The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology Paperback – Aug 29 1995
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An accessible introduction to the science of evolutionary psychology and how it explains many aspects of human nature. Unlike many books on the topic,which focus on abstractions like kin selection, this book focuses on Darwinian explanations of why we are the way we are--emotionally and morally. Wright deals particularly well with explaining the reasons for the stereotypical dynamics of the three big "S's:" sex, siblings, and society.
From Publishers Weekly
New Republic senior editor Wright's account of the latest trends in Darwinian theory unravels the evolutionary logic behind subjects ranging from friendship and romance to xenophobia and sibling rivalry.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book provides great insight into the human brain and sheds light on why we behave the way we do. Although some may view the first section as sexist, you need to leave your prejudices at the door. There are some unpleasant ideas presented, and although they may, at first, rub you the wrong way, upon contemplation they make a lot of sense.
The first three sections (Sex, Romance & Love; Social Cement; Social Strife) are all well written and it is interesting how the author returns to the personal life of Charles Darwin to explain the main ideas and to put them into context.
The fourth and final section (Morals of the Story) is where the book loses steam. It becomes more abstract and it seems that authour, at times, is stretching to make his point. He may be correct in some of his ideas, but I found the final section more philosophical and preachy than the previous sections which relied more on science.
A great book that thouroughly deserves a 5-star rating. A must for your science library.
Unfortunately, Wright understates free will, trying hard to make evolutionary psychology compatible with conservative victorian morality. Too bad, because many objections to sociobiological studies could have been avoided by stating more clearly how such studies can actually stimulate progessive innovation.
What I mean is that genetic psychology is often misused to perpetuate conservative behaviour, such as: "men are naturally antagonistic, then it's only natural for each of us to wear our life off trying to become an overworked chairman; women are born to procreate, so they should stay home and raise ten kids", and so on. I would like to stress an opposite view. Much of our behaviour relies on conscious choice, which, however, requires investment, so that we settle for instinct whenever this is not proven to be wrong. Sociobiology clarifies the origins of our instincts, which rely on evolution in a past environment. An environment often found to be obsolete. Once we realize this, we understand that we should fight our natural inertia and opt for voluntary behaviour based on reason.
In this sense, I would say that sociobiology helps us to overcome, rather than celebrate, our natural instincts.
Wilson has made similar arguments in his excellent works and this book is a supporting cast member in the long drama of evolutionary science. The book is not technical but it is extremely interesting - discussing such concepts as male, female, sex, family, groups, altruism - all with a focused eye and calm, measured vocabulary. He looks at our reasons for doing what we do, why we like certain people and more importantly, why we dislike others and live life as we do.
One problem common to many books of this type is the almost worshipful homage to Darwin. His thoughts on many subjects are treated as Scripture at times and his life is studied for what he offers in other realms besides natural selection. While Darwin may have brought about a synthesis of scientific thought at the time, it is fair to say that technically he was surpassed long ago. In the end, this is a book about the qualities that make us human and different than other animals on Earth.
It is amusing that (as per usual) several reviewers misinterpreted (or underintepreted) Wright's personal leanings on the politics of his subject matter. This book, after all, was focused on how evolution has shaped the way we think and how we define right and wrong (and why). One of the central points is that derivation of a moral code from nature is fallacious. For some reason, several readers assumed that since Wright (in an attempt to humor the conservative readership of the book) makes interesting commentary concerning the logic of Victorian morality, that he is an adherent of that belief system. This is, of course, ludicrous.
If anything, Wright sometimes crosses the line of permissible subjectivity by over-promoting his fetish for utilitarianism (fyi, a Victorian moralist would hardly gush about a Peter Singer). It is perfectly fine to tie this perfectly reasonable system of thought into his discussion, but by the end of the book, Wright's text is bordering on preachy piousness. Furthermore, his decision to exploit Darwin's life as the ultimate experimental subject of his own science in the lab of history reveals much more about how Wright thinks than it does about Darwin. Appropriately, though, Wright employs tempting speculation in a speculative discipline.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
For most of my life, I've been trying to understand the reasons behind why we animials behave the way we do.
This book has changed my life. Read more
The author chooses Darwin to serve as an illustration of the principles of evolutionary psychology, developing a compelling biographical narrative and thereby broadening the appeal... Read morePublished on Dec 29 2003 by Jennifer Gage
Start here for a great introduction to our behavioral evolution. Well written and interesting, this book gives new insights into why we do what we do and how we got here. Read morePublished on Nov. 26 2003 by Colleen
This book has a lot in common with many Stephen King novels: it starts off intriguing, becomes more and more engrossing, and then concludes with some improbable and disappointing... Read morePublished on Aug. 29 2003 by Dee
The perfect introduction to evolutionary psychology. Follows sound logic and the writing flows smoothly from section to section. Read morePublished on June 17 2003 by Andrew R. Rowe
I read Robert Wright's "Nonzero" which I found to be more interesting--though it looks like most reviewers experienced the inverse. Read morePublished on May 29 2003 by Emlyn Addison