Apes and the Idea of Kindred
STEPHEN R. L. CLARK
the Apes Demoted?
There was serious debate in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as to the precise limits
of humankind. Monboddo, in particular, concluded that such apes as the orang-utan and
chimpanzee (counted together as the Ouran Outang) were of our kind, a notion satirised by
Thomas Love Peacock in
in the person of Sir Oran Haut-ton, a parliamentary
candidate for the rotten borough of Onevote.
They are exactly of the human form, walking erect, not upon all-four. . . . They use
sticks for weapons; they live in society; they make huts of branches of trees, and they
carry off negro girls, whom they make slaves of and use both for work and pleasure. . .
. But though from the particulars mentioned it appears certain that they are of our
species, and though they have made some progress in the arts of life, they have not
come to the lengths of language.
Monboddo was gravely misinformed in some respects, and engagingly open in his judgement
that our species-nature was shown chiefly in war, rape and domination rather than, as tradition
said, in the use of language. He guessed right, though perhaps for not entirely happy reasons,
that 'if ever men were in that state which [he] call[ed] natural, it must have been in such a
country and climate as Africa'.
Maybe he guessed wrong about our species-nature. His inclusion
of apes within 'our kind' is matched by those of his contemporaries who excluded Hottentots
). Those who insisted, with J.G. Herder, that 'neither the
chimpanzee] nor the
[the gibbon] is your brother; but truly the American [that is,
the Amerindian!] and the Negro are',
now occupy the scientific and the ethical high ground.
Any attempt to re-open the question is bound to seem offensive, especially if it is conjoined
with the somewhat salacious details enjoyed by earlier anthropologists and explorers. I share
with liberal critics a suspicion that supposedly 'objective' examinations of, say, the brains of
'Australids' (that is, native Australians), orang-utans and 'Europids'
are profoundly racist in
their motivation and execution. But there really are important questions here. The story of the
exclusion of such apes from 'our' kind requires an examination of the relations between folk
taxonomy (which is strongly evaluative) and scientific taxonomy ( by which biological taxa are
What follows is a beginning.
Either we are simply natural products of evolutionary processes or we are not. In this part of
the chapter, I explore the former hypothesis. My conclusions are very much like those of
Richard Dawkins in Chapter 7: if we are products of evolutionary processes, then any objective
judge would be likely to count us together with the other apes (just as we think ants or
dolphins or finches are of single kinds even though there may be many (strict) species of ant,
finch or dolphin). This is not to say that all such kinds display a single nature. Chimpanzees and