What Piece of Work is Man? Frans De Waal and Pragmatist Naturalism

Erasmus Working Paper No. 12-01

34 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2012

See all articles by Wouter de Been

Wouter de Been

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Law

Sanne Taekema

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus School of Law

Date Written: February 20, 2012

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

de Been, Wouter and Taekema, Sanne, What Piece of Work is Man? Frans De Waal and Pragmatist Naturalism (February 20, 2012). Erasmus Working Paper No. 12-01. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2009375 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2009375

Wouter De Been

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Law ( email )

3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands

Sanne Taekema (Contact Author)

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus School of Law ( email )

3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands

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