What “Human Exceptionalism” Means

by Wesley J. Smith

Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed me about my new ebook, The War on Humans. Those interested can read it for themselves. But I want to quote one small section because I am so often asked about what I mean by the term human exceptionalism. From “Losing Human Dignity:”

LOPEZ: How do you define “human exceptionalism”?

SMITH: “Human exceptionalism” is a term I use to describe both sides of the unique nature of man. On one hand, we have unique value and only we should possess rights. But that isn’t the end of it.

Human exceptionalism also appeals to our unique capacity for moral agency: Only human beings have duties. We have duties to each other. We have duties to our posterity. We have duties to treat animals humanely. We have duties to treat the environment responsibly and to leave a verdant world to those who come after us. These flow from who we are. If we recognize the exceptional nature of all human beings, we will understand that the world is not ours to turn into a cesspool. I mean, if being human isn’t what gives us the obligation to be environmentally responsible, what does?

That isn’t a complete description of either the unique value or obligations sides of the human exceptionalism coin, but it is a good nutshell description of the concept.