How Are Human Beings Different From Other Animals?

I can remember having this debate with my friend, Mike, when I was in college.  He argued that humans are no different from other animals except for our larger brains.  There is nothing we can do that animals can’t do.  Animals just do things in a more primitive and basic fashion.

This always struck me as ridiculous, and I just ran across a quote from Professor Bruce Thornton at Fresno State University which explains the difference well:

 What makes us recognizably human, then, is not what is natural about us but what is unnatural: reason and its projections in language, culture, ritual, and technology, self-awareness, conscious memory, imagination, and the higher emotions; and, most important, values, ethics, morals, and the freedom from nature’s determinism that allows us to choose, whether for good or ill.  Nothing else in nature possesses any of these attributes, despite the wishful thinking of those who believe they are teaching chimps to “talk,” or who consider a monkey digging up termites with a stick to be “using tools,” or who label baboon rump-submission a “social practice,” or who subjectively interpret the behavior of animals to indicate the presence of “self-awareness” ore higher human emotions such as love, grief, regret, guilt, shame, or loyalty.  For every dog that howls over the body of its dead master there is another that, if necessary, will happily eat his corpse.

Well said, professor.

  • Rza

    This is very good!
    We always here how we’re just like the animals…..

  • Karen Stockton

    “‘For every dog that howls over the body of its dead master there is another that, if necessary, will happily eat his corpse.’

    Well said, Professor.”

    Not well said. The fact that the person observing this recognizes difference in choice from one animal to another, (one that will howl over its master, versus one that would just as soon as eat it) is recognizing free will in animals to act differently for themselves–a trait that all humans have as well. There are good men and women who choose to act according to the knowledge within, as their are those who choose to act contrary to the light they hold.

    His last statement contradicts all of the previous paragraph before where he holds that the various individuals of nature can not act as agents for his or herself.

    There is no gene for race, and many humans are more closely related genetically to mice, than some humans are to other “unrelated” humans.

    We are of differing intelligence and strengths, according to the template we’re given in addition to what we choose to do with that template.

    If you believe in Isaiah 11:6, that one day, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”, then it stands to reason that you will see the above Professor’s paragraph of species-ism stands on the same level as racism, sexism and genocide of thinking and bleeding beings of any kind.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Karen,
    Brice Thornton did not contradict himself at all. He was vividly illustrating that people who mistakenly assign human characteristics to dogs need to look more closely. Dogs are not in any way choosing, the way humans make choices using reason and moral values. He is saying that to believe this is folly.

    Thanks for stopping by,

  • Karen, the significance of the Isaiah prophecy speaks to the restoration of the creation as when God first created all creatures to live in harmony, with man of course ruling over them all. Animals did not eat other animals until after sin entered the world, and likely not until after the Flood when food became far more scarce.

    Are you equating the present food chain as equivalent to genocide or racism? That the wolf that eats a lamb or the leopard the baby goat is partaking in an immoral act?

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  • mary

    well for me we are crazinly different from the ANIMALS other wise the planet earth wud be in mess well dis can only be recognised by people not any body trying to be an animal by behaving like them.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “Hi Karen,
    Brice Thornton did not contradict himself at all. He was vividly illustrating that people who mistakenly assign human characteristics to dogs need to look more closely”

    I fon’t see that you have refuted Katen’s point. The scenario Bruce uses does not prove his point. As Karen says, it is consistent with two dogs simply making different choices to each other.

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  • AllzWell

    Yes, human beings are “different” from other animals, but the tone of this quote seems to suggest that human beings are “superior” to other animals. And that I disagree with. We tend to draw these conclusions based on our “limited” knowldge of nature and history of life and universe. There’s no way for us to know if there are animals superior to us in being self-aware or ethics or morals or in some other aspect which we don’t even measure! We can only speculate based again on our limited knowledge. And for what we know, we may just be comparing totally different and completely wrong characteristics in concluding our superiority! Can the rate of population flourishment be a measure to determine superiority of one form of life over another? I think so. And if so, do you think that humans are the fastest growing life form amongst the living beings? If not, then how can we be superior? If there’s a life form that overlasts us on this planet, isn’t that life form superior to us?

  • Robert

    We are different in the lateral sense just like cats and different from dogs. However human beings overrate themselves over other animals based on only one attribute ‘intelligence’ which is more advanced in humans. Dogs can also boast of a more advanced sense of smell, Birds like eagles have a acute eyesight which humans envy, other can sense body heat which we cannot. Other than that all our internal body organs are remarkably similar and as such there is absolutely no reason for man to continue misusing his intelligence as He does to conquer other animals. He has continued to deny them their natural habitats, poaching them for their tusks, horns, and skin to the point of extinction. Sadly though, because this intelligence is not evenly distributed within the human race, some races still assume superiority over others and treated them like animals and in fact some primitive tribes in South America were rendered extinct. There is nothing special about human beings and it is high time they stopped using their superior intelligence to exploit other animals…Human being is just another animal of no more importance to the ecosystem like rats,goats or dogs

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  • “For every dog that howls over the body of its dead master there is another that, if necessary, will happily eat his corpse.”

    Humans will eat each other ‘if necessary’ too. The ‘Old Christians Club’ rugby team who crashed in the Andes in 1972 resorted to eating dead fellow team members to survive. And the dog isn’t even eating its own species.

  • Lonecat

    Having nearly finished my psychology degree (already having BA (hons) Social Work I would have to point out that for every human who stops to help a fellow human being there won’t be one but more like a dozen who walk past without guilt or conscience…. in fact more often than not they will take advantage of a vulnerable person (raping, robbing or assaulting)! Yes we are different in that we possess the ability to cause harm and distress to our fellow human beings for no primary gain other than self pleasure…. I would rather be at the mercy of a dog than a fellow human being any day!

  • Lonecat

    Additional point just sprung to mind….. given that theory of mind is just that…. a theory….. how can anyone categorically state other animals, such as dogs, do not experience vividly similar emotive states as humans…. I have always been an animal owner and, without conclusive scientific evidence to contraindicate, my own thesis rests firmly in that animals are fully capable of utilising and selecting a range of emotions, ideas and beliefs….. we do not have the technology to make any other assumption! There is ample research validating the way animal species use complex systems of communication that we are not able to interpret… who knows what they converse…. my guess is they point at us and say ‘if I ever end up so materialistic, greedy, deceitful, ignorant or greedy I would hope one of you will kill me…. pah! humans….. vile uncivilised creatures!’

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