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English philosopher Roger Scruton battles the “humans are not special” folk

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At New York Times:

Almost all people believe that it is a crime to kill an innocent human, but not to kill an innocent tapeworm. And almost all people regard tapeworms as incapable of innocence in any case — not because they are always guilty, but because the distinction between innocent and guilty does not apply to them. They are the wrong kind of thing.

We, however, are the right kind of thing. So what kind is that? Do any other beings, animal or otherwise, belong to it? And what follows? These questions lie at the center of philosophical inquiry today, as they have since the ancient Greeks. In a thousand ways we distinguish people from the rest of nature, and build our life accordingly. We believe that people have rights, that they are sovereign over their lives, and that those who live by enslaving or abusing others are denying their own humanity. Surely there is a foundation for those beliefs, just as there is a foundation for all the moral, legal, artistic and spiritual traditions that take the distinctiveness of human life as their starting point. More.

The wisdom from “science” today is that the foundation of all that stuff is evolutionary psychology in a world where we did not evolve so as to perceive reality but did evolve so as to need coercion. Which is why we evolved to pay taxes to support all that.

No surprise that, as Michael Cook notes at MercatorNet:

The comments ran about 100:1 against Scruton and human exceptionalism: “my dog is much smarter and kinder than most people I know … People who look for differences between humans and non-humans remind me of the racists who look for differences between blacks and whites … The only thing special about human beings is our stunning arrogance and self-importance … Grow up. Get over it … Anyone who has lived with a dog knows that the other animals are just like us” and so on. More.

The question of whether humans matter much compared to tapeworms is likely to balloon in the 21st century. The Cool is backing the tapeworm.

See also: Nearly 50% Americans now think humans are not special

Roger Scruton helps Richard Dawkins’ “meme” find its way to the wastebasket
and

Roger Scruton: Missing the main problem with evolutionary psychology

and

Neuroscience: We are told: Brains have owners Yer darn tootin’ big data will not produce total understanding. What it will produce is generations of neuroscientists who think they have discovered things they have only imagined.

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14 Replies to “English philosopher Roger Scruton battles the “humans are not special” folk

  1. 1
    JDH says:

    No one should ever support a theory which is self-contradictory at the start. All theories that propose that modern man has used science ( which is not easy to define, but is at least a set of disciplines which involve a free agent making free choices between hypothetical abstract future happenings which have not yet been observed and includes deliberate design decision to isolate only the important variables) to determine that modern man is just a bunch of dumb particles responding to unguided forces, must be false if they are true. A theory which defeats itself, should not be believed.

  2. 2
    Origenes says:

    Scruton: We believe that people have rights, that they are sovereign over their lives, and that those who live by enslaving or abusing others are denying their own humanity. Surely there is a foundation for those beliefs …

    NOT in your beloved materialism. Zero foundation. Materialism cannot ground freedom, responsibility, personhood, rationality, morality and what have you.

    If We Are Not Just Animals, What Are We?

    Assuming that materialism is correct, as you do, dear Roger, then we are nothing over and beyond fermions and bosons. There “is” nothing over and beyond that level.

    All clear? Okay. No more stupid questions, thank you very much.

  3. 3

    The other side of the coin, is that one’s dog IS better than some “‘umans I might know” in the words of CS Lewis’ cabby from “The Magician’s Nephew”. Why? Because humans are capable of moral evil, and do unspeakable things that no dog would ever conceive of.
    Does that mean dogs are the same as humans? By no means. It means that evil exists and we can recognize it. It is rather the view that “there is no evil” that leads to the nonsensical “humans and dogs are the same.” Here’s the inimitable Chesterton on this topic:

    If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.

    — G.K Chesterton, Orthodoxy

  4. 4
    Seversky says:

    The Nazis thought their notion of the Aryan race to be exceptional. We know where that led. Communist revolutions in Russia, China and Cambodia held their versions of the ideology were exceptional. We know what that led to. White European colonists were certain that European culture was exceptional and we know that meant for indigenous peoples in the lands they colonized. Exceptionalist thinking is dangerous and something we should be on our guard against.

    That is not to say we have no exceptional quality in any way. We do. But so do other creatures. And since we are quoting, I’ve always rather liked this passage from Inherit The Wind

    Drummond: I object, I object, I object.

    Brady: On what grounds? Is it possible that something is holy to the celebrated agnostic?

    Drummond: Yes! The individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than in all your shouted “Amens!”, “Holy, Holies!” and “Hosannahs!” An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than any sticks turned to snakes, or the parting of waters! But are we now to halt the march of progress? Darwin, moved us forward to a hilltop, where we could look back and see the way from which we came. But for this view, this insight, this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.

    Brady: We must not abandon faith! Faith is the most important thing!

    Drummond: Then why did God plague us with the power to think? Mr. Brady, why do you deny the one faculty which lifts man above all other creatures in the earth: the power of his brain to reason. What other merit have we? The elephant is larger, the horse is stronger and swifter, the butterfly more beautiful, the mosquito more prolific, even the simple sponge is more durable! Or does a sponge think?

  5. 5
    Origenes says:

    OFF-TOPIC // Technology Will Destroy Us, says Stephen Hawking.

    “It is hard-wired into our genes by Darwinian evolution.

    Now, however, technology has advanced at such a pace that this aggression may destroy us all by nuclear or biological war.

    We need to control this inherited instinct by our logic and reason.

    [my emphasis]

    Hawking is being incoherent, since according to his preferred world view we cannot be in control over our actions and thoughts:

    1. If naturalism is true, then determinism is true.
    2. If determinism is true, then all our actions and thoughts are consequences of events and laws of nature in the remote past before we were born.
    3. We have no control over circumstances that existed in the remote past before we were born, nor do we have any control over the laws of nature.
    4. If A causes B, and we have no control over A, and A is sufficient for B, then we have no control over B.
    Therefore
    5. If determinism is true, then we have no control over our own actions and thoughts.

  6. 6
    Armand Jacks says:

    We believe that people have rights, that they are sovereign over their lives, and that those who live by enslaving or abusing others are denying their own humanity.

    But we haven’t always believed this. And there are still people today who don’t believe this.

    Yes, we all believe that we are special, exceptional. But that is a selfish thing, not an empirical truth. Are we different. Absolutely. But that just means that we are different. Not that we are exceptional.

  7. 7
    suckerspawn says:

    AJ, other than humans, do any biological entities agree or disagree with your statement?

  8. 8
    Armand Jacks says:

    SS:

    AJ, other than humans, do any biological entities agree or disagree with your statement?

    I’m pretty sure that my cat thinks that he is exceptional

  9. 9
    Seversky says:

    I think my cat is exceptional and I think he agrees.

  10. 10
    Armand Jacks says:

    But to get serious for a second. I must agree with Serversky’s comment @4. Feeling and promoting the idea that we are exceptional as a species, race, nation, religion, what have you, can be extremely dangerous. This attitude has resulted in many of the worst atrocities throughout history. Whether it was the crusades, slavery, the inquisition, the holocaust, the Canadian residential school system or ISIL, the extinction of the Dodo, the Great Auk or the near extinction of whales, they are all the result of one thing. The attitude by one group that they are somehow superior/exceptional/special to all others.

    Sadly, I think that this is hard wired into all of this.

  11. 11
    bFast says:

    Armand Jacks, it is clear that in the name of exceptionalism, all manner of atrocity has been committed. And I must confess that my current comment is made without proper reference. However, I recently bumped into some professor at some renown university who argues against human exceptionalism. He proposes that, in the name of human non-exceptionalism, we determine that very young children are not worth protecting and that severely mentally handicapped people are not worth protecting. He devises some sort of “intelligence” scale, and that humans that fall below a threshold are expendable. It would appear, therefore, that in the name of non-exceptionalism, all manner of atrocities can also be committed.

  12. 12
    Dionisio says:

    What makes humans special is not their biological complexity but being made in Imago Dei.
    Some animals possess certain biological capabilities we wish to have too. 🙂
    Wolfs, dogs, tigers, cats, behave according to their design, though it’s possible that this accursed world may have negatively altered their biology thus affecting their functioning.
    Humans were made to be good, but chose not to.
    It’s wise to regret that evil decision and get back to where we once belonged.
    But we can’t naturally do it because true wisdom comes from our Maker.
    Let’s turn to Him and ask to change us spiritually according to the purpose of His will and for His glory.

  13. 13
    Armand Jacks says:

    BFast@11, I would argue that your example is one of human exceptionalism, not non-exceptionalism. The professor obviously is arguing from the perspective of “normal” people being exceptional as compared to the very young and mentally handicapped.

  14. 14
    JoshRob says:

    I wonder how many of the atrocities I’ve seen enumerated here would be half so vile and evil to us if they had not happened to human beings. The crusades (humans killing humans), slavery (humans enslaving humans), the inquisition (humans killing/torturing humans), the holocaust (sweeping genocide of humans), and so on. All of these atrocities seem only atrocious because of my understanding that humankind is an exceptional thing; otherwise, I might think of the holocaust in much the same light as the extinction of the dodo.

    In fact, I would say the extinction of the dodo was worse, because they were wiped out in totality. I suspect you will agree that such extinction was worse, considering what equally mundane or exceptional status all species must hold. I’m no fan of eliminating animal species, but I will hardly hold those hunters of the dodo to the same account as Hitler.

    Considering race, nation, etc. as “exceptional” has always been a danger to other human beings. Considering the human species itself “exceptional,” however, should lend itself to our fending for each other, viewing each other as something worthy of life and liberty. Yes, I would sooner save the last child on earth than save the last puppy; it’s not a hard decision, if I must choose between them (but I do love puppies and would hate having to let them die out – and I don’t even like kids!).

    There is a difference between recognizing exceptionalism and exercising thoughtless, violent power in the name of exceptionalism; such is the difference between a simple patriot and a warring fanatic.

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