Primatology: A wild empathy
Frans de Waal's latest book, The Bonobo and the Atheist, is both an exceptionally good read and a tour de force of scholarship. In it, de Waal states his argument for the evolution of human empathy with the sophistication of a well-grounded, risk-taking scientist who can venture into philosophy.
De Waal draws on his own ethological research with chimpanzees and bonobos, as well as on biology and evolutionary psychology, to probe empathy as a key precursor for moral behaviour. The origins of human morality are not new territory for the primatologist and ethologist, who engaged with the question in Peacemaking Among Primates (Harvard University Press, 1990) and who, with Jessica Flack, has examined the evolutionary building blocks of morality. The novel element in The Bonobo and the Atheist is that de Waal analyses today's moral landscape, in particular the schism between militant atheism and religion.