Morality in Animals

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For many years, people assumed that humans are significantly different from other species, which made them somewhat superior. However, research on animal behavior, especially our closest relatives, the apes has led to new discoveries that show many similarities between human and animals. Some of these similarities have questioned the uniqueness of humans and have led to debates not only among scientists but in the public as well. Frans de Waal, a renowned primatologist and the author of The Ape and the Sushi Master, is among the scientists that claim animals and humans are quite similar. The main focus of his book is to show that culture is not exclusive to humans. De Waal was not the first scientist to propose the theory that animals have culture nonetheless; it was received with a lot of enmity. He attributes this to the fear of losing the qualities that make humans special. Claims of language in apes became so threating that animal research was almost banned. According to de Waal, “attempts of censorship do reveal just how much insecurity surrounds human uniqueness”. (32) In an attempt to support his argument, he addresses the controversial issue of morality in animals. Morality is considered a cultural aspect and therefore people often use cultural biases in decision making. Dan Kahan, a psychologist, referred to this as cultural cognition, which “refers to the tendency of individuals to conform their beliefs about disputed matters of fact to values that define their cultural identities”. Subsequently, theories on morality depend on the perspective of the scientists who carry out the research. De Waal supports his theory by analyzing aspects of morality in humans and comparing them to animal behavior.
In a talk video on TED...

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...that human morals are a result of evolutionary tendencies. Based on his study in animal behavior, chimpanzees and bonobos in particular, he records evidence of moral behavior in chimpanzees. A significant point that de Waal makes if that animals have not developed to morality to the level exhibited in humans. They do however exhibit behaviors that make up the roots of morality. “Are animals moral? Let us simply say they occupy several floors of the tower of morality” (181). On the contrary, scientists against morality in animals argue that the alleged moral behaviors in animals are due to anthropomorphism and that morality results from religion. The question of morality in animals will most likely remain a complex and controversial question even with increase in research. This is because the argument is based on perspective which is influenced by cultural biases.
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