Are humans special? A history of psychological perspectives

Michael C. Corballis and Stephen E. G. Lea

in The Descent of Mind

Published in print March 2000 | ISBN: 9780192632593
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191670497 | DOI:
Are humans special? A history of psychological perspectives

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This chapter reviews the history of psychological attitudes toward the question of continuity versus discontinuity between humans and other species. The freedom of action enjoyed by humans implied some non-material influence that could never be captured by mechanical principles. René Descartes was especially impressed with the unbounded nature of language, enjoyed even by human imbeciles, but apparently unattainable by non-human animals. The comfortable idea that humans are mentally and morally superior to other animals was rudely shaken with Charles Darwin's books The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and The Expression of the Emotion in Man and Animals, where he made the explicit suggestion that humans descended from African apes. This implies a basic continuity between humans and other species, an idea that was opposed from the outset by the established church, and is still at the centre of debate and controversy.

Keywords: psychological attitudes; freedom of action; humans; René Descartes; language; Charles Darwin; Origin of Species; African apes; church

Chapter.  7911 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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