Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes

Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes

by Mortimer J. Adler

Among the other problems this study addresses are the scientific achievements in biology and physics which have raised fundamental questions about humanity's essential nature.

Ultimately, Adler's work develops an approach to the separation between scientific and philosophical questions which stands as a model of philosophical consideration of new scientific discoveries and their consequences for the human person.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Philosophy
  • Rating: 4.05
  • Pages: 395
  • Publish Date: January 1st 1993 by Fordham University Press
  • Isbn10: 0823215350
  • Isbn13: 9780823215355

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For if man is really just one animal among many, then there can be no fundamental reason to justify treating humans and animals differently. Adler finds that the issue boils down to this: does man differ from all other animals in kind, or only in degree? He further examines the question of what it means to differ in kind, and finds that there are exactly two ways: a superficial way, which arises when a difference in degree passes a certain threshold that causes a jump in capability; or a radical way, which arises when a trait possessed by one creature is not possessed in any degree by another. In other words, if man is radically different in kind from other animals, then he possesses one or more traits that are not possessed at all by any other animal, and no amount of increasing other animals' existing traits will bring them any closer to humanity. Adler regards the question of human nature a "mixed" one--that is, a question that can be answered only by a combination of philosophical and scientific methods. At the end of the book he sketches what he believes will be the implications of either answer to the question (the key difference turns out to be whether humans are or are not radically different in kind from other animals.) In all I found Adler's treatment of the topic serious, cogent, and forceful.

The rigor and precision of Adler's thought is certainly to be admired. Guess it all comes down to one's understanding of the book of Genesis (vis a vis "dominion" over both the "lower animals" and this rock upon which we spin) and whether or not that text is at all relevant to an understanding of the différance inherent in Adler's little project.

Professor Adler begins by noting that the question is neither philosophic, nor scientific, but a combination. the quantity of a quality possessed by both X and Y and 2) Apparent differences in kind, due to a lack of intermediaries Of the differences in kind, Adler notes likewise there are two types: 3) superficial differences in kind (where an underlying aspect differs only in degree) and 4) radical differences in kind Adler points out that even though any number of scientists might openly state that they believe that man differs from animals only in degree, in reality, when it comes especially to language and conceptual thought (as opposed to perceptible thought) they nearly all believe that man differs from animals in kind (but only superficially in order to not break the ). The two underlying aspects that make man's difference from animals only superficial are: psychological structures in man differ only in degree from those of animals and/or neurological structures differ only in degree from those of animals. Adler then examines these two and comes to the conclusion he has been leading the read to: the scientific and philosophic positions for the materialist position that the brain is the sufficient cause of man's conceptual ability and the immateralist position that the brain is only the necessary (but not sufficient) cause is...a draw. Adler notes that a successful Turing test would validate the argument that the difference in kind is merely superficial, however, no amount of failed tests will ever prove that the difference is radical, because a new and better robot could always be built.

He worked for Columbia University, the University of Chicago, Encyclopædia Britannica, and Adler's own Institute for Philosophical Research. While at Columbia University, Adler wrote his first book: Dialectic, published in 1927. In 1930 Robert Hutchins, the newly appointed president of the University of Chicago, whom Adler had befriended some years earlier, arranged for Chicagos law school to hire him as a professor of the philosophy of law; the philosophers at Chicago (who included James H. Adler founded and served as director of the Institute for Philosophical Research in 1952. He introduced the Paideia Proposal which resulted in his founding the Paideia Program, a grade-school curriculum centered around guided reading and discussion of difficult works (as judged for each grade). Adler long strove to bring philosophy to the masses, and some of his works (such as How to Read a Book) became popular bestsellers.