In a recent New York Times article, it was argued that advanced primates are moral beings with identifiable values sets.
They make informed choices that bear on “doing the right thing” for the community and not only the self.
Is it scientifically provable that morality is not a possibility but a genetic mandate for survival?
It is humanly probable that our primate ancestors provided us clues in our shared, genetic, code not to harm each other and to instead negotiate and socialize and to get along without killing?
Is it our ape-like morality that allowed us to become upright and upstanding and evolved, cogent, beings with empathy as well as morality?
The Times article argued:
Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.
In his recent book, Primates and Philosophers, Dr. Frans de Waal creates a fascinating argument that it was primate emotion that evolved into human morality and it was that process of caring for each other that allowed us to become human beings and not just beings that tested “survival of the fittest.”
Dr. de Waal goes on to provide research analysis of what I call “values-centric morality in action” in primates.
- Living together requires empathy and the reconciliation of fights. If two male chimpanzees fight, but do not make up, the females will intervene and press each male together to “make up” and cut the tension in the group.
- If the females in the group sense tension brewing, they will seek out the troublemaker males and reprimand them and even go as far as removing weapons like sticks and rocks from their hands.
- Rhesus monkeys “know their place” in society and if they misbehave, they understand the social punishment is the biting off of a finger or toe.
- The idea of “doing unto others” is evident in chimpanzee groups and they remember who was kind to them and who was not and will share food with those who groomed them in the past.
- Capuchin monkeys will get upset if they sense unfairness in the community if, after performing the same task, one monkey is provided a lesser reward than another.
Are these examples the building blocks of humanity or are these just chance happenings that can be excused by animalistic behavior and interaction for survival in the community? Dr. de Waal writes primates regularly demonstrate the four core values of any civilized society:
Reciprocity, Peacemaking, Empathy and Setting Rules With Punishments.
Two things that primates lack — but that humans have developed beyond that core four rules of interaction — are sophisticated ideas of justice and reason. Religion, Dr. de Waal claims, erupted out of morality — not the other way around
— and that religion is a human invention to provide context and perspective with storytelling and homilies: Religion has no evolutionary seed in the moral, values-centric, lives of primates.
Do all animals have morality and a system of genetic values or is that interaction limited to advanced primates?