On the Vagueness of Species, part 3: On Human Nature

In the reboot movie series of Planet of the Apes, Dawn of Planet of the Apes, superchimp Koba has already unfeelingly killed other superchimps in his quest for power, and when he fails to also kill hero superchimp Caesar, Caesar kills him after declaring him to be a nonchimp and so outside of their society's protection. It's that kind of declaration-- about what we say is human and deserving of human rights--that worries molecular biologist Dwayne Holmes here.

Of course, the movie is using the superchimps-as-apes-as-human-as-we-are trope to examine, among other things, the ethics of what it is to be human within a warring and tribalistic society. I think that the above movie's ethical questions and answers adoitly fit Holmes' concerns that many may tend to define human nature to exclude our fellowman because he fails to fit a standard for what we consider human. For example, see this article, where the humanity of the psychopath is questioned.

I see this exclusionary definition of human nature as misguided. The psychopath may have a deficit in limbic structure and function, but this fails to exclude them from the rough set that is the human species. To exclude the psychopath we would need even more to exclude the person with Down syndrome as well--after all, they have deficits of the brain and a clear genetic change as cause. And that would be unethical, even to the minds of those who exclude the psychopath.

The human species, considered as a rough set, can include the psychopath in our vague boundary of persons who are definitely human but not human in every characteristic: they are humans who are not clearly within the positive region of the set of humans, but are certainly not excluded as being in the negative region either.

We don't have to accept Caesar's declaration that psychopathic Koba is not ape, and neither should we accept Holmes' declaration that there is no human nature to declare. Human nature is real, even if it's a vague thing to be human, sometimes. To love our neighbors as ourselves means, among other things, that we give ourselves the opportunity to see them as the fellow humans that they are.

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