Humans on Top, Humans among the Other Animals: Narratives of Anthropological Difference

Biosemiotics 12 (3):381-403 (2019)
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Abstract

The relationship of humans to other primates – both in terms of abilities and evolution - has been an age-old topic of dispute in science. In this paper the claim is made that the different views of authors are based not so much on differences in empirical evidence, but on the ontological stances of the authors and the underlying ground narratives that they use. For comparing and reconciling the views presented by the representatives of, inter alia, cognitive ethology, comparative psychology, and zoosemiotics, an overarching approach of multi-constructivism is introduced. The paper proposes an analytic model that distinguishes four logical possibilities in representing anthropological difference: Gradualism, Transformativism, Unitarism, and Pluralism. Using this typology, the views of C. Darwin, F. de Waal, M. Tomasello, and T. A. Sebeok regarding the similarities and differences between human and animal capacities for cognition, culture and communication are analyzed. The results indicate systematic differences in the selected narratives by these authors that can be related to the types of underlying ontologies.

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