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Wild Justice: The Moral Lives Of Animals [Paperback]

Marc Bekoff , Jessica Pierce
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 May 2009

Scientists have long counseled against interpreting animal behavior in terms of human emotions, warning that such anthropomorphizing limits our ability to understand animals as they really are. Yet what are we to make of a female gorilla in a German zoo who spent days mourning the death of her baby? Or a wild female elephant who cared for a younger one after she was injured by a rambunctious teenage male? Or a rat who refused to push a lever for food when he saw that doing so caused another rat to be shocked? Aren’t these clear signs that animals have recognizable emotions and moral intelligence? With Wild Justice Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce unequivocally answer yes.

Marrying years of behavioral and cognitive research with compelling and moving anecdotes, Bekoff and Pierce reveal that animals exhibit a broad repertoire of moral behaviors, including fairness, empathy, trust, and reciprocity. Underlying these behaviors is a complex and nuanced range of emotions, backed by a high degree of intelligence and surprising behavioral flexibility. Animals, in short, are incredibly adept social beings, relying on rules of conduct to navigate intricate social networks that are essential to their survival. Ultimately, Bekoff and Pierce draw the astonishing conclusion that there is no moral gap between humans and other species: morality is an evolved trait that we unquestionably share with other social mammals.

Sure to be controversial, Wild Justice offers not just cutting-edge science, but a provocative call to rethink our relationship with—and our responsibilities toward—our fellow animals.

Frequently Bought Together

Wild Justice: The Moral Lives Of Animals + The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy and Why They Matter + Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect
Price For All Three: £36.74

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (30 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226041638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226041636
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 16.1 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 395,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Authors

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Product Description


"This provocative and well-argued view of animal morality may surprise some readers as it challenges outdated assumptions about animals.... Written as much for other academics as for interested lay readers, this lucid book is highly recommended." - Library Journal "The authors contend that, in order to understand the moral compass by which animals live, we must first expand our definition of morality to include moral behavior unique to each species. Studies done by the authors, as well as experts in the fields of psychology, human social intelligence, zoology, and other branches of relevant science excellently bolster their claim." - Publishers Weekly "Wild Justice makes a compelling argument for open-mindedness regarding nonhuman animals." - New Scientist "Humans think of themselves as the only moral animals. But what about... the rat who refuses to shock another to earn a reward, and the magpie who grieves for her young? Cognitive animal behaviorist Bekoff and philosopher Pierce argue that nonhuman animals also are moral beings - with not just building blocks or precursors of morality but the real deal. The research gathered here makes a compelling case that it is time to reconsider yet another of the traits we have claimed as uniquely our own." - Discover"

About the Author

Marc Bekoff (http://literati.net/Bekoff) has published numerous books, including The Emotional Lives of Animals, and has provided expert commentary for many media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN, and the BBC. Jessica Pierce (www.jessicapierce.net) has taught and written about philosophy for many years. She is the author of a number of books, including Morality Play: Case Studies in Ethics.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but a bit repetitive 30 Sep 2010
The basic proposal of the book is that non-human animals have 'morals'. The definition of morality is not as I would define it. Using a narrow definition, they authors basically say that other animals have 'rules' as to how they behave in their own societies. It is not really ground-breaking and their evidence is Ok but repetitive. It's more of a 'filled'out' booklet than a book. But could stimulate discussion.
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5.0 out of 5 stars animal morality 3 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this as a gift for a relative, but had a quick peek before sending it off. It certainly looks very good and is on a topiic that is of great interest.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Foxfire
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Marc Berkoff explain with absolute clarity animal behaviour and understand completly that animals experience the same feeling and emotions as humans do. He explains his research finding with absolute clarity.

Mark reminds us that in order to understand animals, we will not find the answer by dissecting them, injecting them with harmful chemicals or keep them in an unnatural laboratory environment, which does include zoo's. Marc is no quack or ageing hippie, but a highly respected Professor at Harvard in the study of Animal ethology

A fabulous book written by a first class psychological ethologist.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This is not Science! Only speculations! 4 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As another reviewer writes (on Amazon.com); too much "cover your ass", actually so much of it, that it works the other way around!
It Got me thinking "when they have so much to explain, then they have a very weak case".
As an example (which very nearly caused me to throw the book directly in the bin); on page 43:
"... What we see on the outside tells us a lot about what's happening inside animals' heads and hearts ..."
If the writers still thinks that morality resides in the heart, they have a very Big problem!!!
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wild Speculation? No, Why Bekoff & Pierce get it right 1 Jun 2009
By Barbara J. King - Published on Amazon.com
I'm glad Wild Justice is bringing in comments, as it deserves a wide readership. It's fine science coupled with fascinating stories, and I disagree avidly with its being labelled as 'wild speculation' (see earlier review). I'd like to point out, as a primate studies-oriented anthropologist who has observed apes for many years, that the reviewer who brings up the now-cliche 'the plural of anecdote is not data' misses the point of what Bekoff and Pierce set out to do. B&P realize that we've barely scratched the surface of understanding animal cooperation, empathy, and morality/justice, and that we need to go beyond statistics to embrace what animals do (sometimes, not all the time) under different circumstances, with social partners of certain social histories, etc. They are as interested in negative evidence for their hypotheses, it seems to me, as in positive evidence. After all, individual variation is key to their endeavor, just as it is key to the workings of natural selection. They note, furthermore, that animal morality has its limits; they do not conflate nonhumans with humans. In sum, the case-study approach DOES have merit scientifically. It can be beautifully combined with statistical studies, so no one is arguing for either/or. It's time for long-term, rigorously done qualitative work on animal behavior to get its due, and there's no place better to start than with what Bekoff and Pierce have accomplished here. Read my full review here:

PS Please don't take anyone's word for Bekoff's expertise in this arena: look him up. His website is full of credentials.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There is a potentially a good book in this subject . . . 22 Jun 2011
By morehumanthanhuman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
. . . I just wish that this was that book.

The authors seek to convince us that when we see animals working together we aren't seeing "veneers of cooperation, fairness, and trust, but the real thing." "Wild Justice" is the name they give to the combination of behaviors they group under the names "cooperation," "empathy," and "justice." They adopt a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on observations of animals (captive and wild), neurological studies, and philosophy. Of special interest to them is whether or not animals can be said to have moral agency and how our own observational bias comes into play via our expectations that animal morality look like human morality.

While I was ideologically prepared to accept their argument at the beginning of the book, I was unconvinced when I finished. I wish they had spent more time on the argument of moral agency and what it means to behave morally if one may not be making the decision to do so. Too many studies were presented as leading inevitably to the conclusion that an animal acting in a certain way was behaving morally -- it would have been much more convincing if Beckoff and Pierce had explored other theories that attempt to explain why the animals acted the way they did before simply drawing the conclusion that animals have moral lives.

As reading, this was relatively dry. Those expecting the more anecdote-driven style of, say, Jeffrey Masson, will be disappointed. This wasn't convincing enough to be an outstanding addition to the growing body of scientific/philosophical justifications for changing the way we relate to animals. Nor was it emotionally engaging in a way that will win hearts. However, if you have interest in the subject, it may provide a good place to start your research.
33 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much fat, not enough meat. 26 May 2009
By A. Coleman - Published on Amazon.com
First, this book in general is interesting. It presents several interesting experiments and events. But it is fairly dry.

The authors spend way too much time precisely describing what it will talk about, definitions, etc. The kind of thing that is definitely required for a scientific journal, but boring in a book. Then the descriptions of the animal behavior are too short. The examples are used to push certain views/conclusions, as opposed to encouraging creative thinking and debate, and possible future experiments.

I was hoping for far more detailed descriptions and analysis of possible different explanations, as opposed to a statement of view with short descriptions intended to defend that viewpoint. It is clearly written by scientists and works hard to be taken seriously as a work of science. But this is not a peer-review scientific paper. Less of a sense of rigorous argument and more a sense of wonder would have made the book much more interesting.

For example, it discusses how rats sometimes refuse to push a lever to get food if they see another rat be shocked when the lever is pushed. This is very interesting, but instead of delving further into it, the book provides little more information then I just did.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating stuff 28 April 2012
By B. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
It seems the emotional lives of animals can be just as complex as humans. Empathy, compassion, sadness, and outrage at injustice are shared by many non-human animals, and this book lays out some fine examples. Highly recommended.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bold but Circumspect 1 Sep 2010
By Joel Marks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is notable for both its brazenness and its modesty. Bekoff and Pierce dare to argue for the moral agency of nonhuman animals; yet they do so in an entirely sober and scientific way, as well as with philosophic circumspection.
Why is their thesis bold? Because it is common, even among animal-lovers, to attribute total moral innocence to other animals. Among animal users and abusers it is a chief argument for withholding moral consideration from them. One of the standard kinds of moral theory maintains that only beings who are capable of being moral agents deserve to be treated with moral concern and respect. While there are plausible considerations for holding such a view, theorists such as Bekoff and Pierce (and myself) ultimately reject it. The ethicist Tom Regan has put forward the classic rebuttal, which is that a being can be a so-called moral patient, and not (or not only) a moral agent. This means that one can fully merit moral regard even if one is incapable of holding others in moral regard. An obvious example among human beings would be a severely mentally retarded person, who might have no conception of how to treat others properly but who nevertheless would merit being treated properly by others.
So a standard "move" by animal advocates such as Regan is to argue that nonhuman animals are moral patients if not moral agents and hence deserving of our moral consideration even if they are incapable of having any for us or even other members of their own species. But Bekoff and Pierce roll out the red carpet even further to welcome our fellow animals into the moral community by attributing moral agency to them and not just moral patiency.
A great strength of the book, as I have noted, is that the authors do all of this circumspectly. They marshal a great deal of both anecdotal and scientific evidence in favor of their thesis. However, the thesis would not be worth much if unaccompanied by an analysis of just what "moral" means; and here again the book is worthy for its careful and thorough delineation of how they are using that term and concept.
If Bekoff and Pierce are right - and they have certainly convinced me, who was a skeptic to begin with - animals are twice-removed (by being moral agents as well as moral patients) from their normal designation as mere objects for human use and exploitation (as in eating them, experimenting on them, wearing them, breeding them, and so forth). One possible caveat regarding the practical implications of their thesis, however, comes from psychologists Kurt Gray and Daniel M. Wegner, who argue that the distinction between moral agents and moral patients works to structure our moral responses in unsuspecting ways ("Moral typecasting: Divergent perceptions of moral agents and moral patients" in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 96, no. 3, pp. 505-520, 2009). One of those ways, they claim based on their empirical research, is that beings who are perceived primarily as moral patients are more likely to garner moral consideration that beings who are perceived primarily as moral agents. This runs quite contrary to the usual philosophic take, as noted above, and may only be based on preliminary findings. But if there is anything to it, then attributing moral agency to nonhuman animals, however correctly, could actually backfire as a strategy of animal advocacy. However, that sad fact would not affect the truth of the thesis.
One glaring omission from this book is a sustained discussion of obligation and responsibility. It is one thing to argue that animals can be empathic and cooperative and compassionate and even just, but quite another to argue that they can be held accountable for their actions and might even be found "guilty" of immoral behavior. So by "moral" Bekoff and Pierce seem to mean only that animals can be morally good, as when we say that someone's behavior was highly moral. But we can also speak of moral responsibility and moral obligation, which implies than someone's behavior can be immoral or morally bad or wrong. And on this the book is strangely silent. By the way, a very interesting article on this issue is Paul Shapiro's "Moral Agency in Other Animals" (in Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, vol. 27, pp. 357-73, 2006), which Bekoff and Pierce do cite.
(Having noted that, I will declare my sympathy for a view of ethics that omits obligation, even for human beings. A noteworthy contribution to this view of ethics is Richard Garner's Beyond Morality, 1994 and now available in revised form on his Website.)
One bÍte noire that Bekoff and Pierce nicely avoid being bitten by is anthropomorphism: the critique that human beings tend to project our own humanity into nonhuman animals. Attributing morality to other animals could be considered an extreme example of that fallacious mental habit. However, the authors parry that human beings are first and foremost animals, as Darwinism has demonstrated in abundance. And therefore it is an unwarranted assumption that any trait we possess is distinctively human. So it could very well be the case that many of the features of ourselves that we see in other animals are shared animal features rather than misattributed human ones.
Another fine point I took away from this book (as well as from Shapiro's article) is that the abstract components of human morality may not be an essential feature of morality as such. Even if human morality were inherently abstract, as by incorporating explicit codes or rules or "commandments" or theories of ethical behavior, it would not follow that all moralities need be. Bekoff and Pierce assert their view that moralities are species-specific. This means not only that they would tend to apply primarily to other members of one's own species but also that their structural features could differ. I would like to add two points. First is that the abstractions and theorizing that are endemic to human morals could have to do not so much with morality as with our human penchant for codifying and theorizing. We do this for furniture and plants as well as for morals. Second is that a morality bereft of abstract self-awareness could conceivably be a better example of its type. Contrast for example the person (or being) who decides after much deliberating and calculating that the right thing to do is to help her neighbor, and the person or being who simply does do habitually and spontaneously. Which is the more moral?
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