Re: [OPE-L] Plekhanov on humans as tool making animals

From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Sun Dec 24 2006 - 12:21:46 EST

I'll keep this for the next year. It is of such an importance that I regard  
it as the key to the understanding of Marx's teaching (not only that of 
Engels'  as you seem to imply). I suggest we follow this point to its utmost extend 
and  depth. Until then I wish you some relaxed and relaxing days. Happy new 
year to  you as well.
In einer eMail vom 24.12.2006 16:04:15 Westeuropäische Normalzeit schreibt  

"Franklin called man “a tool-making  animal.” The use and production of 
tools in fact does constitute the  distinguishing feature of man. Darwin contests 
the opinion that only man is  capable of the use of tools, and gives many 
examples which show that in an  embryonic form their use is characteristic for 
many mammals. And he naturally  is quite right from his point of view, i.e., in 
the sense that in that  notorious “human nature” there is not a single feature 
which is not to be  found in some other variety of animal, and that therefore 
there is absolutely  no foundation for considering man to be some special 
being and separating him  off into a special “kingdom.” But it must not be 
forgotten that  quantitative differences pass into qualitative. What exists as an  
embryo in one species of animal can become the distinguishing  feature of 
another species of animal. 
Plekhanov concedes the point, in the section above, that:
a) "there is not a single feature [associated with 'human nature',  JL]
which is not found in some other variety of animal"; and
b) "there is absolutely no foundation for considering man to be  some
special being and separating him off into a separate 'kingdom'".
but ...
> This particularly applies to  the use of tools. An elephant breaks off 
branches and uses them to brush away  flies. This is interesting and instructive. 
But in the history of the  evolution of the species “elephant” the use of 
branches in the fight  against flies probably played no essential part; elephants 
did not become  elephants because their more or less elephant-like ancestors 
brushed off flies  with branches. It is quite otherwise with man. <
Note the inference by Plekhanov concerning the evolution of the  species
The implication here is that humans only became fully human with  the
development of their tool-making abilities.   From that  perspective, human 
societies that have  developed productive forces to a higher  level could be 
seen as being "superior" and more advanced from an _evolutionary_  
This is a dangerous perspective politically. 
To begin with, humans at the dawn of human history (i.e. after the  creation 
of  the new species) are just as human as humans in our  time.   I know of no 
credible scientific or anthropological evidence to the contrary.
Even worse is the implication that the humans in  "more advanced"  human 
societies, in terms of the development of the forces of production, are  more
"human" than those in social formations in which the forces of production  
are less developed!   
But, anyway, thanks for the reference.  I think it locates well the  origins 
a particular perspective on these issues among Marxists going back  to
Engels, continuing on with Plekhanov, and continuing still further with  
more recent advocates of 'dialectical materialism'.  It raises the  issue
of whether there were some Eurocentric biases in "classical  Marxist"
Best wishes for the holidays and 2007!
In solidarity, Jerry


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