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Kelly, A. (2007). What is it to be Human?. PHILICA.COM Observation number 39.

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What is it to be Human?

Anthony Kellyconfirmed user (Faculty of Education, Humanities, Law and Theology, Flinders University)

Published in anthro.philica.com

Observation
Human or Hominid?

Categories need unambiguous criteria. A recent Anthropological Textbook distinguished humans from apes by bipedalism, and later by adding toolmaking. Some birds meet these criteria. It is the possession of a mind that distinguishes humans from other Hominids.

Humans use their cognitive capacity beyond other animals. They naturally pursue intelligibility. Humans form understandings of aspects of the world that are not addressed by instinct. The formation of such understandings initially distinguishes humans from other animals.

All animal species instinctively know all they need know to maintain their species. They experience the world and interpret that experience through their instincts. When Homo sapiens first evolved they only knew what they had to know to survive. They were animals, not humans. After more than 100,000 years some Homo sapiens began to utilise their significant cognitive capacity to acquire and utilise other physical information. In this process they began to develop a mind, and thus to become human. Homo neanderthalis had greater cognitive capacity but did not take this step. The evidence of the beginning of the human mind is found in the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution.

Within the last 3,000 years some Homo sapiens began to think critically. Some then began to perceive the moral dimensions of human actions, processes that Bruno Snell outlines in “The Discovery of the Mind” (1953). Only humans can be moral. Their innate morality, as distinct from the moral criteria of their culture or religion, is the measure of their humanity. As Lawrence Kohlberg has shown, such principled morality is rare.

Information about this Observation
Peer-review ratings (from 3 reviews, where a score of 100 represents the ‘average’ level):
Originality = 60.47, importance = 46.35, overall quality = 51.05
This Observation was published on 29th August, 2007 at 06:53:42 and has been viewed 6897 times.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.
The full citation for this Observation is:
Kelly, A. (2007). What is it to be Human?. PHILICA.COM Observation number 39.


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1 Peer review [reviewer #187confirmed user] added 29th August, 2007 at 08:30:52

This is not a helpful or cogent Observation. The opening premise is false for a start: we have known for quite some time that categories can be fuzzy as well as clearly delineated (consider the category of “weekend”: Friday belongs to this category, but less so than Saturday). And which textbook is the author talking about?

The rest of the Observation is anthropocentric and full of unjustified supposition. It is not true to say that “animals” (presumably used to mean non-human animals) instinctively know all they need to know to maintain their species. If this were true then we would not see the learning or cultural transmission of survival skills in non-human animals, which we do (e.g., chimps using sticks to catch insects).

The idea that more than 3,000 years ago we had no morals or minds is very difficult to reconcile with vast swathes of archaeology: we see the practice of ritual burial in the Neanderthal people 60,000 years ago - something difficult to reconcile with the idea that these people did not have “minds” or “morals” or, indeed, “culture”. And here is the crux of the problem: without any attempt to define what is meant by the terms “mind” and “human” this observation takes us nowhere.

Originality: 2, Importance: 1, Overall quality: 1


2 Author comment added 17th September, 2007 at 09:35:52

Reviewer 187 says: “This is not a helpful or cogent Observation.” I only seek to assist or impress Anthropologists.

“The opening premise is false for a start: we have known for quite some time that categories can be fuzzy as well as clearly delineated (consider the category of “weekend”: Friday belongs to this category, but less so than Saturday).”
That some categories can be fuzzy is undeniable but that the category of “human” needs to be unambiguous is clear.

“And which textbook is the author talking about?” is irrelevant unless the statement referred to is denied.

“The rest of the Observation is anthropocentric and full of unjustified supposition.”
Statements such as this should be supported in detail to enable their rebuttal.

“It is not true to say that “animals” (presumably used to mean non-human animals) instinctively know all they need to know to maintain their species. If this were true then we would not see the learning or cultural transmission of survival skills in non-human animals, which we do (e.g., chimps using sticks to catch insects).”
The reviewer’s assertion is not in any way supported by the example given.

“The idea that more than 3,000 years ago we had no morals or minds is very difficult to reconcile with vast swathes of archaeology: we see the practice of ritual burial in the Neanderthal people 60,000 years ago - something difficult to reconcile with the idea that these people did not have “minds” or “morals” or, indeed, “culture”. And here is the crux of the problem: without any attempt to define what is meant by the terms “mind” and “human” this observation takes us nowhere.”
There are other approaches to the development of Mind, such as Julian Jaynes’ approach. I know of no authority, nor any evidence, that shows that human minds have never developed either critically or morally. Does the reviewer suggest that categories such as “mind” and “human” are not sufficiently clear? Are they in any way ambiguous to the reviewer?
Bruno Snell’s “The Discovery of Mind” is still readily available.


3 Additional peer comment [reviewer #187confirmed user] added 17th September, 2007 at 15:57:29

“That some categories can be fuzzy is undeniable but that the category of “human” needs to be unambiguous is clear.”
But you didn’t say you were talking about being human — you just made a general statement about categories, which I believe was wrong. And just why is it clear that the category of ‘human’ needs to be unambiguous? I can see various ways that it can be fuzzy, as evidenced by the ongoing debate over whether other great apes should have something akin to human rights.

“I know of no authority, nor any evidence, that shows that human minds have never developed either critically or morally.”
And? Lack of evidence is not the same as evidence for the contrary. Just because you don’t happen know of any evidence refuting to an idea, this is far from being the same as saying that the idea is true! If you want to argue that human minds have changed in relatively recent years you need to support that somehow.

“Does the reviewer suggest that categories such as “mind” and “human” are not sufficiently clear? Are they in any way ambiguous to the reviewer?”
Absolutely, because these are far from being universally agreed concepts. You appear to be using a definition of ‘mind’ that is different from that used by many people (“It is the possession of a mind that distinguishes humans from other Hominids” is a highly controversial statement). And you’ve used a definition of ‘human’ that is also apparently different from that used by most people — other hominids are often classed as human, whereas you apparently see them as something else.


4 Peer review [reviewer #57492unconfirmed user] added 12th March, 2008 at 13:30:34

The author asked a very interesting question. My own answer is: Genes. The author has another answer: Morality. May I ask some questions: Is morality inborn or being developed through moral education ? From my observation of childrens, I think nurture is a more crucial factor. How about mentally retarded people ? How can you assess their degree of morality ? Finally, suppose one day we produce a computer or robot that behaves like humans. How can we define their humanity ?

Originality: 4, Importance: 4, Overall quality: 4


5 Peer review [reviewer #47336unconfirmed user] added 18th September, 2011 at 16:24:34

The author states incorrectly that:
“When Homo sapiens first evolved … They were animals, not humans. After more than 100,000 years some Homo sapiens began to utilise their significant cognitive capacity to acquire and utilise other physical information.”

Reply and comments:
1. Anthropological consensus today is that Homo sapiens emerged as a species 2 million years ago and that it was capable of both lighting a fire and actually making paint tin order to draw on caves walls and stone slabs. Moreover the cognitive abilities of Homo sapiens co- evolved as result of both biological and social evolution. The well-developed vocal chords of H. sapiens—that are not present either in apes, Neanderthals, or even in Homo erectus and Homo ergaster, man’s closest hominin relatives— permitted speech, singing and the efficient processing of structured language with a syntax and symbolic meaning. Speech played, and plays, a very important role
in human communication, information transfer and social interactions.
On he other hand, “Homo ergaster probably communicated using gestures combined with a limited range of sounds. The vertebral canal of Nariokotome Boy does not seem developed enough to have given him the control over his breathing needed for complex speech. The small cheek teeth of Nariokotome Boy suggest that ergaster relied more on stone tools for processing food. To begin with, ergaster used primitive ‘Oldowan stone tools,’ which are little more than chipped rocks with sharp edges. But by around 1.6 million years ago, ergaster developed symmetrical, heart-shaped handaxes known as ‘Acheulean bifaces’, which gave the hominid greater control over the butchering of meat for food.” These facts show that 1.6 million years ago H. ergatser was already much more than a mere animal as the author suggested. Animals don’t make fire, man does. Man managed his fear of fire to make full use of fire for his survival and ascent, which requires a certain level of understanding, thought control and imagination well-above that of any animal in existence. One could argue, that 2 million years ago man has already developed a *critical* ability and attitude towards his ‘animal-like’ fears, thus mastering such fears, not 3,000 years ago as stated in this observation!
2. Paintings and animal hunt drawings on caves were found as early as 50,000 years ago, and evidence of symbolic expression of thoughts goes back to more than 2 million years ago:
—“By two million years ago, a new species of Homo appeared - the first species we would truly recognise as human”:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life/human/human_evolution/leaving_home1.shtml

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life/human/human_evolution/images/human_evolution_article_big3.jpg

3. This observation does not cites any relevant references, thus explaining the lack of factual basis for many of the statements made. Here are a few relevant references, as well as a link were more relevant facts can be found:
* Bendall, D., “Evolution from Molecules to Men”. Cambridge, UK, 1982
* . Pfeiffer, E.: 1969, “The Emergence of Man”, Cambridge Univ. Press: Cambridge, UK.
*McCrone, J.: 1990, “The Ape that Spoke: Language and the evolution of the human mind”, Piccador: London., 231 pp., ISBN 0-330-31910-8.
**Bronowski, Jacob. 1973. “The Ascent of Man”. 1973-2011 editions: BBC Books, Ebury Publs.,ISBN 978 18499 01154; Quoted review: “What separates man from other primates, or indeed other animals? Jacob Bronowski, a mathematician trained in physics, examines the scientific and intellectual history of humankind in his book… Though the book is based on the television series aired on BBC in the 1970s, it is far from outdated.” http://www.strategicforesight.co/bookreview_ascentofman.htm

4. Perhaps after considering the known, published facts, an update might be posted that reflects the important, known facts.

Originality: 3, Importance: 1, Overall quality: 2




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