Re: What is a hominid?

The most fearsome bunny rabbit in all the land (
27 Mar 1995 20:20:41 GMT

I think we should be distinguish between "hominid" and "human," or else
we'll get into some trouble. Hominid can be defined on strict biological
grounds, like morphology or ontogeny. For example:
"A hominid is a habitually bipedal pongid."
Not defensible on strict cladistic grounds, but then, I'm not a cladist.
If I were, then I'd probably want to define a hominid proper as a large-bodied
semi-terrestrial anthropoid with a prolonged developmental period that allows
for the accquisition of culture. I think that this definition is sufficient
to included the chimps, bonobos, gorillas, australopithecines, and humans,
while excluding the orangutangs and hylobatids. O' course, it rests on
criteria that cannot be supported by strict morphological characteristics, so
perhaps it fails the cladist test on that count.
But as for being human . . .this is where paleoanthropology segues into
philosophy, esp. of mind and ethics. Being human is a special category,
usually accorded some special ontological status. "What does it mean to be
human?" is, to me, the perennial philosphical question, and I don't think we
should think we qua scientists can define humanity on simple biological
grounds or in biological terms. Even if we can define _Homo_ (which we cannot
yet do because our early _Homo_ fossils are too fragmentary), that doesn't
mean that we've captured our humanity. This caveat is in order because some
other posts to this thread have suggested, half-jokingly, that we define
hominds on cultural terms.
That's all for now, folks.

Carl Sachs

"I've always wanted to go to Africa. In my mind, I'm already there."