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Frans De Waal lecture: Morality isn't just a human trait

By Leslie King | Emory Report | April 2, 2013

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Bonobos display consolation behavior, a sign of sensitivity to the emotions of others and the ability to take the perspective of another. Photo courtesy of Zanna Clay.

Primatologist Frans de Waal will discuss "The Bonobo and the Atheist," followed by a book signing and reception, on Wednesday, April 3 at 6:30 p.m. in 208 White Hall.  

"The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates" (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013) is de Waal's latest book. The C.H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory argues that human morality is not imposed from above, but comes from within.

In the book, he argues that evidence of ethical behavior in non-human primates strongly suggests that fairness and empathy are not exclusive to the human species but were conferred by evolution.

De Waal's example is the bonobo, a chimp-like species known for resolving disputes with affection and sex rather than rivalry and discord.  

De Waal is director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.  

His research has shown that animals have many of the features that are generally attributed exclusively to humans, including conflict resolution, cooperation and empathy.  

In this book, he concludes that religion emerged in addition to our natural instincts for empathy and cooperation.

The lecture is part of Emory's Nature of Knowledge Seminar Series and is

sponsored by the Department of Biology, the Office of the President, the Office of Religious Life, the Center for Mind, Brain and Culture, the Center for Ethics, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and the Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution graduate program.