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Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

MAN IN THE MODERN WORLD
success: therefore, all existing organisms are of equal value. The
idea of progress is a mere anthropomorphism. Man happens to be
the dominant type at the moment, but he might be replaced by the
ant or the rat. And so on.
The gap between man and animal was here reduced not by ex-
aggerating the human qualities of animals, but by minimizing the
human qualities of men. Of late years, however, a new tendency has
become apparent. It may be that this is due mainly to the mere
increase of knowledge and the extension of scientific analysis. It may
be that it has been determined by social and psychological causes.
Disillusionment with laisser-faire in the human economic sphere may
well have spread to the planetary system of laisser-faire that we call
natural selection. With the crash of old religious, ethical, and political
systems, man's desperate need for some scheme of values and ideals
may have prompted a more critical re-examination of his biological
position. Whether this be so is a point that I must leave to the social
historians. The fact remains that the pendulum is again on the
swing, the man-animal gap again broadening. After Darwin, man
could no longer avoid considering himself as an animal; but he is
beginning to see himself as a very peculiar and in many ways a unique
animal. The analysis of man's biological uniqueness is as yet in-
complete. This essay is an attempt to review its present position.
The first and most obviously unique characteristic of man is his
capacity for conceptual thought; if you prefer objective terms, you
will say his employment of true speech, but that is only another way
of saying the same thing. True speech involves the use of verbal signs
for objects, not merely for feelings. Plenty of animals can express the
fact that they are hungry; but none except man can ask for an egg or
a banana. And to have words for objects at once implies conceptual
thought, since an object is always one of a class. No doubt, children
and savages are as unaware of using conceptual thought as Monsieur
Jourdain was unaware of speaking in prose; but they cannot avoid
it. Words are tools which automatically carve concepts out of ex-
perience. The faculty of recognizing objects as members of a class
provides the potential basis for the concept: the use of words at once
actualizes the potentiality.
This basic human property has had many consequences. The
most important was the development of a cumulative tradition. The
beginnings of tradition, by which experience is transmitted from one
generation to the next, are to be seen in many higher animals. But
in no case is the tradition cumulative. Offspring learn from parents,
but they learn the same kind and quantity of lessons as they, in turn,