Some people place humans as 'higher animals' because we are uniquely capable of rational thought, while most other animals are not.

This assumes that the trait of rationality is superior to other unique traits that other animals may possess. For example, suppose that bats are uniquely capable of echolocation, while most other animals are not. Why do we not place bats as 'higher animals'? There seems to be an inherent assumption (or bias) that rational thought is the greatest of traits among the animals.

Are there writers on this specific bias towards rationality? Or even better, could somebody point me to some recommended readings?

Something like Nietzsche, when he writes (On truth and lying in a non-moral sense):

...how pitiful, how insubstantial and transitory, how purposeless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature ... the intellect is human, and only its own possessor and progenitor regards it with such pathos, as if it housed the axis around which the entire world revolved. But if we could communicate with a midge we would hear that it too contains within itself the flying centre of this world.

  • It does not assume that rationality is superior, it takes rationality as the metric for the purpose of this particular assessment. On the other hand, it is often pointed out that dogs are superior to people when it comes to friendship. Anti-rationalism is, in fact, quite common, aside from Nietzsche it was favored by German romantics, Schopenhauer, many existentialists (e.g. Heidegger), and many postmodernists. – Conifold Feb 14 at 19:21
  • It might be good idea to distinguish between rationality and clever thinking. The latter is not always an example of the former, and in human beings the link is notoriously tenuous. To argue that human beings think and behave rationally would be very difficult, but there's no arguing with their intellectual cleverness. . . . – PeterJ Feb 15 at 15:34
  • I swear I saw a recent book on exactly this topic, but my memory is failing me at the moment. Keywords that come to mind are animal consciousness and anthropomorphic bias. – Brian Z Feb 25 at 23:32
  • Just a thought: you might want to think of it the other way around; perhaps it's a sociobiological bias towards human kind that urges us to find what can make us be considered "higher animals", where rationality, which is often traited only to human kind, would provide a good answer. – Yechiam Weiss Apr 8 at 15:40

If you are interested in general writers, Well I’m sure you may have watched the film, but otherwise it was inspired by the book written by Pierre Boulle “Planet of the Apes”. Here you cannot just read about the bias, but experiment with a dystopia, when another animal develops same skills and believes to be superior.

Otherwise have a read to Kant, you may find this paper about his thoughts very interesting: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ergo/12405314.0004.015?view=text;rgn=main


A: Humans can create. "The pen is mightier than the sword". We have written that we are higher animals. Who knows, maybe bats think of us as lower animals. We can't know.

B: It is quite simply in human nature to brag. Again, some animals may think they are higher.

So we just like to brag in higher ways, like writing. I hope this answer helps you.


Martin Heidegger seems to capture the essence of this idea, in Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik pp. 286-87. I cannot read German, so I refer to an English translation by Gary Steiner in Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents p. 212:

this comparison between animals and humans in terms of world-poverty and world-formation does not give license to estimations and evaluations of perfection and imperfection---quite apart from the fact that such estimations are hasty and inappropriate. For we encounter the greatest difficulty when we pose the question which are the higher and which the lower kinds of access to beings, e.g., when we compare the ability of the falcon's eye to grasp things with that of the human's eye, or the dog's ability to smell with that of the human. However quick we may be to estimate the human as a higher being than the animal, such evaluation is questionable, particularly when we consider that the human can sink lower than the animal; an animal can never become corrupted as a human can ... From everything that has been said, it is clear that talk of world-poverty and world-formation is, from the very start, not to be taken in the sense of a disparaging rank ordering. Of course, a relationship and difference are xpressed here, but in a different sense. In what sense? This is exactly what we are looking for. In this connection, it is necessary that we give an adequate definition of poverty.

That is to say, how do we determine which qualities to use as the judge of what animal is better? Until we can answer that question satisfactorily, it is not appropriate to attempt at ranking humans versus other animals.

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