Bottom-up morality: The basis of human morality in our primate nature

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Journal of Moral Education


This is an interview with Frans de Waal who gave the Kohlberg Memorial Lecture at the AME Conference in St. Louis in November 2017. Frans de Waal’s research with non-human primates documents that primates share our tendencies towards fairness, reciprocity, loyalty, self-sacrifice, caring for others, strategies for conflict avoidance and for conflict resolution and repairing the social fabric. Findings show that primates, especially our nearest relatives, Chimpanzee and Bonobo, intentionally shape their communal interactions, often to the benefit of the whole community. Humans share this evolved primate nature, grounded in mammalian biology of maternal instinct and infant attachment. These provide the deep basis of human morality, which is marked by its own extensions, such as inter-personal moral discourse and consensus, detailed public justifications and philosophical critique, abstraction and universalization. The evolutionary view promotes a bottom-up morality which needs to be fully considered when discussing moral development, moral engagement and moral education.



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