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

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  10,906 ratings  ·  661 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
Paperback, 496 pages
Published August 29th 1995 by Vintage (first published 1994)
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Alicia Williams Contemporary evolutionary psychology is in direct contrast to humanistic psychology (HP): it defines humans as it would any other animal in the natura…moreContemporary evolutionary psychology is in direct contrast to humanistic psychology (HP): it defines humans as it would any other animal in the natural sciences. Humanistic psychology is its opposite, I would say; HP holds the individual up as sacred and to be studied on a per-person basis.

I enjoyed this book back when I first read it (near its publishing date) but I, too, feel it is too facile and dehumanizing when compared to other--more modern--branches of psychology.(less)
Pratyush Rathore This is better than sex at dawn, much better actually. Sex at dawn is not a quarter as engrossing as this one.

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Mario the lone bookwolf
Of course, all of our behavior, interactions with family, friends, and colleagues, love life,… is based on old primate group dynamics and Wright shows all aspects of our existence under this aspect, including Darwinism and many great speculations about how the past could have shaped the present and how unaware we tend to be regarding our roots because of our ever so big, fancy brains.

Women and men
The main motivations of male and female animal and human courtship behavior and its different shor
May 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, psychology, mind
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,
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.
Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Left Coast Justin
Mar 26, 2022 rated it really liked it
[Ooooops. I read both this and another book of Wright's called Three Scientists and their Gods a long time ago, and now realize this review is a mishmash of the two books together. No worries -- read them both if you're so inclined.]

This book served as the keystone that finally allowed me to put my worldview together -- a worldview that has certainly been tweaked here and there since then, but overall has remained stable. The world makes so much more sense when you realize the extent to which pe
Amir Tesla
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology, evolution
I believe whoever wants to better understand the world, know why they feel what they feel and know why people behave the way they do, has to read evolutionary psychology.

This book provided me with two critical pieces I had been missing in the puzzle of evolution.

I had learned that many desires of ours are the manifestation of our genes. I also had learned that the environment is also responsible for shaping a huge portion of our behavior. But I lacked the knowledge of the relationship between th
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
Tara B
Feb 04, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mar 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008, evolution, science
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
Sep 10, 2007 rated it did not like it
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.
Jen Catembung
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When Christopher Ryan (author of Sex at Dawn), suggested another compelling book to read: The Moral Animal by Robert Wright, I was adamant enough that almost all my nagging personal questions about morality and discernment will be widely explained from an evolutionary and biological point of view.
True as what most book reviews say, Robert explores the most fascinating, sometimes-controversial concepts that affects the way we make decisions in our lives. This is the reason why books like this is
Feb 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a really cynical take on human nature so you must read carefully. There are many insights and hard truths here that are thought provoking, but he tends to stretch things a bit to have it neatly fit into a Darwinian framework. The conclusion reached by Darwin is that human beings have the capacity to be moral animals, but that we inherently aren't always moral. He writes:

“In this sense, yes, we are moral; we have, at least, the technical capacity for leading a truly examined life; we have
Apr 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this one. As soon as I was done, I picked up all of the author's other books. It was thought-provoking, well-written, and even applicable to life. Though I was uncomfortable with some of the broad generalizations on gender and sex and his flippant dismissal of feminist claims about the social fluidity of gender. Seems to me that more recent research (i.e. Cordelia Fine et al) have debunked some of the studies he relies on (like the famous fruit fly reproduction study). I would love to se ...more
Feb 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Nov 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Very well written and enjoyable discussion of evolutionary psychology, blended with biography of Charles Darwin. Minus one star for Part 4, which I thought was not as good (especially the author's simplistic presentation and naïve embrace of utilitarianism). Somewhat disappointed the book ended on a low note, but Parts 1-3 were excellent. ...more
Dec 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 31, 2018 rated it liked it
This book would have been a 5-star work if Wright hadn’t insisted on incorporating the half-Darwin-biography model. It might sound cute on paper to analyze Darwin’s life through the lens of evolutionary psychology, but in practice it’s distracting, cumbersome and time consuming. The book could have been half as long and many times better if the reader wasn’t forced to learn about the color of Darwin’s socks. Still, the good parts of the text are fantastic.
Aug 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
Not a huge fan of how he used Darwin's life to organize this book. It was a little distracting and it didn't seem to work for me.... but I did find this really fascinating. It is a LOT of information to take in though, which is why it took me almost 2 years to read. I do feel like I will revisit this and read chapters here and there so I can chew on this information more. I am so fascinated by evolutionary psychology, and this was a great deep dive into it... just don't expect to read this in on ...more
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
"...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
Eduardo Santiago
May 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can see how this was groundbreaking for its time. But reading it in 2013, after Sperm Wars and Sex at Dawn and Mothers and Others and epigenetics and everything by Sapolsky, it's hard not to feel frustrated by everything that’s missing or incomplete or even wrong — but such is Science. We’ve learned much in the last 20 years, and Wright is directly responsible for much of that... so I offer a sincere and humble thank-you. With reservations.

If you’ve been paying attention you already know most
May 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Probably my favorite quote from this book comes from the chapter in which the author discusses whether or not we are truly moral animals. He concludes that we are almost:
We are potentially moral animals -- which is more than any other animal can say -- but we aren't naturally moral animals. To be moral animals, we must realize how thoroughly we aren't.

The Moral Animal is a very thought-provoking and interesting book. It answers, but mostly it just attempts to answer, so many questions about why
Jan 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 28, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: cog-sci
a man's justification for bad behaviour ...more
Mar 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
"Sensual pleasures are the whip that natural selection uses to control us; to keep us in the thrall of its warped value system."

While I studied evolution at university, it was primarily in a biological sense with very little mention made of the way that evolution has powerfully shaped human psychology and behaviour. This book addresses the topic of evolutionary psychology by presenting much of humanity's social and sexual phenomena within the framework of Darwin's theory of natural selection. A
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Is our morality, our sense of right and wrong, and also the choices we make, our predilections, tendencies and capacities for self-deception (believing fake news, voting for idiots during elections), and all other things which seemingly set us apart from other animals, are they all also the product of our evolutionary history? The author here would often sound as if he’s saying the affirmative but then again would go on as if he’s taking back what he had proposed. This is probably because evolut ...more
រ៉ូ | ro
Apr 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. I didn't find the concepts in this book that easy to grasp but I definitely benefited from having taken Evolutionary Psychology + Business Ethics classes that prepared me for the evolutionary, psychological, philosophical and ethical concepts discussed in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the author's writing style that combined humor and sarcasm to illustrate how natural selection shapes our behavior. I especially appreciate the author's clever and compelling storytel ...more
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Robert Wright was one of the earlier popularizers of evolutionary psychology, with this book Moral Animal published in 1994. It didn't achieve the fame of the earlier work published in the 1970's, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, but then it didn't have nearly as good a title. Nor did it achieve the notoriety of the still earlier book from the 1970's, Sociobiology, by the great scientist and author, E.O. Wilson (who happens to be one of my heroes for his work in spreading the word about the ...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

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