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Primate Virtues: A Cross-species Study of Morality

analytical Essay
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4368 words
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Primate Virtues: A Cross-species Study of Morality

In his 1881 book, Daybreak, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote,

We do not regard the animals as moral beings. But do you suppose the animals regard us as moral beings? –An animal which could speak said, ‘Humanity is a prejudice of which we animals at least are free’.[1]

This passage expresses Nietzsche’s belief that animals do not judge human actions as morally good or bad. Only humans think in moral terms, Nietzsche believes –a prejudice of which “animals at least are free”. That is, animals do not believe in morality; and modern philosophers, as well as behavioral biologists, would have to agree. Nobody suspects their dog of trying to maximize utility, follow categorical imperatives, or do penance for his sins. Moral agency is uniquely human in this respect; only we maintain that our actions have some greater—moral—significance.

Ethical theories try to provide us with a coherent and rational account of precisely this moral aspect of human thought and action. But no matter how coherent and rational a given moral system may be, if it becomes too detached from our regular deliberations and actions, we do not consider it a correct account of our normal moral reasoning. But what exactly constitutes this “normal moral reasoning” that humans allegedly possess?

In this paper, I argue that human “moral reasoning” is actually a normal biological phenomenon that we share with the rest of the animal community, most noticeably with our closest primate relatives. I demonstrate this by using the standards provided by a normative moral theory to evaluate the actions of one of our animal relatives –Pan Troglodytes, or the African chimpanzee, illustrating the fact that these ...

... middle of paper ...

.... Cambridge,

Massachusetts, and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

1986. (p. 378).

[7] Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. David Ross. Revised by J. L. Ackrill

and J.O. Urmson. Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press. (p. 64).

[8] Ibid. p. 70.

[9] Ibid. p. 69.

[10] Ibid. p. 35.

[11] See Pears, David. “Aristotle’s Analysis of Courage”. Midwest Studies in

Philosophy 3: 273-285. 1978.

[12] See “Modern Moral Philosophy”, esp. p. 354.

[13] Mackie, John. “A Refutation of Morals”. In 20th Century Ethical Theory. Ed.

Steven M. Cahn and Joram G. Haber. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1946.

[14] See Regal, Philip J. The Anatomy of Judgment. Minneapolis: University of

Minnesota Press. 1990.

[15] “A Refutation of Morals”, p. 146.

[16] Ibid. p. 146.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how aristotle uncovers the proper motives for action by noting those that are improper.
  • Explains that an act cannot be considered courageous if it is performed simply because the agent is ignorant of the dangers involved. this is not the case with washoe who is a fully competent chimpanzee.
  • Argues that the proper motive for acting courageously is for the sake of an honorable goal, which promotes and maintains the good life.
  • Describes fouts, roger, and stephan tukel mills. next of kin.
  • Argues that human moral reasoning is a normal biological phenomenon that we share with the rest of the animal community, most noticeably with our closest primate relatives.
  • Argues that even though chimpanzees are not considered moral agents like ourselves, there are times when they must be identified as moral in accordance with our own standards.
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