#540…sci, RELIG, etc: “How Are Humans Different from Animals?”


   Of course, some would suggest I say “other animals,” but we’ll take a pass on that…


Some say that with humans nothing is

absolutely right,

and nothing is

absolutely wrong.


   I began to think about this in grad school when one of the liberal arts departments¹ sponsored a student contest to make a short movie that dealt with the distinctiveness of human moral choice.


   For the movie² that created an explosion of anger use the DOOR.




   A boy takes his rifle and dog for an extended hike through the woods until he comes to a beautiful open meadow where stops, sits in the grass, and plays with the dog that has followed him closely. He throws a stick time after time which the dog dutifully brings back to his master. The dog is clever and fast. The boy again and  again pats the dog’s head and scratches him under his chin. An hour passes and the bright sun begins to sink in the western sky.

   Then as the dog returns the last time, the boy raises his gun and calmly shoots the the dog, who suddenly falls over dead.

   The boy calmly turns and returns to where he started.

   The class seeing the result of this film project is furious. They want the maker of film thrown out of class and failed for the course.

   The film maker says his film fulfills the requirement he was given, and only humans would do such an act. Further, he reminded his classmates, they should remember he, himself, never touched the gun, much less fired it. And even further, only a human would record such an event and share it with others.


   Some questions to consider:

(1)  What caused the outrage of the students?  

(2)  Who, or what, declares this is wrong?

(3)  Why can’t a higher creature do whatever he wants to a lower creature?  Haven’t, since the beginning, higher, stronger, and more suitable creatures asserted themselves to survive and eliminate the weak?

(4)  Would nonhuman creature engage in such behavior?

(4)  If you were teaching and offering a similar assignment to your students, what, if any, boundaries would you put on this project?  Why would you do this, other than saying you didn’t want your students to break any law?


   ¹ I don’t remember the academic department, but it wasn’t the one I was in.

   ² I can’t remember the title, but the time this occurred was the late 1960’s.

Author: John Knapp