September 28, 2022

Is human uniqueness just skin deep?

Editorial in New Scientist questions human uniqueness

Deciding
whether humans have unique qualities which set them apart from other animals is
surely the most fundamental question in bioethics. A negative answer restricts
the field considerably and excludes how we treat bacteria, beetles and bonobos
from weekly updates of BioEdge.

However,
the cover story of the current issue of New
Scientist
, the premier popular science magazine in the UK and Australia, at
least, gives a positive response. “It is finally time to kiss goodbye to the
idea that humans are qualitatively different from other animals. The notion has
been ingrained for centuries, yet in recent years research has found
overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We are not as unique as we thought,” the
magazine writes.

This
insight comes naturally “to anyone schooled in Darwinism”, it continues. And a
range of current research cited in the issue is showing that differences
between humans and animals are of degree, not of kind. The magazine has selected
six articles about “’uniquely’ human traits now found in animals”, together
with comments from scientists and videos of animals in action. The six features
are culture, mind reading, tool use, morality, emotions and personality.

Morality
must be the most controversial of these, but Marc Beckoff,
of the University of Colorado contends that many other species have rudimentary
forms of morality: “during play they learn the rights and wrongs of social
interaction, the moral norms that can then be extended to other situations such
as sharing food, defending resources, grooming and giving care”.

Although
the differences between humans and animals are quantitative rather than qualitative,
the magazine acknowledges that they still matter. The job of science is to
discover how much each of them matters. ~ New Scientist,
May 24

One thought on “Is human uniqueness just skin deep?

  1. The brief, one word answer to the question is “dignity”. But how can empirical scientific method reach that?

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