This essay challenges science’s traditional taboo against anthropomorphizing animals or considering their behavior as indicative of feelings similar to human emotions. In their new book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, the authors argue that anthropomorphism is alive and well, as it should be. Here they describe some activities of animals, particularly animals at play, as clear signs that they have recognizable emotions and moral intelligence. Based on years of behavioral and cognitive research, the authors discuss in their book that animals exhibit a broad repertoire of moral behaviors, including empathy and cooperation, but here they concentrate on the fairness and trust so essential to any kind of play, animal or human. They contend that underneath this behavior lays a complex range of emotions, backed by a high degree of intelligence and surprising behavioral flexibility. Animals, they find, are incredibly adept social beings. They rely on rules of conduct in their play, just as do humans, which in turn, helps prepare animals for dealing with the intricate social networks that are essential to their survival. The authors conclude that there is no moral gap between humans and other species. As the play of animals helps to make clear, morality is an evolved trait humans unquestionably share with other social mammals.
Bekoff, M., & Pierce, J. (2009). Wild Justice: Honor and Fairness among Beasts at Play. American Journal of Play, 1(4), 451-475.