parallactic (parallactic) wrote in little_details,

Defining Humanity, and Logical Arguments

In the story I'm working on, my characters are arguing about what makes someone human, in a world where demons, and things that can pass for human exist. There's also a definite afterlife. There's a part where they broach philosophical/social science territory, and I've made casual use of Google to fuel their arguments. I suspect I now know enough to get things really wrong. More information would be nice, but what I'm really after is if I've got the philosophical/social science bits right, and if the argument makes logical sense. Below the cut is the bare bones argument. I'd be grateful if you guys could double check that I'm on the right track. (I know this is a little outside of the community, so I asked permission from a moderator.)

So, what are the traditional arguments for defining humanity (though usually it's for separating us from animals)? What are the counter-arguments? Does the following make logical sense?

Thanks in advance.

The World:
Humans, a definite afterlife with reincarnation, and demons.

Some standard arguments for what makes us human, instead of animals or something else:
-biology, walking upright, opposable thumbs, etc.
Counter: There's things in this world that can look human, but aren't.

Counter: whales communicate through song, and demons have speech.

Counter: In a world where reincarnation exists, you can be reincarnated as an animal, or a demon if you've been really bad.

-use of tools
Counter: Chimps can use simple tools.

-the ability to reason and plan
Counter: Demons can do this, too.

-altruism and compassion, e.g. we're the ones who will sacrifice our lives for our loved ones
Counter: If you define humanity via altruism, then anyone who hasn't formed social bonds strong enough to over ride the self preservation instinct isn't human. So altruism isn't a good criteria to judge humanity.

-Defining humanity is a circular argument in that if you're treated as human, then you are. It's about socialization, learning and living via society's values, and being a member of the group. So you can lose your 'humanity' if you violate society's bigger rules, then you're not considered human any longer, and should be separated from the group (e.g. prison) or gotten rid of (e.g. death penalty). I want to end the argument on the themes of humane/inhumane, and how we reject behaviors by distancing ourselves from it, like calling murder and torture inhumane, and how we call mercy and compassionate acts humane. So this means actions that hurt the group are called inhumane, and actions that help the group are called humane. So humanity is about socialization.

I want this to make logical sense so anyone reading my story won't be pulled out of it. This makes sense to me, but I'm not sure if it makes sense to other people, or if someone with a greater knowledge than mine will buy into it. I'm also not comfortable ending in a circular argument.
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