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The Evolution of Animal Play, Emotions, and Social Morality: On Science, Theology, Spirituality, Personhood, and Love

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My essay first takes me into the arena in which science, spirituality, and theology meet. I comment on the enterprise of science and how scientists could well benefit from reciprocal interactions with theologians and religious leaders. Next, I discuss the evolution of social morality and the ways in which various aspects of social play behavior relate to the notion of “behaving fairly.” The contributions of spiritual and religious perspectives are important in our coming to a fuller understanding of the evolution of morality. I go on to discuss animal emotions, the concept of personhood, and how our special relationships with other animals, especially the companions with whom we share our homes, help us to define our place in nature, our humanness. It is when we take the life of another being in the ritual of compassionately euthanizing them (“putting them to sleep”) that who we are in the grand scheme of things comes to the fore. I end with a discussion of the importance of ethological studies, behavioral research in which a serious attempt is made to understand animals in their own worlds, inquiries in which it is asked, “What is it like to be another species?” Species other than nonhuman primates need to be studied. I plead for developing compassionate, heartfelt, and holistic science that allows for interdisciplinary talk about respect, grace, spirituality, religion, love, Earth, and God.
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Keywords: animal emotions; animal play; biocentric anthropo-morphism; critical anthropomorphism; personhood; social morality; spirituality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Colorado

Publication date: 2001-12-01

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