capitalism and Its Discontents [picture of the ruins of a house]