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Interviews | September 2, 2014 1 comment
David Mitchell's newest mind-bending, time-skipping novel may be his most accomplished work yet. Written in six sections, one per decade, The Bone... Continue »
Wild Justiceby Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce
How did you come to write this, individually and in collaboration?
Does Wild Justice represent a departure from accepted evolutionary theory?
Here's an example of how we build on evolutionary theory: Wild Justice is grounded in the concept of evolutionary continuity, which means that animals share a broad range of physical, mental, and behavioral traits. The continuity of physical traits has been accepted by evolutionary biologists since Charles Darwin wrote about this idea in On the Origin of Species (1859). Although there was initial resistance to the suggestion (which Darwin explored in his later books The Descent of Man and in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals) that there is also continuity in behavioral and mental traits, it is now well-accepted that animals and humans share a whole spectrum of emotional and cognitive capacities. Wild Justice simply builds on this idea, suggesting that the repertoire of moral behaviors is also broadly distributed among animals.
One aspect of our work that does represent a departure from mainstream thought is our take on individual versus group selection. Group selection has been in disfavor among evolutionary biologists, but there seems to be an effort under way to take another look at group selection theory. We agree with David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson that group selection may be an important force in the evolution of social behavior, and that it's not individual versus group selection but rather individual and group selection that have to be studied.
A follow-up to that last question: It sounds like you are saying humans and other animals are pretty much the same. Aren't humans more highly evolved that other species?
Humans are not "higher" than other animals, nor are chimpanzees "higher" than rats. We're all different (and also very similar, too).
But still, you're denying human uniqueness?
What are the implications of Wild Justice for the treatment of animals?
Drawing out the implications comes next, and we hope that Wild Justice will encourage biologists, philosophers, animal activists, and others to think through what this all means to the animals around us.
The more we learn about animals, the more difficult it becomes to sustain the practices that cause suffering since it is difference that is usually used to justify mistreatment. The more we learn about the inner lives of animals, about the emotions they experience, for example, the more real their suffering can become to us. Empathy is a good place to start. Humans are empathic creatures and we treat each other with kindness because we know what it feels like to be treated kindly and unkindly kindness just feels much better, to us and to the animals around us. Understanding that animals have a whole repertoire of moral behaviors helps us see that their lives share a great deal with ours and that their experiences of fear, pain, sorrow, and separation are probably not so much different from ours.
Another example: Recognizing the richness of animals' social lives will remind us that being humane and compassionate toward animals includes paying attention to their lives as social beings. When we isolate animals, whether in a zoo exhibit or in a laboratory cage, we deprive them of a whole range of natural behaviors.
What contribution do you think Wild Justice will make to academics?
Wild Justice may also contribute to the philosophical literature on animal rights and animal welfare. Philosophers who write about animals have not explored in any detail the implications of moral behavior in animals.
The study of moral behavior in animals also has implications for our understanding of human morality. Animal morality may open the door to a whole new area of philosophical investigation and suggests new ways of thinking about old problems. For example, our work speaks to the question of moral agency in non-human animals and the related question of whether agency should continue to be a central category in philosophical ethics. Research from psychology and neuroscience suggest that most moral behavior occurs below the radar of consciousness; so "agency" cannot be said to be the primary defining characteristic of human moral behavior.
What kind of reception have you received?
Will you write another book together?
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Marc Bekoff (http://literati.net/Bekoff) has published numerous books, including The Emotional Lives of Animals, and has provided expert commentary for many media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN, and the BBC.