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What separates humans from animals? Show more Show less

For some, it is obvious that we are not the same as animals. But is it just our ability to imagine and create stories about there being a difference that separates us? Or is there something more tangible?

The human mind separates humans from animals Show more Show less

The human mind separates us from other species.
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The human mind's unique capabilities

The human mind can perform functions that other species cannot, which differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Particularly, our ability to follow multi-step processes, create our own tools, and self-consciously reflect on our actions are unique. These abilities give us an edge over the rest of the animal kingdom.
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Context

Around 6 million years ago, humans became genetically distinct from their chimpanzee ancestors. Since then, mankind has differentiated itself, behaviorally, socially, and intellectually, from animals in many other ways.

The Argument

Despite many genetic similarities, the human mind sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We have countless mental capabilities that other animals lack, allowing us to create complex societies, revolutionary technology, and unique emotional bonds. For example, our aptitude for processes with many steps is a uniquely human skill. This ability can be seen in the stone tools famously built by prehistoric humans. Even the simplest-looking arrowhead takes many steps to make: an early human would select a durable rock, chip it into thin flakes, whittle these flakes into the proper shape, grind the edge to make a sharp point, tie this point to a stick, and use the finished product as a hunting spear. Such multi-step processes show man's unique aptitude for complex thinking, problem-solving, and forethought-abilities. Though other animals can use tools that they find, like rocks and twigs, none can create their own, since the process is too detailed for them to complete. Another difference between human and animal minds is found in our own self-consciousness. While a few animals are self-aware, recognizing themselves in a mirror is the extent of their cognizance. On the other hand, humans can think about themselves abstractly, recognizing their role in the world and the minds of those around them. We can reflect on our actions, while animals can simply perform them. Though this may sound like an insignificant distinction, self-consciousness plays a crucial role in the ability to reason, collaborate with others, and adapt to new situations. In light of this, the human mind clearly differentiates us from animals.

Counter arguments

Though humans certainly have unique mental capabilities, this fact is irrelevant when trying to distinguish humans from animals. After all, some animals have different brain functions than others, but that does not necessarily set them apart as different and distinct from all other animals. For example, dolphins can sleep with one hemisphere of their brain at a time, and gold-winged warblers can predict storms days in advance, but no one argues that their unique mental capabilities make these animals fundamentally different from all other animals. Furthermore, no one would claim that their abilities make them smarter, stronger, or better than other animals. It would be illogical to make this same assertion for humans.

Framing

Premises

[P1] The human mind has capabilities that the animal mind lacks. [P2] Thus, humans are fundamentally different than animals.

Rejecting the premises

[P1] This statement, while true, is irrelevant.

Proponents

Further Reading

References

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    This page was last edited on Wednesday, 17 Jun 2020 at 16:53 UTC