Phelps Hall, Room 207
A lecture by Dr. Daniel De Haan (Post-doctoral Fellow, Cambridge University)
Sponsored by the Thomistic Institute
Free and open to the public.
Are we humans unique? Is the difference between humans and other animals a difference in degree or in kind? The primatologist Frans de Waal recently recommended “placing a moratorium on human uniqueness claims. Given their miserable track record, it is time to rein them in for a few decades.” (de Waal, 2016). However, even de Waal seems to violate his own moratorium by conceding that language is unique to humans. Can we resolve these disagreements about the differences between humans and other animals? In this talk, I argue that what is required is not only additional experimentation, but clearer conceptualization. I begin with the lack of conceptual clarity about what is meant by differences in kind, degree, and claims of uniqueness. I then look to the diverse abilities of animals such as chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, corvids, octopuses, and dogs and distinguish three rival ways of categorizing them: reductionism, naïve anthropomorphism, and liminalism. I endorse the third. This liminal approach to the advanced cognitive, conative, and social abilities of other animals enables us to draw clearer boundaries among their diverse continuities and discontinuities with rational animals. I conclude with an Aristotelian account of rationality which I argue uniquely differentiates humans from the extraordinary abilities of other animals.
Daniel D. De Haan (University of Cambridge) is a research fellow in the Faculty of Divinity and Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge. He received his PhD in 2014 from the University of St. Thomas, TX and the Catholic University of Leuven. Daniel’s research in the history of philosophy focuses on the metaphysics and psychology of Avicenna and Aquinas. His research in contemporary philosophy addresses the intersections of philosophical anthropology, philosophy of neuroscience and psychology, and philosophy of religion. He is currently writing a monograph on Aristotelian philosophical anthropology.