Less Than Human

‘Less Than Human’: The Psychology Of Cruelty
March 29, 2011

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher

is this a learned behavior? Or is this wired, somehow, into our brains?

Prof. SMITH: I think it’s – there are components of both. We tend to – here is what seems to be very deeply embedded in us: the idea of a hierarchy of value. Now, I don’t know if that is innate or not, but it’s certainly deep. The tendency to essentialize, which I haven’t spoken about yet, seems to be innate. That is, we have a basic tendency to think of the world as composed of different kinds of things, and we assume that what makes something a member of a kind is that it possesses an essence. So we do this with biological species – we, you know, we distinguish dogs from cats from parrots from moose.

And when we start asking ourselves, well, what makes something a dog, what makes something a cat, the most tempting way to go – which is false, by the way – is that it’s got a species essence.


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