CPBD 010: Jessica Pierce – Animal Morality

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 16, 2009 in Ethics,Podcast


Today I interview bioethicist Jessica Pierce about Wild Justice, her book with Marc Bekoff about the moral behavior of animals.

We discuss:

  • Advanced forms of thought and moral behavior in animals
  • The implications of this research for human morality
  • The implications of animal morality for theology

guest jessica pierceDownload CPBD episode 010 with Jessica Pierce. Total time is 36:09.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lee A. P. November 16, 2009 at 10:09 am

Luke, here is an “epic” thread from the old IIDB board by “Biff the Unclean” one of the care takers for Koko, the famous Gorilla that communicated via ASL.

This is a must read.



Lee A. P. November 16, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Clarfication, the thread was not started by Biff but he participated and gave lots of insight into the Gorillas communication skills.

Koko’s skills are dynamic. She communicates. She uses combinations of signs in unique ways. She teaches other Gorlillas to sign. Its pretty awesome.


Reginald Selkirk November 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Sam Harris wrote a brief but pithy summary of animal morality in his review of Francis Collins’ book in 2006: Sam Harris: The Language of Ignorance

And just how widespread must “glimmerings” of morality be among other animals before Collins—who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes—begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn’t these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution?


LDB November 18, 2009 at 9:27 am

I look forward to listening to this interview. I think the evolution of a growing wideness in our moral universe is very encouraging. I spent 25 years of my life as a fundamentalist and then an evangelical Christian, and 5 years ago when I became a vegetarian I was hard pressed to reconcile the two. There were a couple of threads to hold on to (and I held on tightly for a couple years), but there were many more problems than I wanted to admit, and the threads started to break (why did God command animal sacrifice- isn’t that just cruel? and why create animals at all?). I then spent a short time as a theistic evolutionist, but quickly abandoned that as thought of an intelligent designer setting this world into motion, only to watch countless individual beings die off in the process was unsettling at best.
Now, as an agnostic atheist, about three years and a lot of personal research later, I find it causes much less cognitive dissonance and requires no theological gymnastics in order to treat animals ethically, to basically give a shit about their lot and their humble experiences, regardless of whether or not a god commands it, condemns it, or couldn’t seem to care less.
What we can learn about the evolution of morality should be fascinating. Thanks!


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