Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dale Peterson's "The Moral Lives of Animals"

I quite enjoyed this book. The author has an excellent style and peppers his points with interesting commentary and results from scientific research.

His purpose in writing this book is to get us to recognize our in-built prejudice, what he calls Darwinian narcissism, our view that nature is out there for us to exploit. Also, he wants us to understand our deep evolutionary connection with the rest of life and, in particular, with animals that share similar brain structures. He argues for not just similar emotions and thoughts across species lines, but an incipient morality shared by us and animals. I love the bits about altruism.

He is not one of these authors with a soapbox and the accusatory rant of a preacher. He isn't beating the reader about the head with some "revelation" he has about the place of animals in the world. His style is more lyrical and seductive. He wins the reader over by laying out a feast of story, anecdote, scientific research, and personal experience. This is like sitting with a friend on the front porch and sharing insights and experience. It is very pleasant.

I love the bit where he argues that morality has two sides: rules and empathy. I enjoy his honesty in pointing out that men and women share an understanding of both sides to morality but that there is a deep divide between them. Men go off the deep end with their rules and their Bible-thumping, verse citing, hard legal case arguing. Women go off the deep end with their sympathetic relationships and understanding of the need for special pleading for each instance. I really like the fact that he points out that morality is a crazy mix of rules and empathy and he doesn't get boxed in by trying to spell out in some absolutist sense exactly which of what makes up morality. Instead he paints pictures and opens your eyes and gets you to wondering.

I do recommend this book.

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