Human Exceptionalism

Human Exceptionalism Means Human Duties

I have been an apologist for human exceptionalism for years. I am still amazed at the sometimes very emotional criticism such views generate. 

Many of the brickbats are thrown by those who want to dismantle the very idea of human uniqueness so that they can attain ideological goals. But even some who agree with me about the issue worry that the term itself implies hubris and arrogance.

Not true!” says I. I settled on the HE term because it encompasses both our unique value and sole responsibilities. Focusing on just one side or the other creates an incomplete picture.

This is why a Weekly Standard book review of The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals, authored by Thomas Suddendorf, gave me a bit of a thrill. Here’s the key quote:

We alone can reason about past, present, and future motives, beliefs, and actions—and, based on this reasoning, make deliberate decisions about how we will act. No nonhuman comes remotely close to this moral capacity. So our ability to play the longest-sentence game is profound, and underlies everything from language to time travel to morality—indeed, all human culture.

But this exceptionalism comes with daunting responsibilities, Suddendorf believes. This is an important leitmotif that runs throughout the author’s arguments. Because we—and we alone—can anticipate the future and plan our actions, it follows that we have a moral responsibility to do what we can to avert disaster and create a sustainable future.

Our future depends on how well we imagine the possibilities of what is to come and our willingness to link our minds cooperatively to solve global problems.

Just what I’ve been saying!


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