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205. The Intricacies of Morality in Animals: Delving into William Search's Theories


In the realm of thought-provoking philosophical explorations, William Search's books, Why and Conversations with ChatGPT: Exploring the Theory of Morality and Existence, provide a fascinating perspective on the concept of morality and its connection to the existence of humans and other species. Drawing on insights from these groundbreaking works, this blog post delves into the compelling theory that animals, much like humans, possess a sense of morality that guides their behavior and interactions within their social groups.

Throughout this exploration, we will investigate the intriguing notion that animals have an inherent capacity to differentiate between right and wrong, which may challenge our assumptions about the unique nature of human morality. By examining various case studies and engaging with the theories of experts in the field, we hope to shed light on the complex world of animal morality and its implications for our understanding of existence and the natural world.

Animals' Sense of Morality

Overview of the concept of morality in animals

Building on the ideas presented in William Search's Why, the concept of morality in animals is a fascinating area of study, positing that animals, like humans, have an inherent ability to distinguish between right and wrong. This sense of morality allows them to navigate their social environments and maintain order within their groups. While this idea might be surprising to some, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the existence of moral frameworks in various animal species.

Professor Marc Bekoff's research and evidence

One of the leading researchers in the field of animal morality is Professor Marc Bekoff. He argues that morality is "hardwired" into the minds of all mammals, providing the "social glue" that allows often aggressive animals to coexist harmoniously. Bekoff has collected evidence from around the world, demonstrating how different species exhibit an inherent sense of fairness, empathy, and altruism.

Bekoff believes that moral codes are species-specific and can be challenging to compare between different animals or with humans. However, he contends that the presence of moral codes in various species indicates that humans are not unique in their capacity for complex emotions and ethical principles.

Skepticism and counterarguments from other scientists

Despite the growing evidence supporting the existence of morality in animals, some scientists remain skeptical. They argue that while animals may exhibit behaviors that resemble morality, it is not the same as the well-developed and reasoned sense of right and wrong found in humans. Professor Frans de Waal, for example, posits that human morality has its roots in our primate psychology, which is older than our species. He acknowledges that animals show many of the same tendencies and have an intense sociality, but maintains that their behaviors should not be equated to human morality.

Case Studies: Morality in Various Animal Species


Wolves live in tightly knit groups governed by strict rules. During play, alpha wolves will "handicap" themselves by switching roles with lower-ranking wolves, demonstrating submission and allowing them to bite, albeit gently. Professor Bekoff suggests that such behavior would not be possible without moral rules guiding their actions. If a wolf bites too hard, it initiates a "play bow" to apologize before the play continues.


Coyotes' play is also governed by similar rules. Cubs that bite too aggressively are shunned by the rest of the pack and may be forced to leave entirely. This behavior indicates a sense of fairness and adherence to a moral code within the pack.


Elephants are highly social and sensitive animals. Studies by Iain Douglas-Hamilton show that elephants demonstrate empathy and have been observed helping injured or ill members of their species. In one remarkable case, a matriarch elephant in South Africa undid the metal latches of an enclosure to free trapped antelope, suggesting a capacity for compassion across species.

Diana Monkeys

In an experiment with Diana monkeys, researchers taught them to insert a token into a slot to receive food. A male monkey proficient at the task was observed helping an older female who had difficulty with the process. As there was no benefit for the male monkey, Professor Bekoff argues that this behavior is indicative of an internal moral code guiding the animal's actions.


Chimpanzees, our closest relatives among the great apes, are thought to live by moral principles. For example, a chimpanzee named Knuckles, who suffers from cerebral palsy, is treated differently by his cohort and is rarely exposed to aggressive displays from older males. This behavior suggests that chimpanzees have a sense of fairness and adhere to a moral code within their social groups. Additionally, chimpanzees who deviate from the group's established codes of conduct are punished by other members, further supporting the existence of moral principles in their society.


Experiments with rats have shown that they will avoid taking food if they know that doing so will cause pain to another rat. In a laboratory setting, rats with access to food stopped eating rather than witnessing another rat receive an electric shock. Similarly, mice displayed stronger reactions to pain when they saw another mouse in pain. These findings suggest that even rodents may possess a sense of empathy and moral awareness.


Recent research has revealed that whales possess spindle cells in their brains, which are large cells previously thought to be unique to humans and other great apes. These cells are associated with empathy and are found in the same regions of the brain as in humans. Whales have three times as many spindle cells as humans, and they are believed to be older in evolutionary terms. This discovery implies that complex emotional judgments, such as empathy, may have evolved much earlier than previously thought and could be widespread in the animal kingdom.

Evolutionary Aspects of Morality

The development of moral compasses through evolution

The presence of moral compasses in various animal species suggests that morality has evolved through the process of natural selection. As animals experienced pain, death, and suffering over millions of years, their moral compasses developed to promote cooperation, reduce conflict, and enhance their ability to survive and reproduce. This evolutionary process has shaped the complex moral landscapes we observe in the animal kingdom today.

Implications of "hard-wired" morality in mammalian brains

The notion that morality is "hard-wired" into the brains of all mammals has significant implications for our understanding of evolution and the natural world. It suggests that one of the primary purposes of evolution is the development of moral compasses, which serve to guide the behavior of animals within their social groups. This concept challenges the long-held belief that humans are unique in their capacity for complex emotions and ethical principles and expands our understanding of the interconnectedness of all living beings.

In conclusion, the exploration of morality in animals, as presented in William Search's Why and through various case studies and expert opinions, offers compelling evidence that humans are not the sole possessors of complex emotional and ethical capacities. This realization has profound implications for how we view our place in the natural world and our responsibilities toward other living beings. As we continue to study and learn from the moral lives of animals, we may gain a greater appreciation for the intricate tapestry of existence that connects us all.


Title: Animals can tell right from wrong

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