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What “Human Exceptionalism” Means


As David noted earlier, Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed me at NRO about my new ebook, The War on Humans. Those interested can read it for themselves. But I want to quote one small section because I am so often asked what I mean by the term human exceptionalism. From “Losing Human Dignity“:

LOPEZ: How do you define “human exceptionalism”?
SMITH: “Human exceptionalism” is a term I use to describe both sides of the unique nature of man. On one hand, we have unique value and only we should possess rights. But that isn’t the end of it.
Human exceptionalism also appeals to our unique capacity for moral agency: Only human beings have duties. We have duties to each other. We have duties to our posterity. We have duties to treat animals humanely. We have duties to treat the environment responsibly and to leave a verdant world to those who come after us. These flow from who we are. If we recognize the exceptional nature of all human beings, we will understand that the world is not ours to turn into a cesspool. I mean, if being human isn’t what gives us the obligation to be environmentally responsible, what does?

That isn’t a complete description of either the unique value or obligations sides of the human exceptionalism coin, but it is a good nutshell description of the concept.
Cross-posted at Human Exceptionalism.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.