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The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology Paperback – Aug 29 1995


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The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology + The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (Aug. 29 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679763996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679763994
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 454 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #62,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

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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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Russell Sturmey on Jan. 18 2004
Format: Paperback
One of the best books written on Darwinism in recent years. Although not as ground breaking as when it was originally published, it is still a very good summary of current research.
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.
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By Avid Reader on Jan. 13 2004
Format: Paperback
Robert Wright is an exponent of the "evolutionary psychology" movement - that is, the notion that our civilization and its institutions, manners, laws, customs and religions are all a part of the evolutionary process. We are the sum of our genes but we are much more than that - the moral animal. We worry about what others think about us, about what we do, about right and wrong and evil and love and good and bad.
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.
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Format: Paperback
The Moral Animal was recommended to me for several years by an ex-roommate and I finally relented and picked it up. The book was worth the time, at least the first half of it or so. Wright has that pleasant and tone of a TNR writer/editor - the patient, polite moderate idealogue. Here we have what appears to be a pretty solid introduction to the thinking process of an evolutionary psychologist. Much of the 'insights' are intuitive, but of course it is the counterintuitive findings that are most interesting.
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.
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By Steve C on Oct. 16 2002
Format: Paperback
Great great great book. If you read one book on evolutionary psychology, this should be it (it was a page-turner for me - high compliment for a science book).
After reading this, and not having been exposed to the Skinner mind-as-blank-slate theory that apparently pervades psychology and anthropology, it's interesting to see the religious war going on and hard to figure out what the fuss is all about.
After all, doesn't it seem strange that evolution would act on every other part of the body, except one organ (the brain)? Some blank-slaters (see Marilynne Robinson's attack on Sociobiology in The Death of Adam - almost as ignorant and intellectually dishonest as her chapter on economics) hold on to their beliefs out of the fear that admitting and evolutionary basis for something like rape means endorsing it or removing moral responsibility for the act.
Where are they getting this? These are only vague statistical tendencies that in the modern world are mitigated by strong cultural rules and ethics - and reinforced by built-in brain functions like prudence. Why not just appreciate the facts for what they are, and maybe they can lend some insight into certain areas of modern human behavior?
Other reviewers gave good summaries. I'd just like to point out that one very effective way of finding new, well-written, and eye-opening scientific literature: check Amazon review pages for one-star fundamentalist christian attacks (and we all know that the most they read is the first 5 pages of the book in question). Add up how many attacks there are, compare to other book pages, and you have a rough guide to what to read next. Works for me!
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