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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Do Dogs Have Morals?

Check out Deb Blum's review of Wild Justice, the new book from University of Colorado biologist Marc Bekoff and bioethicist Jessica Pierce. The book argues that dogs, dolphins, elephants, wolves, whales, and other nonhuman social animals have emotions and morals too, as evidenced by their empathy, compassion, and cooperation.
As Blum notes:

Their definition of morality is a strongly Darwinian one. They see moral actions as dictated by the behavioral code of social species, the communal operating instructions that bond a group safely together, the "social glue" of survival. They believe such codes are necessarily species-specific and warn against, for instance, judging wolf morals by the standards of monkeys, dolphins or humans.
Still, a "moral" decision can seem remarkably similar across many species. Bekoff and Pierce make their case by calling on a wide range of animal studies, from field biology to the laboratory and from the anecdotal to the statistical. In one lab study of Diana monkeys, for instance, the animals had to put tokens into a slot to receive their food. When an elderly female couldn't manage hers, a neighboring male inserted the tokens for her. In a different kind of experiment, rats refused to push a lever for food when they realised their action meant another animal got an electric shock. ...
These moral behaviors, they argue, are evidence of a kind of evolutionary continuity between humans and other species.
If you have a dog, Bekoff tells The Denver Post, you can easily spot these kinds of emotional and moral behaviors:
• Dogs have a sense of fair play. They dislike cheaters. They experience joy in play. They delight in friends. The big guys handicap themselves in games with little guys.

• Dogs get jealous when a rival gets more or better treats or treatment. They are resentful, unnerved or saddened by unfair behavior.

• They are made anxious by suspense. They get afraid.

• They are embarrassed when they mess up or do something clumsy.

• They feel remorse or regret when they do something wrong. They seek justice. They remember the bad things done to them but sometimes choose to forgive.

• Dogs have affection and compassion for their animal and human friends and family. They defend loved ones. They grieve their losses.

• They have hope.

Heather Wax


Ted K said...

I wish some in the scientific community would stop re-defining common terms just to suit their purposes. That is not science, but approaches what in logic is called the fallacy of equivocation.

jmedvm said...

I do believe animals have morals, they are more simple and in being so do not result from long complicated thought processes that our more complicated soceity and order and conciousness demand. I believe it is very difficult to prove logically or scientifically the existence for example of God which at some point so far still requires a leap of faith. It is wonderful that science has begun to be mature enough to begin to get at metaphysical questions in a strict scientific method approach of experimentation such as to show social animals can make decisions based on morals, such as the rat not getting food if it hurts another rat or the monkey helping an elder monkey to perform the neccessary work to get a food reward. Another approach is to take our complicated evolved morality and observe individual behavior. In my years as a veterinarian I have seen unquestioned acts of a moral and concious mind by animals. I believe too that our moral responsibility in our soceity is to take care of animals that we have included in our soceity and honor their contribution to our moral,spiritual, psychological and physical health. We should stop killing them, and find meaningful "work" for each of them or allow them to be treated with dignity and care. I am helping to advocate for hospice care for animals and palliative care (I do not think euthanasia is wrong in certain circumstance unlike others) and to become a No Kill Nation. These are, I believe, moral obligations we have as a soceity to the more simple forms of life. I am currently writing a book on how animals benefit human health. (Based on scientific peer reviewed articles). My backround is in human medical research, which is the only way to "prove" something scientifically by definition but my "belief" that animals are capable of great moral acts and behavioral decisions based on their morality are anecdotal as based on many, many observations being involved in animals as parts of families as a Veterinarian. Thank you for your organization and a good book review.