Two philosophers, one question, 'are we human, or are we animals?'

Erin McGroarty/Sunstar Reporter
Oct. 18, 2011

Dr. Eduardo Wilner discusses what he believes to be the explanation of the differences between humans and animals, at the Socratic Seminar Debate, "Two Philosophers, One Questions: Human or Animal?" held in Schaible Auditorium the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Erin McGroarty/Sun Star

Nearly every seat was filled in Schaible Auditorium on the evening of Oct. 12, with an audience awaiting the beginning of the debate between Joseph Thompson and Eduardo Wilner. The debate covered the philosophical question “are humans different than animals?”

This debate was put on as a part of a continuous series of events hosted by the UAF Philosophy Department and the Socratic Society. The Socratic Society has hosted many different events in the past, including last year’s talk by Richard Dawkins. These debates are held as an open opportunity for UAF students and other Fairbanks community members to expand their horizons and discuss different subjects with experienced lecturers.

To begin the debate, each professor gave his introduction, stating his point of view on the question and explaining the basics of his reasoning. Each introduction was followed by the other professor’s rebuttal. Following the rebuttals, both professors opened up the forum for questions from the crowded audience.

Kicking off the debate was Joseph Thompson, an assistant professor in philosophy and humanities at UAF. He argued that humans may have once been quite similar to the rest of the animal kingdom, but over time, we have evolved to separate ourselves into a different kind from animals.

This statement was based on his main focus of externalization. By externalization, Thompson meant that humans appear to be more superior because, unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, humans obviously exhibit, and sometimes flaunt, wisdom and knowledge, and sometimes the lack thereof.

“Scientists claim that humans are extremely similar to apes, and in some senses we are, but have chimpanzees ever build a Louvre or Library of Congress?” Thompson asked the audience.

Thompson talked about how over the period of time that humans have existed, there has been a spectrum of how we view ourselves, starting in the beginning when humans felt as though they were divinely created by God. What followed was a period where humans went in the exact opposite direction, claiming they were nothing but animals, the goal being to eventually reach a midpoint between too much credit and too little, Thompson said

At this point, the human race seems to underplay themselves and not give themselves enough credit in an attempt to make up for the thousands of years when we felt as though we were divinely created, Thompson argued.

Speaking for the other side of the debate was Eduardo Wilner, an associate professor and the chair of the philosophy department at UAF. Wilner argued that while the human race has, in fact, done extraordinary things, these feats do not elevate us above the rest of the animal kingdom, but simply make us animals who have done amazing things.

In his rebuttal, Wilner chose to discuss the issue of culture and whether humans were the only ones to have it, a subject previously mentioned by Thompson.

“I find it interesting that my fellow professor here, Dr. Thompson, claims that humans are the only species to have culture,” Wilner said, “because perhaps, it is possible for other species to have culture, but humans may not recognize it as culture, simply because it is not similar to our type of culture.”

Following the introduction and rebuttal from each professor, the two men opened  up for questions from the audience. The questions ranged from scientific to heated, including discussions on the logic and values of each professor’s claims.

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1 Response

  1. BlackManta77 says:

    ….or are we dancer?

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