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Moral Lives Of Animals, The Hardcover – Mar 1 2011

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Indispensable book March 21 2011
By May Welland - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In this lively, engaging, beautifully-written book, Dale Peterson makes a remarkable argument, using Melville's MOBY-DICK as a framework for thinking about animal behavior. Melville was unusual among nineteenth-century writers in saying that the whale in his book had malevolence, that he smashed the ship because he chose to end the battle with human hunters. In saying this, Peterson points out, Melville was suggesting that an animal could be responsible, could act from a decision, not "blind instinct." When you can acknowledge this possibility in an animal--and who hasn't observed a dog choose one person over another, growl at one and greet another affectionately--then you're recognizing that moral behavior involves choices and that intelligent animals can make them. I find this a fascinating idea, not least because I have always thought MOBY-DICK offered an amazing view of the inner lives of magnificent animals. But more than that, Peterson points out the ways animals constantly advertise a wide range of sophisticated behaviors--and we persist in calling them "blind instinct." The splendid payoff of his book is that he shows how liberating it can be to see the continuities between nonhuman animals and ourselves--that doing so makes us better humans and better animals too. The book shows the joy of thinking across species lines, of seeing the kinship between all species. We don't have to fall back on our own "blind instinct," which is to consider ourselves superior. We can be as generous and compassionate as the animals are.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Enlightens Animal Behavior, but Disturbing March 15 2011
By Holly Weiss - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Do animals make moral choices that favor their own interests or the interests of others?

Dale Peterson is the author of the award-winning Jane Goodall: the Woman Who Redefined Man, and is a lecturer in English at Tufts University. In the Acknowledgements of The Moral Lives of Animals, Peterson states that the idea for this book originated after a heated debate at a dinner party.

In this era of sensitivity to animal rights, it is imperative that a book has been written arguing that animals have moral codes and intellectual capacities greater than previously thought. Wide in scope, The Moral Lives of Animals is chock full of references to scientific studies, personal travels to study animal behavior, philosophy and literature. Perceptions of whether animals think or feel pain the same as humans are examined thoroughly. The book is intellectual and esoteric.

The Table of Contents contains no specific references to animals, but asks questions regarding morality applicable to humans as well.

* Where Does Morality Come From?
* What Is Morality?
* Where Is Morality Going?

Peterson states that animals have moral systems derived from a common origin to that of humans. Inherent in those systems are the ideas of conflict and choice.

His writing seems disorienting. The author is obviously well-versed in his subject, but becomes lost in the quagmire of "making his point." He sets forth the structure of the book clearly at the beginning, but does not adhere to his own organizational system and flows from anecdote into intellectual dissertation. For example, Peterson plunges into an exploration of the medieval concept of "the mind" after stating that "executing an elephant for the crime of murder strikes us today as profoundly irrational."

One wonders why the author used many depictions of animal cruelty to prove his points. Most disturbing to me were the descriptions of experiments where mice were injected with solutions causing pain in order to observe the sympathy of a non-injected partner mouse. How does the moral compass of the humans conducting the experiments compare to their animal subjects?

The Moral Lives of Animals is a heavy read, but is an important contribution to the way we understand and perceive animals. Animal lovers beware. The book is not for the fainthearted.

I thank Bloomsbury Press for supplying an advanced reader copy of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are unbiased and wholly my own.

Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Moral development March 15 2011
By Buddha Baby - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Peterson's book is an elucidating look at moral development, period, whether your interest is in the morals of homo sapiens or of other animals. It is well documented AND readable, showing the reader an evolutionary process involving the brain and moral development. Considering current research about the elasticity of the brain, and ties between body and emotion, this perspective almost seems like simple common sense. Terminology is easily defined for the lay reader, while those of a more scientific bent will not be disappointed with the evidence based theory. If you know theories of moral development and brain development, this will make a lot of sense. If you are not as familiar, you will be before you finish this book. This is probably not light reading for most, but not difficult to follow. I have always held that I learned more from the field of anthropology about human behavior than I did from psychology. Now I'll also say that I learned more about moral development from the field of animal behavior and evolution than I have from human developmentalists or philosophers! In addition to hearing the evidence, you will be entertained by the examples given of specific animal behavior. I've decided after reading this book to come back as a bonobo - a FEMALE bonobo!

This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
earth-shaking, epochal, stupendous Aug. 20 2011
By J. A. Haverstick - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I could write a book about this book. I read Fabre as a child, Lorentz and von Frisch as a young man, Darwin, Wilson, Skinner, Goodal as an adult, Ristau and Griffin recently as a codger. I've always surrounded myself with dogs and cats and anything wounded that showed up and always kept bees. Additionally, I've taught two or three college ethics course most years of my working life.

The first thing Peterson suggests, and it ain't as easily done as said, is to try to think a little outside the human box. Animals aren't incomplete us's, they've got a complete, satisfactory world of their specific, specie-ific own. My guess is that why most oldtime beekeepers like me don't use much protection is we've learned to think like bees....or a least one-zillionth like bees - they really do live in a different world - but even that zillionth is quite helpful!

Another really important point which is emphasized at the book's end is that this whole thing about altruism being a problem is a phony issue. It's a matter of cultural background assumptions, not as Dawkins would have it, a phenomenom to be explained away in the face of the "scientific fact" that all behavior is selfish...whether that selfishness is supposed to come from the simplistic Enlightment psychology of self interest (viz., Adam Smith) or the revelation of the structure of genes (viz, Dawkins or Wilson). Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Because all motivations are BY DEFINITION motivations of some particular person or creature does not imply that all motivations are selfish! I might give somebody a handout BECAUSE I WANT TO HELP HER, not because I somehow am calculating my own advantage or to perpetrate my own genes.

These first two prefatory points may seem trite or obvious, unfortunately they are mostly ignored in the "scientific" discussion of human and animal behavior. Did I say I subscribe to "Science"? I'm not some new age mystic. Without feeling the force of these considerations, understanding Peterson is hopeless. I'm going to continue this review by looking at some detail in the book, but I just had to weigh in with this in the meantime before taking off to work. Read this book with an open mind. Read it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Well-reasoned and forward-thinking Aug. 14 2011
By Jonathan Balcombe - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Dale Peterson has traveled the world and witnessed a broad swath of animal behavior and human-animal relationships. Here he combines his worldly knowledge with his considerable writing skill into a thoughtful exposition of our current understanding of animal and human morality that with inform and sometime provoke readers. Peterson shows that animal goodness goes far beyond what you'll typically see in a nature documentary, and that Richard Dawkins--for all his brilliant contributions to evolutionary thinking--was wrong to have proclaimed that humans were the only species to ever defy the dictates of their selfish genes. Feminists (and their detractors) should also take note of Peterson's prescient notion of the women's effect, which I embrace whole-heartedly. The Moral Lives of Animals should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the human-animal nexus and the inescapably moral world we inhabit.
The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure
Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals
Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good