A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Are humans animals ?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on March 24, 2006

Consider the following statements:

  1. Hedgehogs don’t have spines.
  2. Hedgehogs are enormous animals.
  3. Hedgehogs are not animals, but like rabbits (in Putnam, Is Semantic Possible) they are robots controlled by Martians.
  4. Hedgehogs are not material things, but they are massive hallucination induced by Martians.

Intuitively to me, as a person who thinks that has mastered the usage of term “hedgehogs”, the first two sentences sound much more weird then the last two. While I have no problem with the last two and I know what they mean if someone claims they are true, I’m not sure what would one mean if he/she claims that one of the first two is true. It appears to me that in that case the person would probably be talking about something else and not hedgehogs.

Does this mean that theories about essence (surely ontological status falls into the essence) are secondary to the appearences when we talk about things?

Well, not necessarily, I would say. The opposite example can be shown about the concept of whales and humans. I asked my daughter(2y) if humans are animals, and she is sure that they aren’t. That is the level of appearences. And whales are fish…

But in those cases society has success in pushing the essence (or at least theories about it), in front of the appearences. Hence we know what one means when one says “humans are animals“, or “whales are not fish“. We know that the person is not talking about appearences, but about the essence (or theories of). The concepts of “animals” and “fish” in those cases has moved from the appearences, to the evolutionary/biological theories. Animal and fish don’t mean just what they did before, and that’s why it is possible to say “whales are not fish”, and “humans are animals”

So, the answer to the question “Are human animals?” depends on the underlying paradigm within which one answers it – the concept of “animal” is not the same one for the evolutionary biologist, and for my daughter. That’s why they will disagree.

And while on the first glance, one might say… “the essence of the concepts is what is important, the appearences are just appearences”, the issue is not so simple, as many of the concepts have the appearences as their root. So, if we want to continue using those “fuzzy” concepts, we will have to accept to live with multiple paradigms.

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2 Responses to “Are humans animals ?”

  1. “So, the answer to the question “Are human animals?” depends on the underlying paradigm within which one answers it – the concept of “animal” is not the same one for the evolutionary biologist, and for my daughter. That’s why they will disagree.
    And while on the first glance, one might say… “the essence of the concepts is what is important, the appearences are just appearences”, the issue is not so simple, as many of the concepts have the appearences as their root. So, if we want to continue using those “fuzzy” concepts, we will have to accept to live with multiple paradigms. ”

    no. the answer to the question of which kingdom humans fall into depends on a proper knowldge of the constituent elements of the concepts. when one understands the concepts kingdom /classification /animal /human/ biology/ and principles of classification it is clear that one cannot deny that a human is an animal “by definition”.
    thus there is nothing that could lead to the appearance of humans as bacteria or fish or reptiles but there is a lot that could lead to people denying that humans should be classified as some unique ….well uhmmm Human.
    A tree in the disctance may appear to be smaller than a tree close up while they are in fact the same size. This is a true problem of appearance. illusion does not mean that something does not exist but that something appears to be different to what it is. to understand this is not simply to assume that illusions are true and real but to attempt to unravle the nature of he visual system – this will then reveal why something inthe distance appears to be smaller that something close up.

  2. Brood^ said

    Johann,

    The categorical no, is “no” from within the biological and evolutionary paradigm, where, as you say, human is animal by definition.

    But common language is often using other paradigm, where it puts the humans vs. animals, and talks about rights of animals, treatment of animals and so on. In that paradigm, animal would mean what in biological paradigm we would call “other animals”. And the reason has to do, not with “underlying” explanation of the essences, but with a particular applicability of the concept in specific context. BTW, in that common day paradigm, it not just humans, but also I don’t think that e.g. insects fall into animals.

    The argument might be over the question of better/worse paradigm for looking at the world, but it is not so easy to argue that the biological paradigm is the one which somehow “maps” directly to the state of the world. If one tries for example even to define what “animal” would mean, to specify necessery and sufficient characteristics, he/she will stumble into problems.

    Note:This has nothing to do with the evolutionary explanation. Most probably a person who accepts evolutionary account will understand what is meant by “humans are animals”, but will continue using the word “animals” to refer to those animals which are not humans in common life.

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