What are the sufficient criteria that make an entity a living homo sapiens? [on hold]

It is sadly common to see OPs not really understanding that terms definition is a question of philosophy. Unless the term has a standard definition in science, the answer will necessarily be a matter of opinion and not evidence. If the term has an agreed upon definition outside of science, then your question would be a question f linguistic. I agree your question is not a question of ethics but it is a question of philosophy

BTW, the definition of the concept of life itself is a question of philosophy. Biology is the study of life, yet it does not define what life is. The fact that a biologist and a linguist may have different intuitive understanding of the term "life" is irrelevant here.

Could I ask such a question in Philosophy Stack Exchange, how should I word it and which tags should I use?

  • If you scope the question to a particular school of philosophy then it will probably be okay. Aug 24, 2019 at 2:08
  • @curiousdannii I frequently see well-received(open with many up-votes, many views, many answers) questions that are not scoped to a particular school of philosophy. i.e Schools of Thought like Existentialism, Nihilism, Skeptisism Stoicism or Cynism, etc. Logic, Fallacies, Phenomenology, Epistemology, Philosophy of Science, Aesthetics, Ethics, Axiology are all studied by many schools. My question is certainly about Phenomenology, Philosophy of Science, Aesthetics, Ethics and Axiology. It a question about the nature of the living homo sapiens. What is that entity. Aug 24, 2019 at 14:22
  • @curiousdannii A single example philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/60363/… Aug 24, 2019 at 14:26
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    It is a mystery to me why questions like that remain open. I vote to close whenever I see them. Aug 24, 2019 at 14:38
  • @curiousdannii Because philosophy is much broader than each of its schools. There isn't A philosophy. Philosophy is not a guess, speculation, or suggestion. Its THE philosophy its a wholle discipline in itself like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Medicine, Pharmacology, Psychology, Sociology, Economics and so many more. One has relativistic physics for high speed. Quantum mechanics for the micro-world, Classical Mechanics/Physics for the Macro world at common speeds. Finite Mathematics and Real analysis. Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. Partial equilibrium and General Equilibrium. Aug 24, 2019 at 16:06
  • There's usually only one mathematical answer per question. There could be dozens for an ethical question. Not just different ways of explaining one thing, but dozens of actually different answers. Such questions don't work for the Stack Exchange Q&A model, and should be closed as too broad or primarily opinion based. Aug 24, 2019 at 16:11
  • @curiousdannii It depends on what ethics is. iep.utm.edu/ethics Ethics as a study is not a bunch of opinions it is a system. What is Ethical or not may be answered from the personal point of view of each person. But In philosophy ethics is a formal system. I am not asking for a defense on zygote's humanity. I am asking for a definition of a living homo sapiens. I gave links from biology.stackexchange. Aug 24, 2019 at 16:25
  • @curiousdannii I want to know the criteria to classify a physical entity as a homo sapiens or not. And the criteria to classify a physical entity as alive or not. 2 sets of criteria;i.e systems. It is not about what each person considers a living homo sapiens but what is. Phillosophy(if it is it's capacity and not in Biology's capacity) must have a formal system. It was said in Biology.stackexchange that my question is not one of ethics but still belongs to Phillosophy. Are you familiar with evaluating Series? Depending on how you group the summands you get a different answer. Aug 24, 2019 at 16:35
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    @GeorgeNtoulos, it is very much about what each living human considers the correct category, because science is a social activity which builds consensus of the category of Homo sapiens based on properties not all of which are inherent to the class, but some of which are relational between the agent and the object. Empiricism in particular requires the interpretation of qualia which are phenomenological in nature. Consider using colors as classificatory characteristics. Not all visual systems will be the same, and hence the color of an object of study is open to interpretation.
    – J D
    Aug 26, 2019 at 17:44

3 Answers 3


Sorry for the very short answer, which is due to my limited time available, but a question to that effect has already been asked and answered here:

What essential properties make us human?

  • I want to know the criteria to classify a physical entity as a homo sapiens or not. And the criteria to classify that same physical entity, regardless of being a homo sapiens or not, as alive or not. 2 sets of criteria;i.e 2 systems. Something systematic, strict, clear, explicit and comprehensive. e.g There is no doubt that a human corpse is not alive(at least as a wholle) but given its human it is/was a homo sapiens. Like so many fossils belong to their respective species. Also there is the question of Zygotes, Amputated Limbs, Organs, Amputees. Etc. Aug 25, 2019 at 21:37
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    @GeorgeNtoulos These are two distinct questions of which the first one is clearly answered in the question linked. We also have questions about definitions of life. The thing is that the clear-cut definitions you are looking for do not exist for any evolutionary successful, living species. Biological taxonomies are always arbitrary to some extent.
    – Philip Klöcking Mod
    Aug 26, 2019 at 1:15

In my head ideally this is a reference request to major works in the philosophy of biology that might deal with some of these questions. I would try to pose the specific problem you're facing in terms of a referential question (i.e., what are some major works/positions in the philosophy of biology dealing with the definition of life?) as directly as you can to maximize the chances of getting a great answer; and in general here I might just mention you're likely to elicit the most constructive responses from experts here if you frame it with as few assumptions as you can.

(Thanks for asking this question by the way! Just for a quick pointer, Longo and Montévil's Perspectives on Organisms is a recent work that might be interesting along these lines.)

  • I want to know the criteria to classify a physical entity as a homo sapiens or not. And the criteria to classify that same physical entity, regardless of being a homo sapiens or not, as alive or not. 2 sets of criteria;i.e 2 systems. Something systematic, strict, clear, explicit and comprehensive. Aug 25, 2019 at 0:14

This is a good question, because it highlights the idea that science and philosophy are not two crisp classes with no overlap in activity. Every science has a body of philosophy in it (and in fact, the philosophy of science is the starting point for each other philosophy, including the philosophy of biology, and it's a fine turn of the words that puts a question squarely in one category or the other.

So, your question is very specific. How do you formulate the question as a philosophical question as opposed to a scientific one is difficult since what is the nature of science (demarcation problem) is itself provisional on an argument by argument basis. This entire tangle really is a question of metaphysics, which Borchert's entry 'metaphysics' paraphrases to an exercise in developing an ontology, or a set of concepts from which one reasons. Obviously, this since the philosophy of biology uses both a philosophical ontology and a biological one, any question in the philosophy of biology will be allowed to use both, and illuminates the importance of using logics amenable to fuzzy membership.

The question of whether or not an organism is a member of Homo sapiens is a technical one, which would rely on the biological sciences to separate (presumably closely related) hominids like Homo neanderthalensis or Pan troglodytes from our species. This would rely on genetic testing, analysis of anatomical structures, and other topics that are biology per se. If you are just trying to find out how a police office who recovered genetic material wanted to verify it was human, then you would have to ask a geneticist who would be able to answer that question scientifically given knowledge of human genetics and it's diversity.

The question of how does one decide where to draw the line between Homo sapiens and Homo habilis is more a question of how does one decide how speciation occurs and what does it mean to be of two distinct species. Philosophers ignorant of science (and there are many of those) might presume that because it's related to biology, it should just be covered by biology and would have a grave misreading of the importance of philosophical argumentation determining the definition of species, which itself is not uncontroversial. Only an idiot who professes to be a philosopher could look at the demarcation of species problem and not see philosophy.

From the opening of the WP articles on the problem:

The species problem is the set of questions that arises when biologists attempt to define what a species is. Such a definition is called a species concept; there are at least 26 recognized species concepts.1 A species concept that works well for sexually reproducing organisms such as birds is useless for species that reproduce asexually, such as bacteria. The scientific study of the species problem has been called microtaxonomy.2

One common, but sometimes difficult, question is how best to decide which species an organism belongs to, because reproductively isolated groups may not be readily recognizable, and cryptic species may be present. There is a continuum from reproductive isolation with no interbreeding, to panmixis, unlimited interbreeding. Populations can move forward or backwards along this continuum, at any point meeting the criteria for one or another species concept, and failing others.

Many of the debates on species touch on philosophical issues, such as nominalism and realism, and on issues of language and cognition.

So, how do you tag/phrase your question to be philosophical? I would start by reading the aforelinked WP articles on the philosophy of biology and the demarcation problem of species and proceed from there. Reading those two articles will do a lot to get you to a question in the philosophy of biology, and away from questions like 'what is humanity' which, to those with scientific bent, seems like more like detached metaphysical speculation.

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