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Frans de Waal

Dutch primatologist and ethologist
Frans de Waal

Frans B.M. de Waal PhD (born 29 October 1948, 's-Hertogenbosch) is a Dutch psychologist, primatologist and ethologist.


  • The possibility that empathy resides in parts of the brain so ancient that we share them with rats should give pause to anyone comparing politicians with those poor, underestimated creatures.
  • I've argued that many of what philosophers call moral sentiments can be seen in other species. In chimpanzees and other animals, you see examples of sympathy, empathy, reciprocity, a willingness to follow social rules. Dogs are a good example of a species that have and obey social rules; that's why we like them so much, even though they're large carnivores.
  • To endow animals with human emotions has long been a scientific taboo. But if we do not, we risk missing something fundamental, about both animals and us.
    • from "Are We in Anthropodenial?"
  • In 1879, American economist Francis Walker tried to explain why members of his profession were in such "bad odor amongst real people". He blamed it on their inability to understand why human behavior fails to comply with economic theory. We do not always act the way economists think we should, mainly because we're both less selfish and less rational than economists think we are. Economists are being indoctrinated into a cardboard version of human nature, which they hold true to such a degree that their own behavior has begun to resemble it. Psychological tests have shown that economics majors are more egoistic than the average college student. Exposure in class after class to the capitalist self-interest model apparently kills off whatever prosocial tendencies these students have to begin with. They give up trusting others, and conversely others give up trusting them. Hence the bad odor.
    • from "Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are", page 243.
  • Don’t believe anyone who says that since nature is based on a struggle for life, we need to live like this as well. Many animals survive not by eliminating each other or by keeping everything for themselves, but by cooperating and sharing. This applies most definitely to pack hunters, such as wolves or killer whales, but also our closest relatives, the primates. In a study in Taï National Park, in Ivory Coast, chimpanzees took care of group mates wounded by leopards, licking their blood, carefully removing dirt, and waving away flies that came near the wounds. They protected injured companions, and slowed down during travel in order to accommodate them. All of this makes perfect sense given that chimpanzees live in groups for a reason, the same way wolves and humans are group animals for a reason. If man is wolf to man, he is so in every sense, not just the negative one. We would not be where we are today had our ancestors been socially aloof. What we need is a complete overhaul of assumptions about human nature. Too many economists and politicians model human society on the perpetual struggle they believe exists in nature, but which is a mere projection. Like magicians, they first throw their ideological prejudices into the hat of nature, then pull them out by their very ears to show how much nature agrees with them. It’s a trick for which we have fallen for too long. Obviously, competition is part of the picture, but humans can’t live by competition alone.
    • from "The Age of Empathy" (2009), page 6.

Quotes about Frans de WaalEdit

  • I think we can defend the view that there are two different sorts of moral gap, an ‘affection gap’ and a ‘performance gap’. The affection gap is that non-human animals do not have what Duns Scotus calls ‘the affection for justice’, which is a pull towards what is good in itself, regardless of any relation to us. The performance gap is that we do not find in ourselves the innate capacity to live consistently by the affection for justice by merely human devices. ... De Waal says that the doctrine of original sin has been refuted and that we are not sinfully self-centered but ‘we are driven to empathize with others in an automated, often unconditional fashion. We genuinely care about others, wanting to see them happy and healthy regardless of what immediate good this may do for us.’ However, he agrees that we do not find in non-human animals morality itself, though we do find kin selection, so-called ‘reciprocal altruism’, and social control. This admits the affection gap. He also agrees that human beings, despite formal protestations to the contrary and despite our innate goodness, put self and its kin first, then the ingroup, and the idea of being moral towards individuals from other groups is very recent and very fragile. As far as I can see, this is the performance gap.
    • John E. Hare, “Evolutionary Theory and Theological Ethics,” Studies in Christian Ethics, vol. 25, no. 2 (2012), p. 251

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