Primates and Philosophers (2006)Empathetic monkey experiments (1990s)
Left: Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal’s 2006 Primates and Philosophers, wherein he explains his monkey morality experiments, the most-famous of which being the shock your friend or get food alternative experiment. [1] Right: a video still of Jeremy Rifkin (2010) discussing the 1990s MRI monkey empathy experiments. [4]
In terminology, moral monkeys refers to the subject the study of morality, moral science, and or ethics in the behaviors, i.e. moral behavior, so to say, of non-human primate mammals.

In the 1960s, Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal began to study aggression in nonhuman primates, noticing that after fights between two combatants, other chimpanzees would often console the loser, a form of empathy. This led to later speculative theories about morality. [2]

In later experiments conducted by de Waal, monkeys were first trained to pull a lever to get food. Then the lever was hooked up so that when the monkeys pulled the lever to get food, it not only produced food, but severely shocked a monkey in a neighboring cage. It was found that the monkeys would voluntarily choose to starve themselves, going between five to twelve days without food, rather than shock their neighbor. [1]

The following are illustrations of so-called “moral” behaviors in chimpanzees, such as an adult male teaching a youngling about proper moral social behavior (left), a female taking a stone out of the hand of a male about to go to war (center), or an adult helping a scared young chimp down from the tree (right): [2]

Moral monkey behaviors

The religious implications of de Waal's work are that religion is something that evolved out of primate morality, functioning to enforce rules and give narrative to them, according to de Waals. [2]

The extrapolation of this finding is that what we define as "moral behavior" must have its origin in the hydrogen atom, being that humans (26-element molecules) evolved from monkeys (24-element molecules) which evolved from the hydrogen atom (1-element).

In 2012, Paul Zac, in his The Moral Molecule, argued that oxytocin is the molecule, i.e. the moral molecule, behind morality in humans, in the areas of: love, trust, prosperity. [3]

The following are related quotes:

“The time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of philosophers [and theologians] and biologicized.”
— Edward Wilson (1975), Sociobiology [2]

1. (a) De Wall, Frans. (2006). Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. Princeton University Press.
(b) Frans de Waal – Wikipedia.
(c) Harrison, Guy P. (2008). 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in God (pg. 204). Prometheus Books.
2. Wade, Nicholas. (2007). “Scientist Finds the Beginning of Morality in Primate Behavior” (Ѻ), New York Times, Mar 20.
3. Zac, Paul J. (2012). The Moral Molecule: the Source of Love and Prosperity. Dutton Adult.
4. Rifkin, Jeremy. (2010). “The Empathic Civilisation” (Ѻ), The RSA, May 6.

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