Darwin and the Human-Nonhuman Divide
Keywords:Darwin, nonhuman, chimpanzee, history, philosophy
When Charles Darwin returned to England in 1836 from his voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, he brought back with him not only revolutionary ideas of evolution and natural selection, but also the spark for debate about the very definition of a human being. He drew lines between humans and nonhuman animals in order to maintain a comfortable separation between "us" and "them," citing morality as the main difference between man and animal. However, modern scientific discoveries provide sufficient evidence to support the concept of morality in humans' closest relative, the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Now, due to indications that chimpanzees have morality – a trait that Darwin and modern scientists claimed to be unique to humans – the line between human and animal becomes blurred. Should chimpanzees be granted the same basic rights to life that modern society safeguards for humans?
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