Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals

Marc Bekoff, one of our favorite authors, is coming out with a new book on May 30th, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals.

Scientists have long counseled against interpreting animal behavior in terms of human emotions, warning that such anthropomorphizing limits our ability to understand animals as they really are. Yet what are we to make of a female gorilla in a German zoo who spent days mourning the death of her baby? Or a wild female elephant who cared for a younger one after she was injured by a rambunctious teenage male? Or a rat who refused to push a lever for food when he saw that doing so caused another rat to be shocked? Aren’t these clear signs that animals have recognizable emotions and moral intelligence? With Wild Justice Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce unequivocally answer yes.

Marrying years of behavioral and cognitive research with compelling and moving anecdotes, Bekoff and Pierce reveal that animals exhibit a broad repertoire of moral behaviors, including fairness, empathy, trust, and reciprocity. Underlying these behaviors is a complex and nuanced range of emotions, backed by a high degree of intelligence and surprising behavioral flexibility. Animals, in short, are incredibly adept social beings, relying on rules of conduct to navigate intricate social networks that are essential to their survival. Ultimately, Bekoff and Pierce draw the astonishing conclusion that there is no moral gap between humans and other species: morality is an evolved trait that we unquestionably share with other social mammals.

Sure to be controversial, Wild Justice offers not just cutting-edge science, but a provocative call to rethink our relationship with—and our responsibilities toward—our fellow animals.

Read more commentary here, in the article, Animals can tell right from wrong.

___________________________________________________________________

We have long touted Bekoff’s book, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy — and Why They Matter.

Based on award-winning scientist Marc Bekoff’s years of experience studying patterns of social communication in a wide range of species, this important 2007 publication shows that numerous animals have rich emotional lives. Animal emotions not only teach us about love, empathy, and compassion, argues Bekoff, but they require us to radically rethink our current relationship of domination and abuse of animals.

Bekoff skillfully blends extraordinary stories of animal joy, empathy, grief, embarrassment, anger, and love with the latest scientific research confirming the existence of emotions that common sense and experience with animals have long implied. Bekoff also explores the evolution of emotions and points to new scientific discoveries of brain structures shared by humans and animals that are important in processing emotions. He goes on to emphasize their role in establishing evolutionary continuity among diverse species and presents new findings of non-invasive neurological research and detailed behavioral studies. Filled with Bekoff’s light humor and touching stories, The Emotional Lives of Animals is a clarion call for reassessing both how we view animals and how we treat them.

Any dog owner knows that her own pet has feelings, but what evidence exists beyond the anecdotal, and what does this evidence teach us? Bekoff, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Colorado, pores through decades of animal research—behavioral, neurochemical, psychological and environmental—to answer that question, compelling readers to accept both the existence and significance of animal emotions.

Seated in the most primitive structures of the brain (pleasure receptors, for example, are biologically correlative in all mammals), emotions have a long evolutionary history. Indeed, as vertebrates became more complex, they developed ever more complex emotional and social lives, “setting rules” that permit group living-a far better survival strategy than going solo.

Along the way, Bekoff forces the reader to re-examine the nature of human beings; our species could not have persevered through the past 100,000 years without the evolution of strong and cohesive social relationships cemented with emotions, a conclusion contrary to contemporary pop sociology notions that prioritize individualism and competition. He also explores, painfully but honestly, the abuse animals regularly withstand in factory farms, research centers and elsewhere, and calls on fellow scientists to practice their discipline with “heart.” Demonstrating the far-reaching implications for readers’ relationships with any number of living beings, Bekoff’s book is profound, thought-provoking and even touching.

For several years ethologist and author Bekoff (Minding Animals 2002; Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, 2005) studied communication in wild and domestic animals and gradually became convinced that humans are not the only animals that experience emotions. Here, Bekoff examines the concept of emotion in the lives of non-humans, the evolutionary advantages of emotions, and the neurological basis for emotions. The final sections focus on how to conduct scientifically rigorous research while addressing scientific rigidity on the subject of animal emotions, and the ethics of how we live our lives with animals. A readable book equally charming and challenging.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s