“They're Not True Humans:” Beliefs about Moral Character Drive Denials of Humanity

Cognitive Science 46 (2):e13089 (2022)
  Copy   BIBTEX


A puzzling feature of paradigmatic cases of dehumanization is that the perpetrators often attribute uniquely human traits to their victims. This has become known as the “paradox of dehumanization.” We address the paradox by arguing that the perpetrators think of their victims as human in one sense, while denying that they are human in another sense. We do so by providing evidence that people harbor a dual character concept of humanity. Research has found that dual character concepts have two independent sets of criteria for their application, one of which is descriptive and one of which is normative. Across four experiments, we found evidence that people deploy a descriptive criterion according to which being human is a matter of being a Homo sapiens; as well as a normative criterion according to which being human is a matter of possessing a deep-seated commitment to do the morally right thing. Importantly, we found that people are willing to affirm that someone is human in the descriptive sense, while denying that they are human in the normative sense, and vice versa. In addition to providing a solution to the paradox of dehumanization, these findings suggest that perceptions of moral character have a central role to play in driving dehumanization.

Similar books and articles

Peirce, Moral Cognitivism, and the Development of Character.Aaron Massecar - 2014 - Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 50 (1):139.
Dual character concepts.Kevin Https://Orcidorg Reuter - 2018 - Philosophy Compass 14 (1):e12557.
The Importance of Moral Character.Nancy Ellen Schauber - 1993 - Dissertation, Yale University
Character and Autonomy: The Paradox of Moral Education.Michael Reed Taylor - 1982 - Dissertation, The Florida State University
Moral Relativism in Context.James R. Beebe - 2010 - Noûs 44 (4):691-724.
Intuition and Belief in Moral Motivation.Antti Kauppinen - 2015 - In Gunnar Björnsson (ed.), Moral Internalism. Oxford University Press.
Some Varieties of Particularism.Walter Sinnott-Armstrong - 1999 - Metaphilosophy 30 (1&2):1-12.
The No Reason Thesis.Judith Jarvis Thomson - 1989 - Social Philosophy and Policy 7 (1):1.
Ethical Knowledge?Craig Thomas Perdue - 1994 - Dissertation, Wayne State University
Common Sense and First Principles in Sidgwick's Methods.David O. Brink - 1994 - Social Philosophy and Policy 11 (1):179-201.


Added to PP

686 (#24,637)

6 months
142 (#25,491)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Ben Phillips
Arizona State University

Citations of this work

Corporate insecthood.Nina Strohminger & Matthew R. Jordan - 2022 - Cognition 224 (C):105068.

Add more citations