Arcus Foundation

Arcus Forum: Less Than Human

The Arcus Forum “Less Than Human,” held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on Sept. 30, 2013, explored how humans often degrade each other in order to assert dominance and how we often exploit nature and other species for research, entertainment, and other purposes.

David Livingstone Smith, noted philosopher and author of the award-winning book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, participated in a conversation with Arcus’ Annette Lanjouw, Arcus Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Great Apes Program, author, and primatologist. The discussion examined the factors that motivate humans to treat others differently and how we can more ethically uphold respect for the rights and intrinsic value of species.

┬ęBrad Hamilton

©Brad Hamilton


David Livingstone Smith speaks about why inflicting violence upon others — whether they be other religions, other ethnicities, or other nations — has an allure because humans are able to obtain resources by doing so. The act of dehumanization, in which other human beings are excluded for moral consideration, Livingstone Smith contends, is one of the main ways humans are able to justify such actions.


“‘Human’ is an honorific title,” says David Livingstone Smith, adding that the hierarchical denigration of other species becomes clearer once this is understood.


“It has been demonstrated very clearly that there are many species who have empathy,” says Annette Lanjouw, adding that those species grieve, mourn and feel for others who suffer.


For more information, read David Livingstone Smith’s essay “Less Than Human? The Ethics of Our Treatment of Others.”

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