So You Think You're Human?

So You Think You're Human? : A Brief History of Humankind

3.39 (84 ratings by Goodreads)
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You think you're human. But what does that mean? How can humanity be defined? Felipe Fernandez-Armesto takes us on an enlightening journey through the history of humankind to reveal the challenges to our most fundamental belief - that we are, and have always been, human. Chimps and humans are objectively so alike that an anthropologist from Mars might classify them together; advances in artificial intelligence mean that humans no longer have exclusive access to reason, consciousness and imagination; developments in genetics threaten humanity with an uncertain future. The harder we cling to the concept of humanity, the more slippery it becomes. But if it breaks down altogether, what will this mean for human values, human rights, and the defence of human dignity? So You Think You're Human? confronts these problems from a historical perspective, showing how our current understanding of what it means to be human has been shaken by new challenges from science and philosophy. FFA shows how our concept of humankind has changed over time, tracing its faltering expansion to its present limits and arguing that these limits are neither fixed or scientifically verifiable. Controversially, he proposes that we have further to go in developing our concept of humankind and that we need to rethink it as a matter of urgency.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 208 pages
  • 132 x 196 x 24mm | 281.23g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 16pp halftone plates
  • 0192804170
  • 9780192804174

Review Text

Humankind is in danger of doing itself in-not with weapons of mass destruction, but with shifting conceptual categories. So argues historian Fernandez-Armesto (The Americas, 2003, etc.), suggesting that science and philosophy have combined in the last two generations to blur hitherto hard-and-fast distinctions between human beings and other primates, thus undermining "our traditional concept of humankind." Geneticists now maintain that the differences between chimpanzees and humans are so minute as to be nearly meaningless; some even urge that the genus Homo be extended to included nonhuman apes. Looking back over the fossil record, scientists point out that features once thought to be distinctively human-bipedalism, large brain cases, the use of tools, and omnivorous diets-were widely shared among the protohominids, including those outside the human line of descent. Considerable debate, for instance, now surrounds the relative merits of early modern humans and Neanderthals; as Fernandez-Armesto writes, "save for an accident of evolution, this species might still be around to challenge our human sense of uniqueness," and certainly Neanderthals possessed most of the fine qualities that 19th-century racialist scientists ascribed to advanced (that is, European) humans. The implications of this broadened view of humankind are many. For one thing, Fernandez-Armesto observes, our sense of humanness might come one day to embrace nonhuman kin such as chimps and orangutans, but also robots and suchlike thinking products of human creation. For another thing, he notes, "biology has made racism indefensible," so that there is no good reason-if there ever was one-for imposing cultural differences based on supposed genetic ones. Will the result be a happier world? For androids and apes, perhaps. For humans, though, the author concludes, the new definition of humankind will best be meaningful when we try to live up to the old one of humans as "uniquely rational, intellectual, spiritual, self-aware, creative, conscientious, moral, or godlike." Good food for thought for ethicists and ethologists alike. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Table of contents

INTRODUCTION; 1. The Animal Frontier; 2. Formally Human; 3. Human Being or Being Human?; 4. The Evolutionary Predicament; 5. Post-Human Futures?show more

Rating details

84 ratings
3.39 out of 5 stars
5 18% (15)
4 30% (25)
3 33% (28)
2 12% (10)
1 7% (6)
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