Sunday, 4 May 2014


Anthropomorphism is the practice of ascribing human properties to non-humans. Whether or not such an ascription is anthropomorphic, therefore, crucially depends on whether or not the property being ascribed is exclusively human. However, the evolution of species means that all organisms and the properties ascribed to them are evolved variants of one another, having differentiated from a common source. On this basis, behavioural properties ascribable to humans are differentiated variants of properties ascribable to other animal species, and so are hyponyms (“daughters”) of superordinate (“parent”) categories that transcend synchronic species boundaries. The more differentiated the species being compared, the more generalised the superordinate category, and the greater the distance between it and its hyponyms.

To claim that certain traits are exclusively human is to ignore all the graduated evolutionary steps that link species down the generations, and to maintain the anthropocentric perspective of Abrahamic mythology. Complaints of anthropomorphism, sometimes couched in terms of respecting the “dignity” of other species, actually betray the fear of (the “indignity” of) being like other species, and so, betray such fears as not being a separate, unique, special creation, or as being determined robotic mechanisms, and so on; in short, the fear that human life might be as unimportant as some consider the lives of other species to be. The more undervalued the other species, the more intense may be the fear (and the denial of it).


  1. not sure if all biologists are hit with the fear of being like other species - some of the comments i've read are aiming at not according animal species with specifically *negative* human traits, rather than tryng to distance the animal species from human traits per se...
    once more, bateson has some useful ruminations on this area.

    1. two issues that this raises for me are:
      are such biologists applying the 'noble savage' idea to the 'noble beast'?
      are the negative traits really specifically human?
      eg there seems to be an association of negative traits with degree of sociality. i'm thinking of the viciousness of baboon societies, the cannibalistic practices of (male) common chimps, the infanticidal practices of (female) meerkats, the orca practice of propelling soon-to-be eaten seals through the air with their tails.