Are You an Animal?

  • Mary Midgley


If anthropologists from a strange planet came here to study our intellectual habits and customs, they might notice something rather strange about the way in which we classify the living things on our planet. They would find us using a single word—animal—to describe a very wide range of creatures, including ourselves, from blue whales to tiny micro-organisms that are quite hard to distinguish from plants. On the other hand, they would note also that the commonest use of this word animal is one in which we use it to contrast all these other organisms with our own single species, speaking constantly of ‘animals’ as distinct from humans. It might strike them that in virtually every respect gorillas are much more like ourselves than they are like (say) skin parasites, or even worms and molluscs, so that this use of the word is rather obscure.


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© Mary Midgley 1989

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  • Mary Midgley

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