What Piece of Work is Man? Frans De Waal and Pragmatist Naturalism
Erasmus Working Paper No. 12-01
34 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2012
Date Written: February 20, 2012
Frans de Waal has questioned a central premise of liberal theory, i.e. that human beings are primarily defined by selfishness and rationality. This premise does not conform to what we know from research about our primate origins - namely that primates are gregarious and guided by sympathy and empathy. De Waal argues we should return to Adam Smith’s moral theory and his focus on sympathy and empathy. We believe a return to pragmatism would be more appropriate. Pragmatism largely conforms to the view of human nature that De Waal’s research now supports. We argue that pragmatism can provide a more sophisticated framework to integrate recent insights about primate sociality into political and legal theory. Moreover, we think the pragmatist approach can enrich the hermeneutic strain in De Waal’s research.
Keywords: pragmatism, primates, political theory, legal theory, hermeneutics, empathy
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