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Tuttle / Oral

Are human beings apes, or are apes people too?

Russell H. Tuttle, Professor of Anthropology, and in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, the Morris Fishbein Center for the History of Biology and Medicine, and the College of the University of Chicago

     Revolutions in molecular genetics and comparative cognitive psychology have led a growing cohort of scientists, humanists, and lay animal rights activists to refer to human beings as other apes and to subsume the Pongidae (Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus, Gorilla gorilla and Pongo pygmaeus) and sometimes also the Hylobatidae (Hylobates spp.) in the Linnaean family, Hominidae. Without denying the propinquity of apes and humans and the urgent need for improved humane treatment and appreciation of all of them, I argue that human beings are not apes, nor are apes human beings, as people are recognized to be by anthropologists. Apes have not been demonstrated naturalistically to possess culture: symbolically mediated behavior, values, beliefs and ideas. The bipedal adaptive complex serves as a paleontolologial marker that distinguishes human beings and their Pliocene-Pleistocene ancestors and collaterals -Hominidae- from the severally brachiating, arboreal climbing and knuckle-walking Hylobatidae, Pongidae and Panidae.