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

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  5,526 ratings  ·  296 reviews
Are men literally born to cheat? Does monogamy actually serve women's interests? These are among the questions that have made The Moral Animal one of the most provocative science books in recent years. Wright unveils the genetic strategies behind everything from our sexual preferences to our office politics--as well as their implications for our moral codes and public poli ...more
ebook, 496 pages
Published November 3rd 2010 by Vintage (first published 1994)
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Evolutionary Psychology is a dangerous field. In all of evolutionary science, there's a lot of temptation to endorse a just-so-story that happens to fit all your current data (or worse, ignore some of the data as noise). But this is Human evolution we are talking about and thus it becomes even more important that we A) get the story right B) understand how general trends apply to individual cases and C) don't draw think that science can dictate morality.

Surprisingly, the book is best on point C,
If you find yourself uncomfortable while hearing about genes for altruism or genes for retaliation..etc., then this book is for you. It will clear many misunderstandings about what is meant by a Selfish Gene. In fact, the book has many explanations that would have been good for Dawkins to include in later editions of his book The Selfish Gene or write about later. Like Dawkins' book, The Moral Animal talks much about altruism and how it can be understood in the new Darwinian light (based on kin ...more
Lynne King
On the road from Gethsemane to Calvary I lost my way.

For some obscure reason when I read the last page of this book and put it down, the above quote from one of the Lewis television series sprang to mind. I had to recheck the internet to ensure that my memory was in fact correct.

I lost my way and my mission in fact with this book The Moral Animal on page 128/464 and my positive thoughts gradually diminished as I began the slippery downward slide to the last page. I thought it was excellently w
Wright argues that there is such a thing as human nature and what this nature consists of is a certain genetic inheritance that has evolved over a long, long time to suit numerous, extremely different environments. This development, however, is not teleological; it is perhaps better viewed as reactive. There's no telling what sorts of variations might occur for any species during its evolutionary development and thus there's no telling what will prove useful for survival in the future. Evolution ...more
So where does man get his morals from? Some people would say God. That assumes there is some absolute idea of virtue and morals handed to us from the almighty. Best evidence against this? The Bible. Read the first four books of the Old Testament, not just the ten commandments, and then tell me you would want to live in a society that allows you to sell your daughter into slavery and stone your spouse for adultery. Clearly our ideas of morality evolve and continues to evolve...for the better in m ...more
Will Byrnes
This is one of those seminal books (to me at least) that has a lot to say about the nature of human relationships.

p 36 - ...while there are various reasons why it could make Darwinian sense for a woman to mate with more than one man (maybe the first man was infertile, for example) there comes a time when having more sex just isn't worth the trouble. Better to get some rest or grab a bite to eat. For a man, unless he's really on the brink of collapse or starvation, that time never comes.
Christian Clarke
He doesn't find your cat story interesting, and he won't call in the morning. He has gazillions of sperm and you have 400 eggs. Harry was right when he told Sally men and women can't be friends. Any guy who tells you otherwise is just trying to sleep with you. They're all trying to sleep with you, all the time. Your co-workers, your friends, the traffic cop, your high school math teacher, your cousins, all of them. all the time. Even the gay ones. And that's why they invented fire, the wheel, ca ...more
Apr 20, 2008 Rob rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone ready and willing to put humanity under the microscope
Recommended to Rob by: Alise
Shelves: own, science, evolution, 2008
First and foremost: an uncritical read of this book will leave you feeling cynical and a bit cheated. It ranks up there with E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology and Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene (though I'll admit that I know those two primarily by reputation, having read excerpts and not their entireties). It would be very easy to find yourself getting defensive about the material presented in here; especially if you believe humans to be some special exception among animals.

Meanwhile, with a more cr
This book is about 1/3 decent application of evolutionary theory, 1/3 stretching theory to cover subjects/behaviors that it might fit but there is no real evidence for (just logical reasoning), and 1/3 arm-waiving of barely thought-out evolutionary explanations. It also seems to be based largely on a few papers written in the '70s, constantly bringing up the same papers. Note the number of times the author mentions Trivers' papers. Additionally, the tone of the book (or train of thought of the w ...more
Tara B
Evolutionary psychology has been used far too much to excuse men for raping women and fucking up our society with wars and patriarchy. I refuse to respect it; I think it's working to excuse us for the things we should be able to rise above. Wright does fight the absolutists and say this science is not an excuse for how much we hurt each other, but if he is so enlightened, can't he see that he is at the same time validating a science that is increasingly and more aggresively being used as fuel fo ...more
I'm less than half way through this and I still can't find out what the author's focus is. He started out with a description of some of the different ideas about evolutionary psychology. Then he shifted to the biography of Darwin. Then to early childhood development. Now he is drawing conclusions, loosely based on Darwin's personal history and some of his letters, that I seriously question.

I hope that this book gets better and a little more focused.


I'm 3/4 of the way through and the author
If critics of evolutionary psychology (ev psych) agreed to read just one book of my choosing, this certainly would be the one. The Moral Animal brilliantly illustrates ev psych's vast explanatory power over human behavior and its tremendous potential as a guide to future research in the social sciences. It's a masterpiece of science writing that deserves the exuberant gratitude of the academic community and the general public alike.

Being an outspoken liberal radical and an apt pupil of social co
Feb 18, 2008 Jenn rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Because of its technical nature, at times it was hard getting through it all, but anyone with an interest in psychology would absolutely be fascinated by this book. I actually believe that EVERYONE should read this book, only because it gives you incredible insights as to who we are, why we act the way we do, and how we can make better decisions for our actions in the future.
"...bear in mind that the feeling of moral 'rightness' is something natural selection created so that people would employ it selfishly. Morality, you could almost say, was designed to be misused by its own definition." -- p. 344, The Moral Animal

Now if them ain't fightin' words, I don't know what is.

This book started slow for me but after the first chapter or so it starts to rock. Wright does a clever bit here, using Darwin himself as a subject for explicating the processes of natural selection
Morality is fine. I think. Evolutionary psychology is fine. I think. In fact, I think all kinds of moral philosophy and psychology are fine. I have no bones to pick with any of the foregoing. My problem is with Mr. Wright and his style and his manner of thinking and his manner of research.

There are science journalists, like Mr. Wright, who are satisfied and contented with presenting the results of their research and not going beyond the confines of the conclusions reached by the scientists for
Amanda Collins
This was a very probing, deeply thoughtful analysis of possible ways our morality has evolved the way it has. I struggle to take every analysis totally and factually seriously because this realm of science finds it's evidence less on hard facts and more on speculation (although there are some very compelling arguments for the conclusions made). It's still credible and worth a read, though, and will give you some insight into the struggles and frustration of real-life stuff. I had to take a break ...more
Dear Evolutionary Psychology, You are bullshit. Most sciences evolve from get-your-hands-dirty research-discovery-more-research cycles, but evo-psych evolved to meet the need of the media to have a constant influx of stories justifying sexism through "science."

So suck it. You are rejected.
I liked this take on the selfish gene, namely the author's presentation of the new Darwinian paradigm and his speculations on human (im)morality through tidbits from Darwin's biography. On the other hand, too much attention was paid to the Victorian morality and the book left me wanting a deeper analysis of the contemporary trends. Overall, this was an interesting and entertaining read. I didn't find it captivating, though, and my first thought was to give it 3 stars. What made me opt for 4 star ...more
This is the most fluent, starting from scratch book on the subject of evolution I have read. There is no presupposition of prior knowledge. And the author makes good use of popular notions of the Darwinian theory to throw light on understandings that are wrong, answer those common questions most of us have in mind and explain the real meaning of evolution.

Unlike Dawkins' books which are turgid at times because of too many examples from the behaviours of species of various kind (most of those spe
Emma B
I'm about 100 pages in, and the material is quite fascinating. The book basically links every single trait of humanity back to an adaptation in the ancestral environment.

I just wish he'd stop personifying natural selection.

Correction, deifying.

That kinda defeats the purpose of science.


Upon finishing the book, my final opinion is that it was decent, but not fantastic. His deification of the process of natural selection trailed off, much to my relief. The book itself consisted mostly
Here's the problem with evolutionary psychology: its style of reasoning is all what I believe the brainy types call ex post facto. That is, practitioners take a look at features or patterns of human behavior today, then ponder about why that kind of activity might have been advantageous in "the evolutionary environment," back when we were out there gathering and scavenging and occasionally trying to take down one of our fellow large mammals. Explanations tend to be extremely tidy, and awfully di ...more
Christiana Hadji
Γιατί οι περισσότερες παιδοκτονίες πραγματοποιούνται από πατριούς; Για ποιό λόγο οι άντρες θεωρούν πιό όμορφες τις γυναίκες με μικρές μύτες; Ποιό γενετικό σκοπό εξυπηρετεί το κουτσομπολιό, και γιατί αποφεύγουμε να κάνουμε παρέα τους τσιγκούνηδες; Τί μας κάνει πρόθυμους να φάμε σφαίρα για τ' αδέλφια μας αλλά ταυτόχρονα να τα ζηλεύουμε τρελλά; Αυτά και πολλά άλλα κρίσιμα ερωτήματα σχετικά με την ανθρώπινη φύση και τον ρόλο της ηθικής στην μετα-Δαρβινιστική εποχή, αποπειράται να απαντήσει ο συγγραφ ...more
Not quite what I expected but in a way so much more.

I am interested in the genetic underpinnings of our moral codes. I know that there are evolutionary reasons that we think killing is wrong, that we believe it's best to treat others as we'd like to be treated. This kind of code is in the genes. It doesn't come from a religious book, although many religions would like to take the credit.

In this book Wright explains "evolutionary psychology" in an interesting way. He offers theories on why it is
Using the writings of Charles Darwin to deliver its human morality principles, I felt by the end of this book that I had learnt more about the great man than I had about myself. One problem with this book is that by centering on life in the 19th century, its themes were often not as relevant to society today. For instance, it may be advantageous for women to play a little harder to get in the game of love, but this is unlikely to have a significant implication towards social status today. Anothe ...more
Jul 10, 2008 James rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people with too much time on their hands
I had
high expectations for this book but the author lacks a talent for writing and it was a job to finish reading it.

I kept hoping if I stayed the course the book would become interesting.

The author spends more time talking about Darwin's marriage, children, personal agonies, blah, blah, blah...
than he does on the suppossed subject matter.

I read the first 3 books Richard Dawkins wrote with great joy and was hoping for that quality of writing here.

Basicly the message is that behaviors can
This was so dissapointing. I had been reading a lot about genes, evolution, etc. and was really curios about evolutionary psychology when I started to read this. Unfortunately Wright's book was very unfocused. He uses Darwin's personal life and story as a sort of thread holding the book toghether, which might sound great if you like evolution and Darwin. Unfortunately it mostly seems like he used Darwin's fame and speculated about his personal life to further his own ideas, which feels a bit che ...more
Disclaimer: I read this book in college, a million years ago so I can't be sure it would hold us for me. However, I loved how smart it was. Unlike most evolutionary psychology I've seen since (I automatically dread/dismiss anything with that label on it) this book carefully considers piles and piles of data and still often comes to no conclusion as it would often be an irresponsible jump to do so. You have to read it carefully because he'll set up an interesting, provocative argument in one para ...more
I finished Robert Wright's "The Moral Animal: Why We Are The Way We Are" yesterday, a look into the human mind through the perspective of evolutionary psychology. Wright is a deterministic Darwinist and firmly believes that the concept of free-will unfettered by the bounds of our species' evolutionary history is an illusion. Not just what we do and the forms of our social organizations have a root in the genes that were successful, but even elements as intangible and essential to our being as ou ...more
Victoria Evangelina Belyavskaya


There are many things a human being should already raise above, thinking of how we pride ourselves on our many achievements. I guess, I am not too kin of evolutionary psychology, which has a perfect excuse for just about any amoral behavior, as well as a vaguely noble explanation for all the positive traits. The spiritual being in me inclines to believe, that we have moral standards because a part of us, that tiny, yet undiscovered by the science particle of the SOUL, is connec
A totally inspirational book answering so many questions about human nature, family, relationships, friendship, society, etc. I learned so much about myself as a human being. This book could essentially be viewed as a ‘self-help’ book without the usual sickening simplicity and ignorance of so many books of that kind. When you get over the fact that We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones, you might forgive yourself for your uncomfortable or odd feelings and whatever you or others mi ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

ROBERT WRIGHT is the author of The Moral Animal, Nonzero, and Three Scientists and Their Gods. The New York Times selected The Moral Animal as one of the ten best books of the year and the other two as notable books of the year.

Wright is a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and ha
More about Robert Wright...
The Evolution of God Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information The Night Canada Stood Still Our Man in Tehran: The True Story Behind the Secret Mission to Save Six Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis & the Foreign Ambassador Who Worked w/the CIA to Bring Them Home

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“[L]asting love is something a person has to decide to experience. Lifelong monogamous devotion is just not natural—not for women even, and emphatically not for men. It requires what, for lack of a better term, we can call an act of will. . . . This isn't to say that a young man can't hope to be seized by love. . . . But whether the sheer fury of a man's feelings accurately gauges their likely endurance is another question. The ardor will surely fade, sooner or later, and the marriage will then live or die on respect, practical compatibility, simple affection, and (these days, especially) determination. With the help of these things, something worthy of the label 'love' can last until death. But it will be a different kind of love from the kind that began the marriage. Will it be a richer love, a deeper love, a more spiritual love? Opinions vary. But it's certainly a more impressive love.” 60 likes
“We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones.” 27 likes
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