Humans are moral creatures. Among all life on Earth, we alone experience rich moral emotions, follow complex rules governing how we treat one another, and engage in moral dialogue. But how did human morality evolve? And can humans become morally evolved?
In A Better Ape, Victor Kumar and Richmond Campbell draw on the latest research in the biological and social sciences to explain the key role that morality has played in human evolution. They explore the moral traits that humans share with chimpanzees; how a more complex moral mind enabled Homo sapiens to arise and out-compete other human species; and the place of morality alongside historic revolutions in technology and social organization. Throughout the book, Kumar and Campbell argue that morality co-evolved with intelligence and complex sociality. Morality prevents societal collapse and enables complex knowledge.
After unearthing the ancient origins of human morality, Kumar and Campbell use evolutionary theory to deliver profound insights about how to advance moral progress and resist moral regress, such as reducing animal suffering on industrial farms; capitalizing on the recent revolution in gay rights to foster a nascent revolution in transgender rights; opposing intersectional inequality that impacts women and people of colour in lower socioeconomic classes; and addressing major problems of global inequality, especially impending crises of injustice caused by anthropogenic climate change. Understanding how we evolved – and how we continue to evolve – can help us become a better ape.
I. Moral Apes
II. Moral Minds
III. Moral Cultures
IV. Moral Progress
Victor Kumar is a philosopher and cognitive scientist. He is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Boston University and director of the Mind and Morality Lab. Richmond Campbell is a philosopher and environmentalist. He is the George Munro Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Dalhousie University.
"A Better Ape will transform evolutionary approaches to human morality and to human cultural evolution. With elegant, often stirring prose, and rigorous, scientifically-informed arguments, Kumar and Campbell not only illuminate the origins of human morality but also show how morality has driven human evolution."
– Allen Buchanan, Laureate Professor of Philosophy, The University of Arizona
"Kumar and Campbell weave a tale of the past, present, and future of moral psychology by unifying some of the most compelling theories from philosophy, biology, psychology, comparative cognition, and anthropology. The story is masterfully told, and reading the book is like reading the end of a Sherlock Holmes story, when we learn how all the clues fit together. But this book isn't just for people who already have the pieces of the puzzle. Kumar and Campbell offer clear and concise descriptions of leading theories in human evolution and moral psychology, giving just enough background to allow anyone to come along for the ride. Their argument that Darwinism richly explains morality is an important contribution to the ongoing debates."
– Kristin Andrews, Professor of Philosophy and Research Chair in Animal Minds, York University
"In this beautifully written book, Kumar and Campbell argue that evolution explains the emergence of morality, and, more strikingly, that human morality has subsequently played a key role in shaping our biological nature. A Better Ape manages that rare feat of making an important, novel contribution while also being a joy to read"
– Shaun Nichols, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Cognitive Science, Cornell University
"Written in a clear, accessible style, this book presents a compelling synthesis of the best ideas in contemporary evolutionary theory and moral philosophy. A brilliant example of how philosophical reflection on topics of perennial concern can be enriched through deep engagement with the human sciences."
– Joseph Heath, Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto