Sir Geoffrey Lloyd: Humanity between Gods and Beasts? Ontologies in question

Royal Anthropological Institute , London

Event Date: 23 September 2010
Stevenson Lecture Theatre
Clore Education Centre, British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG

2010 Henry Myers Lecture


Professor Sir Geoffrey Lloyd: ‘Humanity between Gods and Beasts? Ontologies in question’

Abstract

Wherein lies the humanity of human beings? Many conflicting answers have been attempted in ancient and in modern times, with many focussing on the triadic relationship between humans, gods and beasts. This lecture will review a wide range of suggestions, from those of ancient Greeks and Chinese, to recent anthropological proposals (by Viveiros de Castro and Descola in particular) of alternative ontologies. We have every reason to take rival human understandings seriously, but that should not be thought to lead to radical relativism, let alone to a breakdown of mutual intelligibility. Rather, they offer resources for exploring the substantive questions and for reflecting on the propensity of human beings to entertain or presuppose strong views on, precisely, what makes humans human. While evolutionary biology, ethology, cognitive science and anthropology itself have all contributed to an increased recognition of the complexities of the question, we need the input not just of those disciplines, but also of philosophy and of history, to evaluate potential answers. In that spirit the lecture offers an interdisciplinary commentary on the problems.

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Introduction:

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Lecture:

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Response and Questions:

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