Human exceptionalism  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Human exceptionalism refers to a belief that human beings have special status in nature based on their unique capacities. This belief is the grounding for some naturalistic concepts of human rights.

Apologetics

Religious proponents of human exceptionalism base the belief on religious texts, such as the verse 1:26 in the Book of Genesis:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Some secular proponents of human exceptionalism point to evidence of unusual rapid evolution of the brain and the emergence of exceptional aptitudes. As one commentator put it, "Over the course of human history, we have been successful in cultivating our faculties, shaping our development, and impacting upon the wider world in a deliberate fashion, quite distinct from evolutionary processes".


Defenders of human exceptionalism argue that it is the necessary fundamental premise to defend universal human rights, since what matters morally is simply being human. For example, noted philosopher Mortimer J. Adler wrote, "Those who oppose injurious discrimination on the moral ground that all human beings, being equal in their humanity, should be treated equally in all those respects that concern their common humanity, would have no solid basis in fact to support their normative principle." Adler is stating here, that denying what is now called human exceptionalism could lead to tyranny, writing that if we ever came to believe that humans do not possess a unique moral status, the intellectual foundation of our liberties collapses: "Why, then, should not groups of superior men be able to justify their enslavement, exploitation, or even genocide of inferior human groups on factual and moral grounds akin to those we now rely on to justify our treatment of the animals we harness as beasts of burden, that we butcher for food and clothing, or that we destroy as disease-bearing pests or as dangerous predators?" Author and human exceptionalism defender Wesley J. Smith has written that human exceptionalism is what gives rise to human duties to each other, the natural world. and to treat animals humanely, writing in A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy, a critique of animal rights ideology, "Because we are unquestionably a unique species--the only species capable of even contemplating ethical issues and assuming responsibilities--we uniquely are capable of apprehending the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, proper and improper conduct toward animals. Or to put it more succinctly if being human isn't what requires us to treat animals humanely, what in the world does?"

Polemics

Critics counter that human exceptionalism has contributed to anthropocentrism, speciesism, and bioconservatism at the expense of the natural environment, animal rights, and individual rights.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Human exceptionalism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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