Traditions of Western and Eastern philosophy have long puzzled over the question of what makes human beings different from other living beings. Religious doctrines offer up concepts of the soul and capacities for moral choice as distinguishing features. Rationality, the capacity to choose one’s ends, language, social complexity, the ability to make art from poetry to music, the ability to grieve – philosophers have offered all of these and more as evidence of a qualitative difference between the kinds of beings that humans are, and all other living things. But scientific research on the one hand, and technological advances on the other, have undermined these kinds of distinctions. Elephants that appear to mourn their dead; gorillas that learn sign language and paint; birds that create sculptures; complex social structures among primates, cetaceans and other creatures; artificial intelligences from Deep Blue to Siri.
Our understanding of our place in the world has changed significantly over the last couple of centuries. So can we be confident any more about what makes us distinctively human?
Join Dr Chris Groves from Cardiff University to debate these issues next Tuesday, 19 January 2016, at the Gate from 8pm.
This Cafe introduces a new programme of events for this year, looking at a range of topics: genetically modified food and food security, existentialism, love, mindfulness with/without Buddhism, empathy, equality, assisted dying, art and urban regeneration, and authenticity. Sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date!
Ahead of this month’s topic, why not take a look at this TED talk from zeFrank…
…this film from Yann-Arthus Bertrand….
…and respond to our poll below. Are there really significant differences between humans and animals? Which of these viewpoints is closest to your own? You can add comments below explaining your choice.