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De Waal is a widely celebrated primatologist. To De Waal, human predispositions that relate to fairness, altruism and reciprocity are values that have developed and continue to be enhanced through natural selection. To De Waal, morality is a thing that grows out of the social instincts that human beings share with chimpanzees, apes and bonobos. To illustrate the evolving stages of morality, De Waal draws his work from the behavioral tendencies that primates exhibited. For instance, De Waal illustrates the manner in which chimpanzees are in a friendly manner, disposed to people who perform benefiting services to them; with these services ranging from feeding to even grooming.
It is so hard to agree with the standpoint taken by De Waal that human behavior is an extension of species in the animal kingdom, particularly the primates. This is on several counts.
On one count, human beings are actually different from animals [the primates] in that human beings are seen to be rational creatures, while animals are seen to act out of instincts. On this account, on Nicomachean Ethics, written in 352 BCE, Aristotle points out that for the human person, every art, inquiry, pursuit and every action is, [or should be] aimed towards certain good. This good on the other hand is rightly seen to be that at which all things aim at. This, to Aristotle means that the basis of existence, especially for the human being is to aim at being good. If one is to reason with Aristotle, De Waal’s standpoint that nature is an extension of the primate’s predisposition does not hold water, given that primates are non rational beings, and as such, do not really have a fully developed personality. It is this undeveloped personality that primates are not able to be classified as being good or bad, or morally upright or immoral. It is also against the same backdrop that there are cases which counter De Waal’s postulation, that there are cases where primates have attacked their owners and caretakers.
On the account of John Stuart Mill, the postulation that De Waal makes still punches holes. To Mill as a proponent of Utilitarianism, maintains that an action is considered ethically or morally good if it benefits the greatest number of people, as opposed to a small group or an individual. On the other hand, De Waal’s standpoint that primates are like humans [and vise versa] cannot hold water in Mill’s standpoint, given that animals act out of instinct and the need to ensure self preservation. Never in the whole civilization has there been an incidence of primates come together to ascertain utilitarian aspect of a certain move, development or policy.
A look at Thomas Hobbes’ standpoint is what seems to embrace the propositions advanced by De Waal on human nature and behavior. This is due to the fact that Hobbes sees man as given to his unbridled passions so that his living in the society with others becomes a dangerous affair. The selfish, decadent and archaic nature of man in a society characterized with scarcity of resources is a factor that Hobbes sees as the need that necessitates the formation of the state. Nevertheless, the aspect of rationality separates Hobbes from De Waal since the latter sees humans as being totally rational, seeing the need for an order, and moving in to create and consolidate it.