Primates and Philosophers – Reciprocity and Distant People in Need

Kristian Høyer Toft

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


In a recent book primatologist Frans De Waal discusses the
evolution of morality. A prime target of De Waal’s criticism is so-called
Veneer Theory (VT) according to which morality is “a cultural overlay, a
thin veneer hiding an otherwise selfish and brutish nature” (De Waal,
It is discussed whether evolutionary theory ranging from reciprocal
altruism to gene-culture coevolution can accommodate altruism towards
distant strangers in need. De Waal exemplifies such an extension of our
sentiments to regard the entire human race by The Geneva Convention of
1949 and states: “But we all know how fragile an effort this is” (ibid. p.
It is argued that universal morality must invoke features of VT since
evolutionary theory of altruism does not sufficiently account for a concern
for distant strangers in need
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHuman Characteristics : Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Mind and Kind
EditorsHenrik Høgh-Olesen, Jan Tønnesvang, Preben Bertelsen
Number of pages11
Place of PublicationNewcastle upon Tyne
PublisherCambridge Scholars Press
Publication date2009
ISBN (Print)1-4438-0213-1
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


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