By Stephen Walker
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Huxley, 1906, p. 96) If the mind is construed as brain activity, and the human and chimpanzee brains are so similar, whence arises the intellectual gulf? Huxley curtly gives the language argument in a footnote: A man born dumb, notwithstanding his great cerebral mass and his inheritance of strong intellectual instincts, would be capable of few higher intellectual manifestations than an Orang or Chimpanzee, if he were confined to the society of dumb associates. (Huxley, 1906, p. 26) Marx (1818—83) and Engels (1820—95) as post-Darwinians Darwin was much more interested in plants and beetles than in human societies, and the brief section on ‘Natural Selection as affecting Civilized Nations’ in the Descent is largely defensive, with the aim of rebutting suggestions such as that of Galton, to the effect that, in civilised societies, the poor and reckless members outbreed the provident and virtuous, thus preventing any improvements by natural selection.
It must also be the case that the properties of human thought and reason depend on precisely what language or languages are available to the individual. This contention is familiar as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is now in disfavour because of the Chomskean tenet that all languages have an identical underlying structure. Schopenhauer, although he had to contend with the nativist underlying absolutes and universals of Kant and Hegel, was firmly of the opinion that thought depends upon linguistic skills and preconceptions that are acquired by experience.
If human thought is so much governed by language, then the absence of language in animals should place crushing restrictions on the kinds of thinking that can be attributed to them. Schopenhauer provides a fairly plain alternative to both the dualism of Descartes and the extreme reaction against it by Hume: there is a dichotomy between man and beast, and the differences are not just a matter of degree, but the limitations on thought in otherwise intelligent mammals such as the orang-utan and elephant do not arise from the absence of an immaterial and invisible essence; the limitations may all be put down to a single factor, their comparatively tangible and visible lack of speech.