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The Anthropological Difference: What Can Philosophers Do To Identify the Differences Between Human and Non-human Animals?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 April 2012

Hans-Johann Glock
Affiliation:
Glock University of Zürichglock@philos.uzh.ch
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Extract

This paper considers the question of whether there is a human-animal or ‘anthropological difference’. It starts with a historical introduction to the project of philosophical anthropology (sct. 1). Section 2 explains the philosophical quest for an anthropological difference. Sections 3–4 are methodological and explain how philosophical anthropology should be pursued in my view, namely as impure conceptual analysis. The following two sections discuss two fundamental objections to the very idea of such a difference, biological continuity (sct. 5) and Darwinist anti-essentialism (sct. 6). Section 7 discusses various possible responses to this second objection – potentiality, normality and typicality. It ends by abandoning the idea of an essence possessed by all and only individual human beings. Instead, anthropological differences are to be sought in the realm of capacities underlying specifically human societies (forms of communication and action). The final section argues that if there is such a thing as the anthropological difference, it is connected to language. But it favours a more modest line according to which there are several anthropological differences which jointly underlie the gap separating us from our animal cousins.

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Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2012

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References

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4 For a historical survey see Fischer, J.Philosophische Anthropologie (Freiburg: Alber, 2009)Google Scholar. Cassirer's, ErnstAn Essay on Man (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944)Google Scholar stands outside this tradition. It does not focus on the difference between humans and animals and does not draw on biology.

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8 The expression anthropologische Differenz hails from the German tradition of philosophical anthropology. There it continues to be used in a variety of ways, many of them obscure and idiosyncratic. My employment of it is in line with Wild, M., Die Anthropologische Differenz (Berlin: deGruyter, 2006)Google Scholar, an exemplary historical investigation of the debate about animal mentality in early modern philosophy from the vantage point of contemporary ethology and philosophy of mind.

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14 Technology is a different matter, since it involves the production of tools for the purpose of repeated use, and in the context of collaborative social practices.

15 P.M.S. Hacker, op. cit. note 11, 4.

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18 Another possible addition to the dichotomy is the common sense certainties or hinge propositions highlighted by Moore and Wittgenstein or Collingwood's ‘absolute presuppositions’.

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30 Dennett, D., The Intentional Stance (Cambridge and Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1987)Google Scholar; Glock, H.-J., ‘Can animals act for Reasons?’, Inquiry, 52 (2009), 232254Google Scholar.

31 Tomasello, M., The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition (Cambridge and Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999)Google Scholar.

32 Cp. Ch. Darwin The Descent of Man, in So Simple a Beginning: the four Great Books of Charles Darwin, ed. with an Introduction by Wilson, Edward (New York: Norton, 2006)Google Scholar, ch.III/798 and ch.V/868.

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34 Haeckel, E., Die Welträtsel (Bonn: Strauss, 1900), 1415, 199)Google Scholar. In a similar vein, W. Sombart called the idea that man is an entirely special creature ‘hominism’ and opposed it to ‘animalism’, for which humans are merely part of nature (Vom Menschen, (Berlin: Duncker & Humboldt, 1938), 89Google Scholar.

35 Hacker, op. cit., note 11, 4; Hull, D.L., ‘On Human Nature’, in: Hull, D.L. & Ruse, M. (eds.) The Philosophy of Biology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 383397Google ScholarPubMed.

36 Thus Hull asserts: ‘if the human species has evolved the way that other species have evolved, then it cannot have a traditional “nature”’ (‘Historical entities and historical narratives’, in Hookway, C. (ed.), Machines and Evolution: Philosophical Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 36Google Scholar). And R. de Sousa insists: ‘the Darwinian revolution has made it impossible to take seriously … the idea of a human essence’ (‘Learning to be Natural’, in Roughley, N. (ed.), Being Human (New York: de Gruyter, 2000), 292Google Scholar).

37 For a defence see J. Dupré, op. cit. note 20, ch. 4.

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39 Dupré, op. cit., note 20, chs. 3–4.

40 More recently, additional dimensions have been suggested. Thus Jablonka, E. and Lamb, M. (Evolution in Four Dimensions, (Cambridge/Mass.: MIT Press, 2005))Google ScholarPubMed distinguish four dimensions of evolution: genetics, epigenetics, which includes all characteristics of cells and organisms that are heritable without being written into the genome, behaviour (social learning) and symbolic inheritance systems, including language. But our comprehension of epigenetics is still in its infancy; in any event, it appears improbable that there is a particular epigenetic system that characterizes all and only human beings. And the other two mechanisms of transmission and variation do not apply at the level of individual organisms on which we are currently focusing. The social dimension will be discussed in the next section.

41 Hull, D.L., ‘On Human Nature’, in: Hull, D.L. & Ruse, M. (ed.) The Philosophy of Biology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 591Google ScholarPubMed.

42 See Dupré, op. cit. note 20 and What is Natural about Human Nature’, Deutsches Jahrbuch Philosophie, 3 (2010)Google Scholar.

43 Savage-Rumbaugh, S.Shanker, S. and Taylor, T., Apes, Language and the Human Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998Google Scholar;. Hurley, S. and Nudds, M. (eds.), Rational Animals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)Google Scholar.

44 Tomasello, M., The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition (Cambridge and Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999)Google Scholar.

Tomasello, M., Origins of Human Communication ((Cambridge and Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008)Google Scholar. Tomasello, M. and Rakoczy, H., ‘What makes Human Cognition Unique?’, Mind and Language 18 (2003), 121–47Google Scholar.

45 One caveat. We may not know enough about the various channels of natural communication between cetaceans, in particular bottlenose dolphins, in order to decide how far they approximate linguistic communication.

46 Tomasello, M., Origins of Human Communication ((Cambridge and Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008)Google Scholar.

47 Glock, H.-J., ‘Philosophy, Thought and Language’, in: Preston, J. (ed.), Thought and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 151169Google Scholar.

Glock, H.-J., ‘Animals, Thoughts and Concepts’, Synthese 119 (2000), 3564Google Scholar.

48 For help of a philosophical or editorial kind I should like to thank David Dolby, Anita Horn, Constantine Sandis, and Markus Wild. This essay has also profited from comments by audiences in Toledo, Grenada, Oxford, Waldshut and Zurich. Finally I should like to record my profound gratitude to the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (Delmenhorst) for supporting this work through a fellowship.

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