C. H. Candler Professor of Psychology and Director, Living Links Center, Emory University, Atlanta
Homo homini lupus – man is wolf to man – is an old Roman proverb popularized by Thomas Hobbes. Even though it permeates large parts of law, economics, and political science, the proverb fails to do justice to our species’ social nature as well as to wolves, which are among the most gregarious and cooperative animals. For the past quarter century, this cynical view has also been promoted by biologists even though Darwin himself saw things differently. His view that the moral sense is inborn is supported by modern psychology and neuroscience. In this lecture Frans de Waal argues that empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans. In his work with monkeys, apes, and elephants, de Waal has found many cases of one individual coming to another’s aid in a fight, putting an arm around a previous victim of attack, or other emotional responses to the distress of others. Using examples from animal social behavior – bonding and alliances, expressions of consolation, conflict resolution, a sense of fairness – he questions the assumption that humans are inherently selfish. Understanding empathy’s survival value in evolution can help build a more just society based on a more accurate view of human nature. Religion may add to a moral society, but as an addition and way to enforce good behavior rather than as its source.
The biologist and ethologist Frans de Waal is recognized worldwide for his work on the social intelligence of primates. Originally from the Netherlands, de Waal studied at the Universities of Nijmegen, Groningen, and Utrecht before moving to the United States, where he is now the C.H. Candler Professor in the Psychology Department at Emory University. He is also Director of the Living Links Center for the Study of Ape and Human Evolution, in Atlanta, Georgia. Frans de Waal is known for his popular books such as Chimpanzee Politics (1982), Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape (1997), Our Inner Ape (2005), The Age of Empathy (2009), and his latest, The Bonobo and the Atheist (2013). His interests include animal cooperation as well as the evolution of morality and justice. He has been elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences.