This public lecture by Prof. Frans de Waal (Emory University, Atlanta, USA) was delivered as part of the series “From Humanities to Posthumanities” organised by the Centre for the Humanities at Utrecht University.
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’ thoroughly social nature as well as to canids, which are among the most gregarious and cooperative animals. For the past quarter century, this cynical view has also been promoted by an influential school of biology, but Charles Darwin himself saw things differently. He believed in continuity between animal social instincts and human morality. Modern psychology and neuroscience support Darwin’s view about the moral emotions. In his work with monkeys and apes, Prof. de Waal has found many cases of one individual coming to another’s rescue in a fight, putting an arm around a previous victim of attack, or other emotional responses to the distress of others. The study of social behavior in animals, such as bonding, the forming of trusting alliances, expressions of consolation, and conflict resolution, demonstrate that animals ¬and humans ¬are preprogrammed to reach out, questioning the assumption that humans are inherently selfish. Prof. de Waal will also discuss how animal behavior has a normative side, just as human morality.