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Analysis of the Moral Animal


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The Moral Animal: Why We Are The Way We Are: The New Science Of Evolutionary Psychology

For centuries, the question on psychologists’ minds around the world has been, “Why are we the way we are?” What causes us to act the way we act, think the thoughts we think, and love who we love? Psychodynamics will tell you that it is the selfish needs we are born with. Social psychodynamics will say that we do all the things we do in order to feel accepted in society. The quixotic humanists will explain that everything we do is to better ourselves as human beings. Behaviorists will laugh in all the school of thoughts faces and say simply that our environment bends and molds us like plato from the second we enter this world. In his book, The Moral Animal: Why We Are The Way We Are: The New Science Of Evolutionary Psychology, Robert Wright addresses his view on this equivocal topic in a feasible and easy to understand manner. Wright turns a discussion that may be declared esoteric into something that the average joe can comprehend. He creates the foundation for his theory on why we are the way we are from a more Freudian and Darwinian view. The axiom for Wright’s novel is that we have a genetic coding that we are born with that is basis for everything we do. What we say and how we act is due to the human nature that is in all of us, and has been since the beginning of human existence. According to Wright, we are animals built with an array of moral equipment that we use only within our mindsets of self interest. As stated in his book, Wright’s purpose for writing this novel is to, “find practical applications of evolutionary psychology…cover the basic principles of evolutionary psychology- to show how elegantly the theory of natural selection, as understood today, reveals the contours of human mind,”(Wright,11). He wants his audience to understand that evolutionary biology has had a severe impact on human nature throughout the course of history. Throughout The Moral Animal, Wright makes a ubiquitous amount of references to the father of evolution, Charles Darwin, and his many writings. These constant references served a successful purpose to show how the origin of our lust, relationships, and self criticism come from the human nature that we are born with. Love, lust, and human nature are recurring topics in his first several chapters. For example, sexual selection is a trend that Wright believes to have been encoded in species from the beginning of time to now. Females choose a male partner based on their good qualities, and human females still do this today. Since the female only has so many chances to reproduce due to the amount of time it takes to have a baby, they are more selective about who they want to be the father of their child. Wright continues to show accurate depictions of how traits that animals had millions of years ago are still alive in the human species today. However, Wright never makes a specific connection in his book between our behavior and our DNA, which for me makes his argument a little more irresolute. One of the main purposes of his book is to show the relationship between our exact genetic coding and the way we act, but no specific chromosomal examples are given. Wright states many things that are hard to accept, but also hard to refute when he goes into deep explanation of why these things are so. He talks about how a child thinks that they are twice as important as their brother or sister because they share only half of their genes. When reading this statement it is hard to comprehend, but Wright provides proper examples that make this statement more clear. He explains that we are fully related to ourselves, but only half related to our siblings, and one eighth related to our first cousins. Many of Wright’s arguments about human nature are more inclined towards the conservative view of man; a lot of what he says can make you feel selfish and like you are a bad person. However, Wright does bring up a more positive point in his chapter discussing friends. He writes about how we, as animals, can be seen to help out our fellow companions. Wright says that Darwin himself, “saw sympathy in reports of crows that dutifully fed their blind compatriots and of baboons that heroically saved their youngsters from a pack of dogs.” This put a little bit of light on a topic that seemed rather dark. Wright frequently brings up the topic of morality, since this book is largely based around the morals that we are said to be born with. He says that human morality is more or less an ironic joke. We have it just to disuse it. We create moral philosophies that consist of attacking the idea of morality itself. I am not sure whether I agree or not with many of Wright’s basic principles of morality. In my view, morality seems to be created by what you observe growing up to be considered morally right to others. I do agree with Wright however when he states that to be moral animals, we must realize how thoroughly we aren’t. We have the potential to be moral animals by realizing what instincts we are designed with are morally unacceptable. To end his novel, Wright discusses the main arguments about the function of morality. We, in order to gain social acceptance, act for the good of others in order to obtain love from those around us, or we act opposite of the opinion of others so that we have the satisfaction of knowing we followed our prized consciousnesses. In conclusion, Wright argues that we cannot pretend that we do not have primal urges that are involved in every decision we make, but that there is a way to control these urges since we are designed to have moral measuring stick. Through evolution, the creation of our sex drive comes from the same place as the creation of our consciousness. By using this consciousness that evolution has crafted for us over the years, we can ignore primal urges that our DNA is begging us to give into. Wright’s view of evolutionary biology and psychology does a good job at explaining why we are the way we are. He plants a good basis for the discussion of human morality and our actions and provides thorough examples for the majority of his arguments. In order to understand this book better, one should read The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin prior to The Moral Animal since so many of Wright’s arguments are centered around early victorian darwinian theories and observations. To plunge into the depths of this book is to plunge into the depths of the plethora of meanings behind human nature and why we are the way we are. There is not one correct answer, but this book may help provide some clarity to the discussion.

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