Wild Justice

“Wild Justice Redux: What We Know about Social Justice in Animals and Why It Matters,” with Marc Bekoff. Published in the June 2012 issue of Social Justice Research. View the absract here.

Moral in Tooth and Claw,” by Jessica Pierce and Marc Bekoff, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 18, 2009, can be found here.

The Ethical Dog,” from Scientific American Mind (March 2010) can be viewed here.

My interview on WA MU Radio’s “The Animal House” (November 7, 2009) can be found here

Listen to Wisconsin Public Radio’s Here On Earth show about Wild Justice.

Listen to Conversations from a Pale Blue Dot Podcast on animals and morality.

Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals,
by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce. University of Chicago Press
(order here). Also available on audiobook and e-book.

A teenage female elephant nursing an injured leg is knocked over by a rambunctious, hormone-laden teenage male. An older female sees this happen, chases the male away, and goes back to the younger female and touches her sore leg with her trunk. A rat in a cage refuses to push a lever for food when it sees that another rat receives an electric shock as a result. In a group of chimpanzees individuals punish others who are late for dinner because no one eats until everyone’s present. Do these examples show that animals display moral behavior, that they can be compassionate, empathic, altruistic, and fair? Do animals have a kind of moral intelligence? Yes, they do.

In Wild Justice ethologist Marc Bekoff and philosopher Jessica Pierce explore the rich inner lives of social animals. Bekoff and Pierce show that animals can have a broad repertoire of moral behaviors, including fairness, empathy, forgiveness, trust, reciprocity, and much more as well. Underlying these moral behaviors are a complex and nuanced range of emotions, a high degree of intelligence, and surprising behavioral flexibility as these animals negotiate complex and changing social relationships.

Animals, in short, are incredibly adept social actors: they form intricate networks of relationships and live by rules of conduct that maintain social balance. Bekoff and Pierce’s interdisciplinary work draws together research on the behavior of many species, including the great apes, social carnivores such as wolves, cetaceans such as whales and dolphins, rodents such as rats and mice, and elephants.

Bekoff and Pierce also consider the evolution of moral behavior. Morality is an evolved trait and other social mammals have it just like we have it. There is no “moral gap” between humans and other species. The authors challenge the domination of the competition paradigm that has monopolized discussions of the evolution of social behavior and they show how momentum is building toward a paradigm shift in which “nature red in tooth and claw” sits in balance with wild justice. The innumerable situations in which we see individual animals working together aren’t merely veneers of cooperation, fairness, and trust, but the real thing. Cooperation, fairness, and and justice have to be factored into the evolutionary equation in order to understand the evolution of social behavior in diverse species. To this end, Bekoff and Pierce spend a good deal of time discussing social play behavior, an activity that has been overlooked by just about all scholars interested in the evolution of morality. Patterns of behavior observed during play strongly suggest that morality has evolved in animals other than humans.

The information contained in Wild Justice, in addition to providing a cutting-edge scientific perspective on the behavior of animals, has profound moral implications for our relationship with, and responsibilities toward, other animals.

REVIEWS of Wild Justice

Humans think of themselves as the only moral animals. But what about the elephant who sets a group of captive antelope free, the rat who refuses to shock another to earn a reward, and the magpie who grieves for her young? Cognitive animal behaviorist Bekoff and philosopher Pierce argue that nonhuman animals are also moral beings—with not just building blocks or precursors of morality but the real deal. The research gathered here makes a compelling case that it is time to reconsider yet another of the traits we have claimed as uniquely our own.
Discover Magazine, April 26, 2009.

“Over the last generation animals have increasingly come to be seen as objects of moral concern rather than mere things that can be used for our purposes. Building on the work of other scientists and philosophers, Bekoff and Pierce challenge us to go further and to see animals, not just as creatures who can be treated unjustly, but as themselves dispensers of `wild justice.’ Not everyone will agree, but their provocative challenge must be addressed.”
—Dale W. Jamieson, New York University

“In a time when biological determinism, competition, and `red tooth and claw’ views of animal and human behavior are so prevalent in both scientific and popular literature, Bekoff and Pierce offer a breath of fresh air. They provide ample evidence and a rational theory for the evolution and existence of cooperation, justice, empathy, and morality in social-living animals. This collaboration of a biologist and a philosopher has done a great service to the current understanding and future direction of the study of animal behavior.”
—Robert W. Sussman, coeditor of The Origins and Nature of Sociality

“As a child I learned that behaving fairly, during play with others, was a very important social rule. As a mother, I learned that treating my child fairly was key in building his trust and cooperation. And we find that fairness plays an important role in the social interactions of many different animals and is key in developing and maintaining friendships. Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce”s ideas about the moral lives of animals stress the significance of fairness, cooperation, empathy, and justice, aspects of behavior desperately needed in the world today. Read this book, share it widely, and incorporate its lessons into your classroom, family room or board room.”
—Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, and United Nations Messenger of Peace

“Cognitive ethologist Bekoff and philosopher Pierce explore the moral lives of such commonly studied animals as primates, wolves, household rodents, elephants, dolphins-and a few more uncommon critters as well. . . . The authors contend that, in order to understand the moral compass by which animals live, we must first expand our definition of morality to include moral behavior unique to each species. Studies done by the authors, as well as experts in the fields of psychology, human social intelligent, zoology, and other branches of relevant science excellently bolster their claim.”
—Publishers Weekly

“While Darwin”s theory of natural selection, which holds that species are engaged in a competitive and violent struggle for existence, is well known, less familiar is the concept that moral behavior (e.g., cooperation, empathy, and a sense of justice) has also evolved in many animal societies. Focusing here on the gentler side of animal natures, animal behaviorist Bekoff and philosopher Pierce discuss recent scientific studies documenting that great apes, monkeys, wolves, coyotes, hyenas, dolphins, whales, elephants, rats, and mice are capable of a wide range of moral behavior. They strongly urge the scientific and philosophical communities to recognize that these animals can act as moral agents within the context of their own social groups. This provocative and well-argued view of animal morality may surprise some readers as it challenges outdated assumptions about animals. The authors” intention, however, is not to unseat humans from their moral pinnacle but to uplift our animal kin into the moral realm. Written as much for other academics as for interested lay readers, this lucid book is highly recommended for animal behavior collections in university and large public libraries.”
—Library Journal

“Wild Justice represents multi-disciplinary scholarship at its finest. All future collaborations between ethologists and philosophers will be measured against the high standard set by Bekoff and Pierce.”
—Tom Regan, author of Empty Cages