There is no distinct definition of human yet. Usually it is defined through inexplicable terms or through negation. This happens because there are still a lot of doubts concerning this topic and there is no definite answer to the question about the peculiar qualities and characteristics, which distinguish human creatures from all the others. When we think about characteristics which distinguish us from animals intelligence is the first thing which comes to our mind. This characteristic doesn’t stand critics if we study the problem deeper. There are retarded people with very low IQ level but they are not less humans than those with high results on IQ tests. From the other side there are animals, like whales, dolphins and chimpanzees, for example, who have high IQ but this doesn’t approach them to humans. There are many other proves, which show that it’s not intelligence, which differentiates us from other creatures. Those, who call environment among the main reasons, which help to form unique human characteristics, are right only partially. It’s a proven fact that environment plays an extremely important role in forming the human identity of the person. Parents and surrounding give children basic knowledge about the world and models of behavior. But from the other side, the series of experiments when different animals were grown up in the same environment as humans show that these conditions were not enough to make them humans. Till recently scientists claimed that humans had a unique structure of the brain and no other animals possessed it but latest researches proved vice verse. There are animals that have brain even bigger than humans do and there are so many characteristics of human brain, which are alike with the ones of the animals that it’s impossible to consider brain structure to be the main distinguishing feature of humanness. Memory and attention also can not be exceptional human characteristics as they are peculiar to many kinds of animals. Behavior and even social behavior also isn’t the prerogative of the men only.
Defining the term “human” through negations scientists have finally met one characteristic, which was peculiar to humans only. The characteristic mentioned above is reasoning. Reasoning and ability to make moral judgements are the only characteristics, which stand critics and can be used to explain the origins of human nature.
Jean Piaget, psychologist from Switzerland dedicated a lot of time to the research of reasoning. He studied the way reasoning was developed starting from the childhood and formed his own concepts concerning this issue. According to his theory, moral reasoning isn’t imposed to children by the society. Through the series of research and experiments he came to the conclusion that children perform rather active than passive role while adopting social norms and regulations. He differentiated two stage of the process of moral reasoning development. First stage called “moral relativism with objective responsibility” reflected the earlier stage of reasoning development. On this stage children are usually more concerned about the results of their actions and possible good or bad consequences.
On this stage children strictly follow the rules set up by someone else and don’t have intentions to change rules or to invent new ones. For children of this stage the results of the actions dominate over intentions. Next stage comes when children start considering intentions of their own actions. On this stage children are usually able to find motives hidden behind certain actions. On this stage the rules of the games can be doubted as children can dispute their fairness. This fact means that system of norms and regulations meets some internal norms and gets response from them. Piaget drops the conclusion that on the first stage reasoning is developed and this process goes through active interaction with the surrounding and on the second stage children are able to use moral reasoning for problem solving. Piaget’s works became a very respected study and either agreeing or disagreeing his conclusions other scientists count on his works in their studies. An American psychologist Kohlberg developed Piaget’s conclusions. He used Piaget’s concepts to study cognitive reasoning among adults. He based his research on Piaget’s model and extended his classification to six stages. He insisted on the importance of each stage and stated that person could develop only passing each stage gradually.
Different approaches to the appearance and development of mechanisms of reasoning and judgments gave birth to the development of two fundamentally different approaches towards this issue. These controversial approaches present two different moral development theories. The first theory states that children are born with ready moral standards and only develop them while growing up. Another group of theories stands at the point that children acquire moral norms and standards during the process of socialization in the course of interaction with other members of the society. Followers of the last group of theories often turn to social learning or behaviorist theories. Particular feature, which unites this type of theories, is a belief that morality norms are not the born peculiarity of human nature but is something attained during the human life. Another group of theories treats morals like an integral part of human psychics. Usually these theories are united under the name of psychoanalytic theories. Specialists who turn to cognitive development theories hold the opinion that reasoning is the main feature, which distinguishes human creatures from all the rest. Presenting two controversially different approaches, two types of development theories turn to different aspects of the problem and give different explanations of the work of moral mechanisms. Two types of theories are mutually exclusive. Focusing on the reasoning, these theories pay little attention to the behavioral patterns and their role in the life of an individual. From the other side, social learning theories do not support thesis about free will and moral choices and count only on behavior modification techniques.
As we can see scientists can’t give one universal answer to the question about the measure of humanness and distinctions which differentiate us from other animals. Most of them agree that moral, reasoning and faith are those unique characteristics, which make humans different and put them on the top of evolutionary hierarchy. It’s evident that studying these phenomena we can get a better understanding of our nature and mechanisms which form our reactions and behavior.
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1. Bersoff, David M. and Joan G. Miller. “Culture, Context, and the Development of Moral Accountability Judgments.” Developmental Psychology29, no. 4 (July 1993): 664–77.
2. Piaget, J. The Moral Judgment of the Child. New York: The Free Press, 1965.
3. Kohlberg, Lawrence. Essays on Moral Development, I: The Philosophy of Moral Development: Moral Stages and the Idea of Justice. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981.