Nicholas's Reviews > The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

The Moral Animal by Robert Wright
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's review
Jan 27, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: biology, psychology
Read in July, 2007

** spoiler alert ** Boom. This book eviscerated the idea that our morals are in any way sacrosanct or even "good." There is no way around the fact that every facet of our being is defined by whatever increases our inclusive fitness.

You are nothing more than an animal.


"Human nature consists of knobs and mechanisms for tuning the knobs, and both are invisible in their own way."

"Altruism, compassion, empathy, love, conscience, the sense of justice - all of these things, the things that hold society together, the things that allow our species to think so highly of itself, can now confidently be said to have a firm genetic basis."

"Moral sentiments are used with brutal flexibility, switched on and off in keeping with self-interest; and how naturally oblivious we often are to this switching."

"We're all puppets, and our best hope for even partial liberation is to try to decipher the logic of the puppeteer...the puppeteer seems to have exactly zero regard for the happiness of the puppets."

"Natural selection appears to have taken this cost-benefit calculus and transmuted it into feeling."

"Men and women were asked about the minimal level of intelligence they would accept in a person they were 'dating.' The average response, for both male and female, was; average intelligence. They were also asked how smart a person would have to be before they would consent to sexual relations. The women said: Oh, in that case, markedly above average. The men said: Oh, in that case, markedly below average."

"The minds of men are an evolutionary record of the past behavior of women. And vice versa."

"A developmental program that, during childhood, assesses the local social environment and then, by adulthood, inclines the person toward the strategy more likely to pay off.

"Trading gossip is one of the main things friends do, and it may be one of the main reasons friendship exists."

"Morality is the device of an animal of exceptional cognitive complexity, pursuing its interests in an exceptionally complex social universe."

"Indeed, after looking closely at chimp and human society, one might suspect that, from natural selection's point of view, status assistance is the main purpose of friendship."

"Whether we know it or not, we tend naturally to rank one another, and we signify the ranking through patterns of attention, agreement, and deference - whom we pay attention to, whom we agree with, whose jokes we laugh at, whose suggestions we take."

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