Interesting article! I like how the train example at the top illustrates the principle of double effect, and “dumbfounding” suggests, dare I say, a Natural Law.
But I don’t see how “purity” issues, as described, can be called moral. They seem more like manners. Even Pinker says they don’t enter into moral reasoning.
Very interesting – thanks for the link.
Dr. Haidt’s framework would seem to explain why some Church moral teachings are so unpopular. I’m thinking of things like forbidding the use of artificial birth control; insisting on celibacy among gay persons; and the teaching that valid marriages are for life. If Heidt is right, then we can’t entirely account for popular resistance to these teachings simply by claiming moral laxity or lack of formation. Each of these teachings run counter to specific moral instincts that are ingrained in all humans.
There are other factors at work in human actions besides moral instincts. The sexual drive is certainly a motivation in the issues you mention. Some would say that the sex drive is the strongest motivation we have.
So everyone agrees on the two principles of do no harm and do unto others as you would like done to you. But what I want to know is why very few follow such great mandates. Like animals, humans form groups and learn to get along for practical reasons. The problem seems to be how the group agrees whose head/s to chop off to preserve the group.
We are now 60plus years after the holocaust and genocide is still going on. Because of modern instant communication we are witnesses of current atrocities, including the Iraq war and most treat the subject academically.
There is no good reason to deny that evolution has contributed to shaping our thoughts about morality. Whether there is good evidence for that evolution has done so and that we can specify just how it has done so is another matter that I’m not particularly competent to say anything about. However, there is, I’d be happy to defend, no genuine morality that does not depend in some essential way on freedom, our capacity to choose what we do. There is no good reason nor is there likely to be any good reason to claim that any empirical science can demonstrate that we are free. We have reason to affirm freedom largely on the grounds that without doing so, we cannot make sense of human culture and its history.
Bernard, I for one would be very interested to hear more about why you think that there is freedom. This is a strong claim–coming from a Kant scholar!
Reading about Haidt at once made me think of the law of Moses, and that in turn reminded me that I am going–I tell myself–to read some of Mary Douglas’s books on that subject. It also suggested a point that might appeal to Mark Lilla. The liberal psyche may be quite unnatural and finally do itself in.
Perhaps I should have said “haunt Mark Lilla”.
I’ve just had my posting rejected because I enterred the wrong verification code. Apparently I enterred an O instead of a zero. Let me see whether I now have to rewrite my message. Annoying, but I suppose I should practice “voluntary displacement.”
Again, I’ve had my posting rejected because I chose an O rather than a zero. Can’t we at least avoid this confusiton? Sorry, Kathy. I don’t have time now to reply to you. I’ll try to do so tomorrow.
Grant, what’s the solution?
I have yet to see the 0 for O confusion, but I take your word for it. I wish I could tell you we have a quick fix, but we don’t. At this point, there’s nothing we can do about it, but we are planning to implement new blogging software in the near future. Stay tuned.
Well, I just encountered the 0/O problem. I thought the less round 0/O was a zero, but I was wrong. I’m trying again…
Now I see a O/0 that can only be described as closed parenthesis. I have no idea what that is. I’m guessing zero.
The liberal/conservative speculations in this piece are completely the opposite of another discussion of genes and politics that recently appeared (I think in the NYT) suggesting that the adaptability of liberals to new ideas was part of a brain pattern that should normally indicate survival advantages. The conflict in these positions suggests some real limitations in such analysis.
However, what I find to be quite interesting is the elephant/rider illustration, and the idea that our reflective moral judgments are merely rationalizations of positions already determined by our biological wiring. I think this idea seriously weakens any notion that the human capacity for rational moral judgment is, as such, an indication of human superiority, or of special insight into moral truth. The real problem is that it can be very difficult to spot a rationalization. However, experience tells us that we need rationalizations almost as much as we need nutrition and hydration!
Just to note, I make this point as a professor of religious ethics. While I often find the conclusion that ethicists really should find more productive work to be rather simplistic, I do, every now and then, fear there may be a point in such claims.
Okay, this is obviously absurd. Still, I think we need to leave the image verification in place until at least next week. Perhaps the spambots will be discouraged by then.
Bernard, Grant, thanks for your efforts.
Still, it’s so hard to wait for good reasoning….
I don’t really know what Natural Law means to a Catholic.
In Unitarian-Universalist Sunday School we learned that all the world’s major religions subscribe to some similar moral precepts (like the Golden Rule), and that there were some manifestly immoral actions, like shooting the neighbor because his dog won’t shut up.
Maybe someone can clarify whether this is the same as Natural Law. In a short paragraph that rates no higher than 10 on the Gunning-Fog index.
The article about Haidt and his research reminded me of a question I’ve wrestled with since our RCIA inquirer days: If you lived in a country where Christianity was a minority religion–or even outlawed–would you still seek conversion?
It’s an unanswerable question, of course, but one that forces you to examine your moral compass. If you don’t grow up Catholic, then what are you doing here? Why here? Why now?
And I think the answer is more complex than that “It’s the one true religion.” Has to do with any number of spiritual, moral, cultural and social factors and individual responses to same.
Plus choice, as Bernard pointed out.
Oh, good, no oh’s or zeros in my verification code, so everyone will have the benefit of my always insightful queries and comments.
The New York Times article was great fun for me to read, in part because so much of my research touches upon evolutionary analyses of social norms. I’ll want to study Professor Haidt’s book, to which I do not yet have access. In the meantime, could anyone who has studied Haidt’s work confirm that one of what are referred to here as moral systems (Perhaps “chief components of a moral system” would be more accurate?) really is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? In much of the literature I have seen on the relationship between evolution and morality, when the claim is made that the Golden Rule has roots in cultural evolution, the norm under discussion is not really the Golden Rule of the Gospel but rather a norm of reciprocity, something more like “Do unto others as you expect them to do unto you.”.
Hello Jean (and All),
“In Unitarian-Universalist Sunday School we learned that all the world’s major religions subscribe to some similar moral precepts (like the Golden Rule), and that there were some manifestly immoral actions, like shooting the neighbor because his dog won’t shut up.
Maybe someone can clarify whether this is the same as Natural Law.”
For modern natural law, I think the answer to your question is “No”. Hobbes, the greatest of the modern natural lawyers, for once clouded the issue when he claimed that his basic precepts of natural law are simply based upon the Golden Rule of the Gospel (which he repeats in the negative form that isn’t in the Gospel). Actually, modem natural law is rooted in norms of reciprocity, like the “Do unto others as I expect them to do unto me.” rule I referred to in my earlier post.
For classical natural law as developed in the Augustinian-Thomistic tradition, I confess I just don’t know. I’ve not been able to identify the precise role of the Golden Rule in this natural law tradition. But I think it’s still worth mentioning modern natural law because at least as I interpret the modern natural lawyers, they try to develop much the same moral system as the classical natural laws but using as the starting point only the single basic Thomist precept that one should act so as to preserve human life.
Peter: I would differentiate between the cultural evolution of the Golden Rule and the biological evolution of the conditions that may or may not produce it within cultures. As I understand it, the biology goes from a form “emotional contagion,” where the reactions of one animal are taken up by other animals even though they have not had the experience which gave rise to the initial reaction (the evolutionary advantages of this are rather clear), to “other regarding” behavior, and finally to forms of sympathy and empathy. The unique capacity of human beings seems to be our ability to universalize notions that have their roots in sympathy/empathy. Now, whether we actually universalize moral ideas, or only just talk like we do is another matter.
There is a rather funny story that I tell my students of some chimps who lived in a zoo. At one point, the zoo had a water filled moat around the “island” where the chimps live. However, once the zoo keepers discovered that the chimps can’t swim (you would think they woulda asked!), they drained the moat and put a chain in that enabled the chimps to climb down into the moat. One day, when an alpha male chimp was in the dry moat, another male came and pulled up the chain, and proceeded to smack the side of the moat and hoot (laugh?).
Our biological roots thus seem to include forms of altruistic behavior as well as the ability to play practical jokes.
I object to the phrasing of the question by Haidt. Because is not phrasing half the game if not all of it? Take rationalization. You might say it is necessary but are perhaps more accurate to call it a copout. Bear with me you theologians, philosophers and ethicists. But how valuable are you when too many people go hungry for food and medicine ? And were not a majority of academics anti-semitic, setting the stage for Nazi Germany?
And how is Augustine still in vogue when the guy butchered scripture at the behest of catholicity. The guy who guessed so much about scripture took a fatal turn with his interpretation of “coge intrare.” Augustine misinterpreted his own age so badly that he reclused to writing a spiritual “City of God” when the monarchical church was falling to the Germans. The government that declared Christianity the official religion was conquered so Augustine adjusted his assessment.
Maybe Benedict and us need to forget about Augustine. For openers.
Well, Bill, writing political philosophy is not the same as playing the fiddle.
Personally, I think more lives will be saved by outsmarting Hume than by D-Day. In order to get “ought” from “is,” we have to believe that we know what “is.” At least that has been my understanding, but maybe Bernard has found another route that doesn’t depend on revolutionizing Enlightenment epistemology.
I now have a verification code I can live with. But a lot has happened on this thread since yesterday. For the moment, I’ll just try to reproduce what I attempted to communicate yesterday. But first, Thank you, Grant, for your responsiveness.
Now, my two comments. First, yesterday I read Dennis O’Brien’s “Good Faith: What the New Atheists Get Wrong, ” in the current issue of Commonwweal. It’g good. I do think, though, that O’Brien could have been clearer about two points. (a) Unquestionably, God initiates an offer of faith to us. But we have to accept it freely. Just how this works (aversion of the grace-freedom issue) may not be easy to say, but we do hold that grace and human freedom are not incompatible with each other.
(b) O’Brien distinguishes between morality and moralism. I wish that he had made it clearer that some atheists do practice a genuine morality. They do not all fall into the moralism camp.
Now, Kathy. You give me too much credit. I can’t rightly claim to be a Kant scholar. But to the issue of freedom. First, Kant’s Second Critique, as well as much else of his corpus would make no sense if one denied that we are free. But there is no empirical evidence that could prove that we are free. In my view, people like Hannah Arendt and Paul Ricoeur have built on the Kantian insight and successfully argue that we can make no sense of our experience unless we can successfully distinguish between those events that are simply happenings, in principle wholly explicable in terms of general physical or psychical laws and those events that we consciously initiate. These latter events are properly called actions and are the subject matter for moral imputation to us as good or bad exercises of our freedom. Because all actions are indeed events, there are things to be explained in terms of the laws applicable to all events. But these explanations, in the case of actions, are not sufficient to account for our initiatives in bringing them about. There is, strictly speaking, no EMPIRICAL evidence that establishes the existence of initiatives. The evidence for initiatives comes from our reflection on our own experience and that of other people with whom we interact. This evidence is not “scientific,” but is sufficient to provide the well warranted conviction that we are indeed free.
Sorry to be so long- winded and technical, but I don’t know how else to talk accurately about such things.
Some of the more recent posts deserve comment. Maybe I’ll come up with something worth saying about some of them. But then again, maybe I won’t be able to do so.
My call is more of a challenge to all of us. How do we get the involvement of the 60′s without the anarchy. Each university should make a public statement on the war in Iraq, as well as other issues. I suppose our best example is Ted Hesburgh. He hung out with the Russians before it was palatable never mind fashionable. He spent so much time with Southern governors and got them to vote on civil rights.
(Thanks to the code. I omitted the some of my post.)
Who is talking to the Sunnis and the Shiites? Remember the Russians were a lost cause at one time. People like Ted Turner and Ted Hesburgh did more to bring down the Iron Curtain than Pope Paul or Ronald Reagan.
I know there are Muslims on campus. Can’t this energy be marshaled?
O’Brien’s article is very interesting, Bernard, thank you for pointing it out.
I appreciate the way in which you approach freedom in terms of “initiative,” which puts freedom in the realm of activity, rather than in non-activity. In my sense of what “virtue” consists of, I prefer to think in terms of initiative, rather than prohibition. But that’s a metaphysical bias.
Do you think that our reflection is necessarily accurate? For instance, I consider the song “I have decided to follow Jesus” to be pure semi-pelagianism. But I have heard Christians sing it with gusto.
So it isn’t just me after all! (Trouble commenting, that is.)
I don’t know if anyone else has had this experience, but it happened to me that, when I thought I was an atheist, I acted ethically and, once or twice, at a cost to myself. It was actually the contradiction between my behavior and my belief that made me consider that I was not wholly determined, and not alone.
(If this works, the zero is the skinnier one and the letter o is round.)
Hi, Kathy, it was either Natural Law, or Haidt’s genetic wiring. Or they’re one and the same. Or neither, you just weren’t thinking as clearly that day :-)
I tried to press a college professor of mine on this issue of ethics. He was supposed to be a non-believer, so I called him on all his (extraordinary) ethical behavior. He’s like, “Well, I guess I’m just inconsistent.”
Probably just further disconcerting evidence that atheists don’t seem particularly better nor worse than most of us believers.
Whether or not Christian faith has actually transformed my behavior such that I’m a better person for it, even by tiny increments, is one of those little questions I don’t like thinking about …
Fortunately St. John of the Cross says that one can’t always tell: the brighter the light shines into a room, the more one notices the dust.
He has an out for almost everything.
I’m sure i’ve made this point on other threads, so excuse me repeating myself. Age has its prerogatives.
I was raised by unbelievers. They acted ethically, often more kindly and generously than believers. And I think this is what fascinates people like Haidt.
Many of those who consider themselves unbelievers or atheists are reacting not necessarily against God, but against the churches and individuals who purport to speak for God.
In my dad’s illness, his Jewish friend has become his spiritual advisor of sorts. Mr. B. brings no baggage from the Free Methodist Sunday School in which Dad was raised, no hellfire and damnation, no rules about dancing and drinking. Neither is he the know-it-all daughter who has been brainwashed by the Pope of Rome.
Lately, Mr. B. said that if you have lived a righteous life according to the commandments of God, God has believed in you and worked through you whether you were able to believe in God..
Mr. B. has opened up various new lines of thinking for Dad, has encouraged him to talk about his life, what he has done and what he has left undone that he wants to tie up.
While, as Catholics, we believe the fullness of God’s teaching resides in the church, I think we have to acknowledge that not all of us have made particularly good “advance men” for God’s message.
I think God calls us to appreciate those outside our faith who can get people closer to God where we have failed. And Mr. B. is in my prayers daily.
In the event that folks are still reading this far down, I would like to take one more wack at the problem of rationalization. Kathy speaks as if moral behavior by an atheist is somehow a performative contradiction. Persumably, this means that the moral behavior implicitly affirms an objective moral order that could only be accounted for by God’s existence. However, the atheist could counter that she is only responding to biological programming. This programming is not strictly determinative. Rather, it creates a series of reactive tendencies in animals, to the point that the animals are make uncomfortable when then act contrary to these tendencies. The rationalization argument says that as long as our rational moral traditions enable us to act in accordance with these basic tendencies, then, as far as maintaining the evolutionary selection, and so “fitness,” that produced these tendencies in the first place it does not matter what the details of the moral tradition are. It certainly does not matter if there are disagreements between the moral traditions; it only matters that the traditions produce individuals who act in a way that is close enough to the biological “norm” so as to not violate its adaptive advantages. Of course, some individuals may act in ways that stray quite far from the biological norm, what matters is whether or not the species in general is able to maintain it.
Thus, the atheist can say that she does not have a good reason to oppose child abuse, other than she thinks that it is the right thing to do. By appealing to a biological understanding of morality, the atheist can force something of a presumption reversal. Instead of the atheist needing to defend moral commitments that make moral actions coherent, the atheist can ask the theist why it is necessary to look beyond something like, “it helps us all to survive.”
I think there are theistic responses that can be made at this point. Perhaps the evolutionary course of moral development reveals the hand of God at work in nature before humans ever come on the scene. Just as nature has provided us with eyes to see and ears to hear, perhaps it has also provided us with a moral sense that not only helps us to survive, but also helps to reveal the will of One who sees our survival as good. But such a position would not view itself as the logically necessary requirement for coherent moral behavior.
Sorry, in the first paragraph that should read “the animals are MADE uncomfortable when THEY act contrary to these tendencies.”
One last thought. It is often pointed out that the major religious traditions of the world all affirm something like the Golden Rule. For the atheist appealing to the evolution of morality, this outcome is entirely to be expected.
Kathy, re your Sept. 20, 2:16 p.m. post: Obviously reflection, in any of its instances, is fallible. But if it were always mistaken, we could not ever know it. After all, I do have to reflect on the judgments I make.
Nonetheless, and more to the present point, when I reflect on my behavior, or that of any other particular person, I can and regularly do wonder, “Did have to behave as I did?” Whether I answer yes or no, I can proceed to try to accumulate evidence in support of my answer. This whole process does not provide definitive proof that any particular behavior was free, but that the question , really the question of freedom in one of its forms, can and does arise and I can entertain it.
As I say, this is not a definitive argument, but it has some compelling force. When joined with some important arguments drawn fro how we use language, it is very, very, strong, I think.
I can’t reproduce this argument here, but if you’re interested, I’ll try to find it and send it to you as an email attachment.
Joe Petit, re your 11:02 posting of today. Some years ago, Joel Feinberg made a compelling argument for denying that psychological egoism was a scientific theory. He pointed out that, as it stands, this theory could not be tested by any experiment, and hence it was not, in Karl Popper’s sense, falsifiable. It strikes me that other reductive theories, e.g. strong sociobiology, that conclude to a thoroughgoing determinism are in the same boat as the psychological egoism theory is.
I could be more sympathetic to them if they claimed something like this: My theory can explain in its own terms everything that needs explaining. That’s a claim that is open to analysis and criticism and, therefore, to some form of falsification. Do you think that this is how we ought to understand the claim that biology, in its evolution, determines morality.
Bernard, I gladly accept your offer of an email.
If we were ever to find conclusively that there is such a thing as human freedom, would it follow that there is a God? I’m thinking either “yes,” or, the evolutionary processes have erred by producing a species beyond their control.
In any case I’m reminded of the Good Friday prayer for those who do not (yet) believe in God:
For those who do not believe in God
P. Let us pray for those who do not believe in God, that they may find him by sincerely following all that is right.
P. Almighty and eternal God, you created mankind so that all might long to find you and have peace when you are found. Grant that, in spite of the hurtful things that stand in their way, they may all recognize in the lives of Christians the tokens of your love and mercy, and gladly acknowledge you as the one true God and Father of us all. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Bernard: I guess I am not sure that psychological egoism or strong sociobiology are positions that evolutionary atheist needs to defend.
Pyschological egoism seems to imply the individualistic notion of evolutionary competition that simply runs counter to the vast majority of stories of evolutionary success. Most species survive because they develop capacities for cooperation with each other, and even with other species, and they learn how do adapt to, rather than defeat, the life in their immediate environment. Thus, there is nothing necessarily egoistic about biological explanations of morality.
Regarding falsification, I think it is possible for the evolutionary ethicist to place the shoe on the other foot. If we observe in nature phenomena like emotional contagion, other regarding behavior, cooperation, sympathy, and empathy, and we especially observe these last two phenomena in those species that are closest to us on the evolutionary tree (bush?), then we have some good reason to believe that we act in these ways because we have within us the same biological inclinations that cause them to act in these ways. This is especially true if we are willing to grant that a whole host of other human reactions are the product of evolutionary inheritance. My particular favorite is goose bumps, which, as I understand it, are a carry over from when our evolutionary ancestors were covered with hair. When animals covered with hair get cold, they cause their hair to stand up straight so as to capture warm air between the fur and the skin, and goose bumps are the mechanism to make hair stand up. We still get them when we are cold, but we do not have hair that can stand up to help make us warm (at least most of us don’t!). Another good argument that this behavior is inherited is that the most sophisticated behavior (empathy), is seen almost exclusively in our closest evolutionary cousins, chimps and bonobos.
In other words, our moral behavior in evolutionary terms is homologous, rather than analogous, to the moral-like behavior of those animals from which we evolved.
The ethicist will say, “Ah, but is does not imply ought.” But the evolutionary moralist will say that if moral traits are selected for their evolutionary advantages, and if we assume that survival of the species is a good thing, then, in this case, is does imply some kind of ought. The only interesting question is how specific do we need to get in our explanations for our oughts. There is lots of rooms for difference and disagreement in the theory, so long as the practice ends up creating the conditions that our “nature” intends for them to produce.
Just to be clear, I do not wish to defend this position. However, I mention only because the more I reflect on it, the more I find it to be a powerful position that ethicists of the philosophical and religious type tend to underestimate.
Kathy,I apologize. I don’t have an emailable version of the remarks I offered to send you. I’ll try to remedy that in the next week or so. Again, apologies.
On a second matter, I am not prepared to argue that a defensible conception of human freedom entails the existence of God. I tend to doubt that such an argument could be made successfully.
Joe Petit, excuse me for replying to both you and Kathy in this same posting. Today I wasted quite a while because of the “zero” issue in the assigned verification code. I’ve checked and there should be no problem with the present one.
A couple of points.
First, I’m not worried about the evolutionist in question here is an atheist or not. But the notion of falsification that you advance is distinctly odd. If I say “Scientific theory A is correct.” And you reply that you doubt that it has been firmly established, it doesn’t work for me to ask you to show it to be wrong or flawed. I have to be the one who is willing to put it to the test. Otherwise, you’re put into the position of having to prove a negative, namely that theory A is not correct.
However, that’s not the end of the story. We can distinguish between establishing a scientific theory and following a working hypothesis. The latter is a line of investigation to see what one can find by following it. In many disciplines, it is good practice to adopt a working hypothesis and see where it goes. I’d suggest that the evidence you cite ought to be seen as what has been yielded by following such a hypothesis. This evidence is by no mean trivial but, at least thus far it does not yield a theory.
I, for one see, no reason to hold that the animal behavior you cite is homologous to our moral behavior. Analogous, perhaps, but not shown to be homologous. For one thing, one of the constitutive features of a person’s moral behavior is that he/she can reassess it in moral terms over long periods of time. I have had to do so in the case of some of my own conduct. Is there evidence that any animal can or does re-evaluate its own prior conduct? I can even re-evaluate your earlier conduct. This is the very stuff of our moral discourse. Is their any reliable evidence that animals do this as well?
There are related objections that could be raised against the position you ascribe to the evolutionary moralist. Let me end with just a gesture toward pone of them. Until, there is credible evidence that an animal investigates whether its behavior is analogous or homologous with ours, I find no good reason to grant anything more than analogy. This is not to say that finding analogies is not worth doing. But it’s important to pay attention to relevant differences as well as to similarities.
I do appreciate having the chance to discuss stuff like this with you, Kathy, and the others who blog here about this kind of thing.
I will have a reply for your very careful analysis, but maybe not until tomorrow. Life is crazy today, even without the verification code requirement!
Thanks for the PDF.
Bernard: Thanks again for this thoughtful reply. I will do my best to offer a response.
First, let me be clear what I was hoping to accomplish by bringing up the idea of the evolution of morality in the first place. I have always thought that one of the best arguments for the existence of God is our moral convictions. It seemed to me that only if the measure of good/bad or right/wrong was somehow written into the fabric of reality itself could we make sense of moral objectivity. Some of the posts in this thread suggesting that moral atheists were someone walking contradictions also implied this line of reasoning.
While I do still affirm an objective and divine foundation for moral truth, I now think that the evolution of morality provides for a measure of objectivity in morals, if objectivity means “not subjective.” This is the only case that I am trying to make. I am not trying to make a case for biological reductionism. However, I also think that one of the strongest aspects of the evolutionary claim is found in the elephant/rider image of the initial argument, an image that suggests the following conclusion: many of our rational moral judgments are rationalizations of decisions we have already made at a pre-rational, or biological level.
I do not think that this position is refuted by indicating that people change their minds on moral matters. The position does not require that ALL moral judgments be rationalizations, nor does it require that ALL individuals act in ways that are consistent with biological conditioning. Thus, it is entirely possible that individuals can change their minds, and even hold extreme moral views. The question rather becomes what are most people doing most of the time? We in the academy have a tendency to think that masses are not a very reflective bunch. The position of the evolutionary moralist is that they don’t have to be reflective to get their moral sentiments right most of the time. Extremely reflective academics can be viewed as evolutionary oddballs who have little impact on the actions of the species.
I do not think it is a fair demand to require that apes indicate a capacity for self-reflection in order to conclude that our moral behavior is homologous rather than analogous to that of apes. No evolutionary ethicist that I know of would deny that humans add a distinct layer to the moral life, and this layer is usually some combination of the capacity for self-reflection and the ability to universalize moral commitments. However, this does not mean that much of our behavior is still biologically influenced by evolutionary selections made well before humans ever came on to the scene.
Frans de Waal, a primatologist who has written two recent books on this subject, speaks of a Russian Doll theory of the evolution of morality. The innermost doll would be the capacity for emotional contagion, a condition found in many animals. The next doll would be something like other regarding behavior, then sympathy, then empathy, with the last two being found almost exclusively within our closest cousins in nature, the apes. One could add another layer, call it rational moral judgment, that would indicate the distinctly human contribution to the evolution of morality.
I am not entirely happy with de Waal’s analogy because, as my three sons know very well, the outer Russian Doll looks just fine, even when the inner dolls are missing. However, de Waal wants to make the point that it is wrong to separate the inner dolls from the outer dolls (so if you use the doll properly, which my children do not, the analogy holds). de Waal finds those who accuse him of anthropomorphism, or those who insist that human moral behavior is only analogous rather than homologous with that of apes, are begging the question. I agree with de Waal.
If our behavior is remarkably similar to that of chimps and bonobos (de Waal calls us bi-polar apes, as we tend to exhibit characteristics of both chimps and bonobos, often producing conflicting tendencies), if we are 99% genetically identical to these creatures, if we study them to get a sense of how medicines would work on us, then it is not at all unreasonable to argue that the source of our moral behavior is often the very same source that moves apes to behave as they do.
If we share so much biology with the apes, then I think it is reasonable to suspect that the biological reactions of apes are also present in us, even when we do not reflect on them, or self-consciously “choose” them. In fact, I do think the stronger presumption might lie with those who insist that there is no connection between their behavior and ours.
Of course, I also think we share one other thing in common with apes beyond our biology: we share a common Creator.