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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, philosophy and health care

Monday, October 13, 2014

Frans de Waal’s “The Bonobo and the Atheist”

By John Archibald Wheerler
Helian Unbound
Originally posted October 12, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

In theory, de Waal is certainly a subjective moralist.  As he puts it, “the whole point of my book is to argue a bottom up approach” to morality, as opposed to the top down approach:  “The view of morality as a set of immutable principles, or laws, that are ours to discover.”  The “bottom” de Waal refers to are evolved emotional traits.  In his words:
The moral law is not imposed from above or derived from well-reasoned principles; rather, it arises from ingrained values that have been there since the beginning of time.
and
My views are in line with the way we know the human mind works, with visceral reactions arriving before rationalizations, and also with the way evolution produces behavior.  A good place to start is with an acknowledgment of our background as social animals, and how this background predisposes us to treat each other.  This approach deserves attention at a time in which even avowed atheists are unable to wean themselves from a semireligious morality, thinking that the world would be a better place if only a white-coated priesthood could take over from the frocked one. 
So far, so good.  I happen to be a subjective moralist myself, and agree with de Waal on the origins of morality.  However, reading on, we find confirmation of a prediction made long ago by Friedrich Nietzsche.  In Human, All Too Human, he noted the powerful human attachment to religion and the “metaphysics” of the old philosophers.  He likened the expansion of human knowledge to a ladder, or tree, up which humanity was gradually climbing.  As we reached the top rungs, however, we would begin to notice that the old beliefs that had supplied us with such great emotional satisfaction in the past were really illusions.

The entire blog post is here.