Sunday, March 11, 2012

Gene Callahan gets a little goofy when you point out that humans are animals

Case in point.

He writes:

"When we had real social scientists, such as Aristotle, they knew that man is the "rational animal," and as such, distinctly different from other animals, and so in need of special analysis, such as political science.

If you can't tell the difference between a dandelion and a redwood tree, you are going to make an awful botanist, and we have awful social sciences because the practitioners can't tell the difference between a human being and a tapeworm

First, Aristotle - to the best of my knowledge (and I'm no Aristotle expert) - was not a social scientist. He was a social philosopher with some good ideas that anticipated social science. That's fine in my book.

Second, of course humans are "distinctly different from other animals". Nobody said otherwise, Gene. And I agree they are in need of special analysis because they are so different. I'd never presume to disagree with that point.

Third, I agree on the botanist point... I'm note sure what he's getting at there.

Fourth, I would wager there is not a single social scientist that has trouble telling a human being from a tapeworm.

It's good Gene stopped where he did - see how every sentence in that post got goofier and goofier?

So why is Gene being so goofy? Well whenever I emphasize that social scientists study the social behavior of highly evolved primates, he seems to think it's diminution of humanity. I don't understand why. He seems to think that morals and beauty and wonder and significance and meaning go out the window if we're just animals. Why? I'm not sure. He's never quite explained that one yet.


  1. I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

    He seems to think that morals and beauty and wonder and significance and meaning go out the window if we're just animals.

    It's because you keep insisting on using that word "just." Gene knows we are animals. He is saying we're not *just* animals.

    Yet you use that description every time you bring up this topic. Why? What work is that word doing?

    1. We should have all realized by now - since I've clarified several times - that you've all read something into "just" that I clearly haven't written.

      The first time that's understandable, but haven't we clarified this enough?

      Using the word reminds people that we're not anything but animals - lots of people seem to think otherwise. We are special and distinct. Any specialness or distinctness about us is clearly fully consistent with our being animals.

    2. Using the word ["just"] reminds people that we're not anything but animals...

      OK Daniel let's switch contexts. Tell me which girl in the following dialog you think has the better end of the argument:


      Danielle: A square is just a rectangle.

      Roberta: No, a square is more than a rectangle.

      Danielle: Why do we have this dispute every time I talk about geometry? I say a square is 'just' a rectangle to stress the fact that squares aren't anything but rectangles, even though lots of people seem to think otherwise.

    3. Isn't a square just a rectangle? I mean - it's not a not-rectangle, right? Any unique qualities of a square you want to remark on are qualities that can coincide with being a rectangle, right? There's nothing about a square that one would remark on that would challenge it's rectangularity. It's just a rectangle.

      Who thinks a square isn't a rectangle, anyway? That doesn't seem to carry over. Lot's of people act as if humans aren't animals... I don't know of anyone that acts as if squares aren't rectangles.

      Are you trying to prove my point here?

    4. OK Daniel (if you're still reading), give me an example of what it would mean if something were not "just an x," but at the same time were still an x. You seem to be saying:

      (1) Y is an X


      (2) Y is just an X

      are interchangeable statements. Do you really think that? And if so, then the word "just" does no work in your mind, so I ask that from now on, you stop saying "humans are just animals" and instead say "humans are animals." It is equivalent in your mind, and it will make Gene and me less aggressive.

    5. Oh and to answer your question, no, a square is NOT "just a rectangle." If a math teacher asked you to define a square, and you put down "it's just a rectangle," you would not get full credit. If you doubt, ask a math teacher. I will be shocked if s/he says s/he would give full credit for that answer.

  2. BTW Daniel, it's not showing up yet (since Gene must get so much hate mail that he personally approves every comment on his blog), but on Gene's post I pointed out that he treated you basically the way Yglesias treated Gene in that tweet. So, I don't like the way Gene handled his response to you--i.e. making it look like you can't tell the difference between a human and a tapeworm--but I'm trying to get you to see why you are provoking such incredulity.

    1. I responded with a similar point (although not in my own defense - in Cameron's defense). The only way Gene's reductio works is if he thinks Cameron doesn't distinguish between serial killers and promiscuity.

    2. I know even less about ethics than I do about economics, but I made a few comments over the weekend on Gene's site in defense of my view that morality is probably subjectively-derived. Gene responded to my comments here:

      I responded to Gene addressing his points (which I felt were a bit dismissive and disrespectful to the extent that I will not bother contributing to his blog again). Gene did not allow my response , which was not at all abusive or unreasonable, to be published. (Its possible that it was identified as spam or lost in some other way - but that seems unlikely)

      Its his blog and he can he do what he wants - but it did piss me off.

    3. Check it again later - there's been a long delay in comment publishing there.


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