Clough - The Pursuit of Human Uniqueness as Species-Level Narcissism

Additional Information

Category Lecture
Speakers Clough, David
Year 2015

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Academic interest in many disciplines in what makes humans different from other animals seems to be high and getting higher; this conference is a case in point. That is not to say that the topic is merely a modern preoccupation: Aristotle among other ancient philosophers was concerned to identify the unique function of humanity. This paper suggests that the question of what makes human beings unique should be accompanied by two others: Why are we fascinated with the question of what makes us unique? And, what is the impact of our preoccupation with this question? The paper will suggest that our motives for seeking answers to this question are suspect, that the anxiety we feel about not being able to give a good answer is unnecessary, and that pursuit of the question is a continuing attempt to shore up a high human/non-human boundary wall that is unstable and unhelpful, both for human self‐understanding, and for the unfortunates among our fellow creatures that find themselves on the wrong side of it. Christian theology, in particular, has sometimes seemed to associate the truths of faith with assertions about the uniqueness of the human, which is odd for a religious tradition that confesses one God as creator of all. In short, it is time, the paper submits, to give our attention to more important and less corrosive topics of enquiry.

DAVID CLOUGH is Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chester, and the President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics. He has previously written on the ethics of Karl Barth (Ethics in Crisis: Interpreting Barth's Ethics, Ashgate, 2007) and the ethics of war (Faith and Force: A Christian Debate about War, with Brian Stiltner, Georgetown University Press, 2009). His current research concerns the place of non‐human animals in Christian doctrine and ethics, focussed on a two--‐volume monograph On Animals. Volume I, Systematic Theology was published by T&T Clark/Bloomsbury in 2012, and Volume II, Theological Ethics, is in progress. He has also co-edited with Celia Deane‐Drummond two related books: Creaturely Theology: On God, Humans, and Other Animals (SCM, 2009) and Animals as Religious Subjects: Transdisciplinary Perspectives (T&T Clark/Bloomsbury, 2013). He is a Methodist lay preacher, advises the Methodist Church on the ethics of its investment policy, and has worked on national ecumenical working groups on warfare and climate change. He lives next-door to a zoo with his family of five humans and one cat.