Morality Before Religion: Empathy, Reciprocity, and Fairness in our Fellow Primates


Location: McKenna Hall Auditorium

Frans B. M. de Waal, Ph.D.; C.H Candler Professor of Psychology, Emory University; director, Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Atlanta, GA Homo homini lupus (“man is wolf to man”) is an old Roman proverb popularized by Thomas Hobbes. Even though it permeates large parts of law, economics, and political science, the proverb fails to do justice to our species’ thoroughly social nature as well as to canids, which are among the most gregarious and cooperative animals. For the past quarter century, this cynical view has also been promoted by an influential school of biology, followers of Thomas Henry Huxley, which holds that we are born nasty as a result of “selfish” genes. Accordingly, it is only with the greatest possible effort that we can hope to become moral beings. Charles Darwin, however, saw things differently: he believed in continuity between animal social instincts and human morality. He wrote an entire book about _The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals_. Modern psychology and neuroscience support Darwin’s view about the moral emotions. Human moral decisions often stem from “gut” reactions, some of which we share with other animals. Other primates show signs of empathy, prosocial tendencies, reciprocity, and a sense of fairness that promote a mutually satisfactory modus vivendi. De Waal will elaborate on the connection between morality and primate behavior as well as review evidence for continuity to support the view that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity. His recent books include _The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society_ (Harmony Books, 2009), and _Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved_ (Princeton University Press, 2006).

A reception will follow the lecture. This event is free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts’ Henkels Lecturer Series and the Office of the Provost