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HPP Talk: 20th November 2014, Sir Anthony Kenny

"Humanism versus Anthropomorphism"

On the 20th of November Sir Anthony Kenny spoke on the topic 'Humanism versus Anthropomorphism' at the ongoing seminar series organised by the Humane Philosophy Project and the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion.

Video footage of the talk can be found here.


Anthropomorphism (applying to non-humans predicates appropriate only to human beings) may seem an ally of humanism: in fact it is its enemy. Anthropomorphic error takes five forms: biological, zoological, technological, institutional, and theological.

Biological anthropomorphism applies to parts of human beings predicates that are applicable only to whole human beings: e.g. Neo-Darwinism. Again, the anthropomorphic fallacy is committed if we attribute to non-human animals the possession of concepts that can only be manifested by language-users. The attribution of human concepts and activities to computers is the currently most popular form of technological anthropomorphism.

Anthropomorphism can operate not only in the sub-human sphere, but also in the superhuman sphere. Predicates appropriate only to individual humans may be applied to social and political institutions. Again, religious believers apply to God many predicates applicable literally only to humans. The metaphorical nature of this attribution is widely accepted, but some mentalistic predicates are held to be literally true of God.

Sir Anthony Kenny is former Master of Balliol College, President of the British Academy and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford. He has made significant contributions to the philosophy of mind, ancient and scholastic philosophy, the philosophy of Wittgenstein and the philosophy of religion

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