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Humans, Animals, and Metaphors

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This article examines the ideological implications of different interpretations of the statement "Humans are animals." It contrasts theories that regard humans as literally sophisticated animals with those who interpret the statement metaphorically. Sociobiological theories, bolstered by metaphors in the dictionary of English emphasize competitiveness and aggression as features shared by humans and nonhuman animals. Other theories emphasize symbiosis and cooperation. Some of these theories are prescriptive—metaphor patterns in English reflect the strong tendency to regard animal behavior as something for humans to avoid. Conversely, sociobiologists suggest it is natural and right to behave like animals, the naturalistic fallacy. Other cultural theories suggest that the statement is only metaphorical; our differences from animals are what make us most human. The article notes the tendency to metaphorically project the values and structures of current human society onto the animals being studied, serving the interest of those who, in power, benefit from the status quo.


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