I've argued before that the underlying intellectual tension in social investing is the rejection by social investors of the idea that people are, or should be, primarily motivated by economic factors (as discussed in last year's Christmas post and Jim Hoopes' reply).
Frans de Waal has written a new book, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. It is based on a series of lectures he gave at Princeton, and Princeton University Press lets you read chapter 1 free, here. In a nutshell, de Waal believes morality is a result of human evolution, and is to some degree hard-wired in us.
This challenges economic determinism with a kind of biological determinism. On one level I'm happy to see it - economic analysis of human behavior can be frustratingly superficial, so it is nice to see someone push back and argue persuasively that something else - anything else - matters.
But careful what you wish for - if you accept de Waal's account, a host of new questions arise. If human ethics and morality evolved, what does that say about the philosophy of ethics, which is supposed to be derived from reason - or religion? I suspect Mr. de Waal will find his share of detractors.
Well, no one said it was going to be simple. Primates and Philosophers offers good new reasons to pay attention to questions of ethics and morality. Extra credit for getting a blurb from the estimable Robert Sapolsky:
"Frans de Waal has achieved that state of grace for a scientist--doing research that is both rigorous and wildly creative, and in the process has redefined how we think about the most interesting realms of behavior among nonhuman primates--cooperation, reconciliation, a sense of fairness, and even the rudiments of morality...This is superb and greatly challenging thinking."