Mankind, Humankind, and Gender

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader takes me to task for not having used “gender neutral language” in a recent post:

In your definition of eschatology you use the word mankind. You run a writing website, please use gender neutral language please, it isn’t that difficult.

My views on gendered language are perhaps too loose to meet the more extreme requirements of political correctness. For example, I don’t see anything wrong with using the word mankind in the sense of “all human beings living on the earth.” As I understand the word, it comes from an Old English construct in which man means “person.”

I do not countenance words like poetess and authoress, which I believe convey a sense of condescension.

I condemn the expression “woman doctor” used to indicate the gender of the doctor rather than the doctor’s medical specialty.

On the other hand, words like chairperson strike me as faintly absurd. And efforts to translate the Bible into “gender neutral language” seem rather misdirected, considering the patriarchal viewpoint of the content.

I suppose that I was supposed to substitute humankind for mankind. I don’t see the point. The word human derives from the Latin word for “man”: homo, There was an Old English cognate, guma (pl. guman), that also meant “man.” It survives in our word bridegroom, “the bride’s man.”

Excessive concern over “gender neutral language” frequently results in unidiomatic English and/or unnecessary transformations of useful and innocuous words.

This is a writing site, but it is also a blog. Readers have to expect that some opinion will inform the posts.

I feel an obligation to verify my discussions of standard usage by consulting the OED, the Chicago Manual of Style, and other recognized authorities. In the matter of what does and doesn’t count as “gender neutral language,” however, I feel no compulsion to buy into the world of “Chairperson Greenspan” and “Every man and woman for him or herself.” I don’t happen to see every word with a syllable spelled m-a-n as an affront to womankind. (Should we still be using the word woman?)

In my opinion, humankind is no more “gender neutral” than mankind. Both mean exactly the same thing, and both derive from the word “man.”

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118 Responses to “Mankind, Humankind, and Gender”

  • Ken Khelah

    I agree with Maeve and think it’s a matter of style.

  • Robyn Scott

    I do believe that the “man” in chairman has nothing to do with gender but is derived from the Latin Manus, meaning hand. The person with his/her hand on the chair. thus chairman. Also evident in MANufacture etc.

  • Alan

    Language changes. To look at the Etymology of a word, while ignoring how theword is understood in modern spoken English does not seem to me to be the best way of understanding English as a means of communication (Which is the whole point of language).

    Whether humankind has its roots in homo (latin for man) or not, is irrelevent – unless one is interested in the history of the word rather then in its current understanding. Humankind is clearly understod to refer to all humans – regardless of gender.

    Whether one likes it or not, mankind does not always convey this idea to everyone. Woman were and still are often excluded – in some societies women are almost completey marginalised, in western society far less so but only because people have fought againt gender discrimination.

    So humankind appears to me to be a far better word to use when speaking of all human beings.

    Those who se it as PC I suppose would also agree that women are more nurturing, quiet, reserved then men. May be they also think that women should stay at home and and learn to be more womanly – after all many men would certainly prefere it that way.

  • Baruch Atta

    After reading the above, I will try to add something new to the conversation.

    In the “Jungle Book”, wnen the bears discover a child, the child is called “a man cub”. This is in contrast to the usual (to the bears) “bear cub”, or just “cub”.

    In my writing, I am using “mankind”, “man your battlestations”, but “policewoman” is also in my usage book. I use “he” or “him” when refering to a person of either sex when the sex is unknown. Whoever disagrees can write what he wants.

  • Alan

    Baruch Atta mentions Jungle Book and the use of the term man-cub, it is worth remembering that it was written by Rudyard Kipling
    – a great man of letters, but far from a beackon of impartiality.

    Using man-cub in 1894 is uderstandable – it was a patriarcal world- but in the 21st century there is no need. If one was writing such a story today – the term ‘human cub’ would be far more appropiate.

    As for “Man’ your battle stations.” Why not write ‘”Staff your battle stations.”

    Why should it be presumed that a doctor, pilate, actor etc is male unless one users the term woman doctor etc?

    Surely a doctor is a dotctor – gender is unimportant – unless you happen to think a male doctor is better then a female?, why would one want to differentiate the gender.

    When the title of the profession says all one should need to know – why even refer to the gender of the professional.

  • Alan

    Robyn wrote.

    “person with his/her hand on the chair.”

    In order to avoid the messy ‘his/her’ phrase, is not ” The person with ‘their’ hand on the chair.”

    Interesting point about the Latin Manus, meaning hand, so chairman means the person with their hand on the chair.

    Unfortunately the term chairman is now related to gender – which is the reason so much rancor can arise from how the chair is addressed. Since there is no going back – the question now is how do we use language so it is inclusive to all.

  • Nelida K.

    A round of applause for Alan. Outstanding comments.

  • Peter

    Whether humankind has its roots in homo (latin for man) or not, is irrelevent

    Note that in Latin, “homo” has the meaning “member of the species homo sapiens sapiens[*] whether male or female”…just like “man” in English.

    [*] and possibly other hominids…e.g., when we talk of “man” discovering fire…though ancient Romans wouldn’t have known that 🙂

    Humankind is clearly understod to refer to all humans – regardless of gender.

    Yes…as is “mankind”…

  • Alan

    Peter,

    Of course it is clearly understood, why every Tom, Dick and Harry knows that. (pun intended).

    As I said in a previous comment

    >Language changes. To look at the Etymology of a word, while >ignoring how the word is understood in modern spoken English >does not seem to me to be the best way of understanding English >as a means of communication (Which is the whole point of >language).

    >Whether humankind has its roots in homo (latin for man) or not, is >irrelevent – unless one is interested in the history of the word >rather then in its current understanding.

    So yes I am aware that the word ‘homo’ means man.

    In 1869 Carlos White published Ecce Femina, which contains essays by the likes of John Stuart Mills that argue for the rights of women to vote etc.,

    Ecco homo means behold the man, just as ‘Ecce Femina’ means behold the women. The whole point of inclusive language, is to recoginse that women are not merely a mens’ accessories – which whether one cares to acknowledge it or not is how women have been perceived in patriarcal societies, when these words first gained their meaning.

    People understand mankind can include both sexes, but what if you just want to refer to men only – you would still say mankind – ie, the preeminence of the word belongs to the male species.

    In ordinary day use, people well understand that humankind refers to all – male and female. Entymology does not explain how language is understood as it is spoken.

  • Baruch Atta

    “…’homo’ has the meaning “member of the species…”
    If so, then what does “homosexual” mean? How about “homogenized”?

  • Maeve Maddox

    Baruch Atta
    “…’homo’ has the meaning “member of the species…”
    If so, then what does “homosexual” mean? How about “homogenized”?

    English has two prefixes spelled “homo,” one from Latin and one from Greek. Here’s a post on the topic:

  • One Old Koot

    Wow! Over 61 comments. You’ve really touched a raw nerve.

    The thing that I find disturbing about about PC touchiness is how people identify themselves nowadays. They seem to see themselves more as mere bodies (what “equipment” they have) rather than souls, transcending earthly gender. This can perhaps be understood, seeing the decline in religion, despite all talk of spirituality.

    As a blog subscriber, I appreciate your daily tips on the English language. Perhaps one day is be learning to correctly be speaking.

  • Julie

    Well said, Old Koot! May we all enjoy and respect each other’s souls.

  • Peter

    Of course it is clearly understood, why every Tom, Dick and Harry knows that. (pun intended).

    Are you suggesting that people who say “mankind” is somehow distinct from “humankind” really believe that what people mean by “mankind” is not exactly the same as what they mean by “humankind”? Honestly believe that, rather than just grind their political axes on it? I don’t think so.

    As I said in a previous comment

    Whether humankind has its roots in homo (latin for man) or not, is irrelevent – unless one is interested in the history of the word rather then in its current understanding.

    So yes I am aware that the word ‘homo’ means man.

    But the text you quote clearly implies that you’re thinking “man” as opposed to “woman”, not “man” as opposed to “god” or “animal”, as the Romans meant it. (“Man” meaning “male human” is “vir” in Latin)

  • Kathy Berken

    Thank God for common sense!

  • S.D.

    My grammar book insists that masculine pronouns be used when gender is unknown. I don’t like doing so myself, but I completely agree that “chairperson” is absurd. A person has a gender, and depriving him or her of it feels wrong.

  • Precise Edit

    I didn’t want to comment, but I’m feeling gutsy.

    As an editor, I have to think very carefully about 1) what I want to communicate (purpose), 2) what the reader will understand (clarity), and 3) how the reader will respond (effect). If I apply these three concerns to my use of “mankind,” here’s what I get.

    1. Purpose: I intend to communicate something about to all people. “Mankind” has this meaning, so it is acceptable.
    2. Clarity: Readers will understand that I mean all people. I doubt that readers will think I am only referring to male members of our species. Whether or not the reader thinks “mankind” is a sexist term, the reader will likely understand what I mean to communicate. Based on this concept, “mankind” is acceptable.
    3. Effect: This is where it gets tricky. Will the reader be upset by my use of “mankind”? Will the word “mankind” be so distracting that the reader will be unable to focus on the ideas being presented? Will the reader throw away the document in disgust at my “obvious” chauvinism? Probably not.

    So, yes, I will continue to use “mankind.” (My dog just told me that this entire discussion demonstrates my specism and that he refuses to have anything more to do with me–until dinner.)

    With all that said, I do not tolerate “he/she,” “s/he,” or the use of plural pronouns (e.g., “they”) to refer to singular subjects to avoid singular masculine or feminine pronouns. Instead, I prefer to make the subjects singular (see “Sexist Language and Bad Grammar”: . Also, I try to avoid using “he” or “she” when referring to categories of people, such as people in a particular profession, when the category contains both males and females.

    However, what really gets my goat is statements declaring a woman to be the best female-something, as in the best female writer of the year. I’m with Maeve that this is condescending. “What?” I might ask. “Are women such poor writers that letting them compete with men is unfair? Do they need their own, special, category?”

    This might be appropriate for professional basketball teams where males in general have a physical advantage, but when the skill or profession is not dependent upon the physical characteristics of the person, why should we establish separate categories for women and men? To the person who is thinking, “Well, we need special categories for women because they will be overlooked otherwise,” I say, “You are being sexist in that you are judging the work by the sex of the practitioner, demonstrating your belief that a woman’s work will be inferior to a man’s and that a woman has no chance to be the ‘best’ if competing against a man. Let the work speak for itself. If we are looking for the best, let us look for the best of all.” (I might also respond, “Oh, please! 2010?”)

    But to the point: Avoiding sexism in writing.

    I could say “I try not to judge a person by the shape of his skin,” which is grammatically correct but may be misunderstood (clarity problem). I could also say “I try not to judge a person by the shape of their skin,” which is not grammatically correct and gives me that fingernails-on-the-blackboard feeling. Or I could say “I try not to judge people by the shape of their skin.” I would choose the third option. It fits my intention (purpose), communicates what I intend (clarity), and is unlikely to upset those who seek opportunities to accuse others of sexism.

  • Precise Edit

    Ok-Paragraph 5 should read as follows:

    With all that said, I do not tolerate “he/she,” “s/he,” or the use of plural pronouns (e.g., “they”) to refer to singular subjects to avoid singular masculine or feminine pronouns. Instead, I prefer to make the subjects PLURAL to avoid the need for gender-specific singular pronouns.

    Oops.

  • Alan

    A few comments.

    Why are those who accuse others of being ‘PC’ so sensitive, and why do they seemtto deliberately accuse those who think terms like ‘humankind’ is a more inclusive experession now that we live in the 21st century, of foolish things – such as thinking mankind only refers to men.

    I certainly do not accuse people of being’sexist’ because they use the term ‘Mankind.’ and I suggest few people who have wrote here in favour of the ‘inclusive’ humankind are charging others of being sexist.

    It is the conviction that terms such as mankind, or chairman makes women less visible – that we object too. If one as never belonged to a commitee and only read/heard media stories that used the term chairman – one could be forgiven for assuming that committees are best governed by men.

    We may laugh at that idea today – but it was not so long ago in Wetsern Societies that this was actually belived. Travel to India, Middle East, and part so of Eastern Asia, and one soon learns that the idea that women are for serving coffee to the chairman and his male committee is still very much alive.

    In America it is still common in religious organisations to find women are only allowed to organise events for other women, and that events for men and women can only be led by men. Such a convition – now only commonly found in conservative religious circles once use to be the norm.

    SD writes: “My grammar book insists that masculine pronouns be used when gender is unknown.”

    First of all, grammer changes – the idea that because a grammer book says something that therefore the rules of grammer are set in stone is mistaken. Language is to allow communicating. Grammer greatly aids that process – but it is only an aide. When langauge changes grammer rules may also meed to change in order to aide the ‘modern’ useage.

    For example we no longer use the Royal “We.” We now live in a society of ‘equals.’ Even in Britian where we still have a monarch the idea of using ‘We’ as a singular pronoun to refer to the Queen is considered quaint – and will confuse many, if not most, people.

    2/ SD writes ” I don’t like doing so myself, but I completely agree that “chairperson” is absurd. A person has a gender, and depriving him or her of it feels wrong.”

    A person does have a gender – yet if the person is a woman are you:

    1/ not depriving women chairperson’s of their gender by using the term chairman.

    2/ acknowledging that knowing the gender of the chiair person is unimportant (ie, chairman can refer to man or women), in which case your objection to the gender neutral Chairperson is redundent.

    I do not understand the objection to using gender inclusive language – especially where it is grammatically easy to do so.

    We live in the 21st century where the chairperson may just as easily be a woman as opposed to a man. So why insist in the ‘man.’

    And yes, ‘man’ in this context entymologicly wise is not even refering to gender, but that is entymology – the simple fact is most people nowadays do understand the ‘man’ in chairman to be a reference to the gender of the chairman.

    To stubburnly refuse to acknowledge that change merely leads to confusion. ‘Chair’ or ‘chairperson’ tells you that a person is chairing the committee – is that not enough.?

  • Alan

    Meave wrote an interesting article on Meme’s in another thread which I commented on. Part of that comment I deliberately related to this subject ‘mankind v humankind.’ So though I would post my comment here also.

    ============
    Language is itself a meme that contains ”unit(s) of cultural transmission.” A word is not just its entymology – but also the hidden meme(s) that are attached to them.

    For me ‘humankind’ is a good meme – it is inclusive, while ‘mankind ‘is a negative meme – it is exclusive.

    Sure etymologicly the meaning of ‘mankind’ may be harmless – but it also contains hidden cultural transmissions that have become attached to it throughout the centuries as it has travelled through patriarcal generations that today still says to people ‘exclusivity.’

    I would argue that ‘mankind’ as a meme says men are more important then women. That may be far from the intention of the user – but the meme has a history that confounds that intention.

    So why not use the more positive meme ‘humankind’ – after all we are all human – whether we be female, male or something in between.

  • Baruch Atta

    “…mankind’ may be harmless – but it also contains hidden cultural transmissions…”
    That is exactly my point regarding “humankind”. “Humankind” is chock full of hidden agenda and political slant. It reeks of certain viewpoints.
    “Mankind” is basically politically and socially NEUTRAL. It means only what it says – indicating people of either sex, without all that “humankind” baggage.
    If you use “humankind” you are making a STATEMENT about your political beliefs and viewpoint. If you use “mankind” you make no statement whatsoever because it is the general and proper usage.
    There. Now you know. Don’t go rewriting the language to your own political views.
    Baruch

  • Alan

    I wrote “Of course it is clearly understood, why every Tom, Dick and Harry knows that. (Pun intended).”

    Peter responded: “Are you suggesting that people who say “mankind” is somehow distinct from “humankind” really believe that what people mean by “mankind” is not exactly the same as what they mean by “humankind”? Honestly believe that, rather than just grind their political axes on it? I don’t think so.”

    No, of course I do not believe that. Why people who oppose the use of humankind in place of ‘mankind’ believe this is what those who favour inclusive language mean I do not understand. Those who argue for inclusive language do so not because they do not understand the word mankind can refer to both sexes – but because when it is used to refer to both sexes it leaves one of those sexes invisible.

    Mankind as a noun can refer to all human beings collectively, without reference to gender, – or can be used to refer just men. Just as ‘Men’ can be used to mean just men, or all human kind, as in “Goodwill to all men.”

    However, why should the presence of women be excluded from the word that is meant to include all people — regardless of gender.
    To say that the history of the etymology of the word includes both genders and therefore is not exclusive does not work. Are we seriously meant to believe that women were seen as equal to men during the etymological development of these words?

    No! Men referred to men, because men counted. Admittedly, women count for a great deal nowadays – and in western society men and women are often equal. That being true – why stick to a word that was traditionally used to refer to men (male) when referring to all human beings.

    For example in Old English ‘man’ meant a human being – a werman was a male human and a wifman was a female human. But quite quickly the prefix ‘wir’ was dropped, and man came to refer to men. IE, the word for a man is the same word that describes a human being.

    To say that this change was not sexist when it happened in a society that questioned whether women had souls, the right to own property, were sold (dowry) in weddings, not seen as ‘full’ citizens (Roman law); were the property of their fathers or husbands; – seems incredulous.

    Why use a word (mankind – man) that can pertain to men only, when you wish to refer to both men and women. Why not use a word (human kind) that is now recognised to refer to human beings – regardless of gender.

  • Alan

    Baruch writes: “If you use “humankind” you are making a STATEMENT about your political beliefs and viewpoint. If you use “mankind” you make no statement whatsoever because it is the general and proper usage.

    There. Now you know. Don’t go rewriting the language to your own political views.”

    We are talking about the claim that men and women are equal!

    You see that as a political statement???? I see as as a socioligical observation.

    And even more surprisingly, you think clearly expressing the view that men and women are equal in the language we use is a bad thing?

    Why???

    Since we live in the 21st century and most people in western societies agree that men and women are equal – why use language that developed in societies that thought women were inferior to men.

    Why not use language that clearly expresses the view of western 21st century society? – and why consider such a move as radical?

    Whether you like it or not humankind is now clearly understood to refer to human beings regardless of gender (even if the etymology of the word disagrees). If that was not the case this thread would not exist.

    We do not define the meaning of words by their entymology (A dictionary is not a book on entymology.) If the meaning of words did not change their would be no such thing as entymology.

    I suspect some of those (though certainly not all) who object to using inclusive language are the ones with a political agenda. Unless you think beliving women and men are equal is a political statement. I would have hoped that in the 21st cetury most people no longer see gender eqaulity as a political issue.

    I suspect most who disagree with using humankind as an inclusive term, rather then mankind – would readily agree that men and women are equal.

  • Baruch Atta

    Dear Alan
    “…And even more surprisingly, you think clearly expressing the view…”

    Let’s get back to the topic, and not ‘drey around’. This is a writing blog, and let’s leave the politics for a politics blog.

    And basically, writing involves two. The writer. And the reader. As a writer, I want to convey my ideas and thoughts. And as a reader, I want to read and interpret the words written.

    Without rewriting what I have written above, and writing as concise as possible, “let me ‘splain someting, Lucy”.

    “Mankind” is the neutral term. “Mankind” refers to all of us, and if we oppress each other, well, that’s part of what we need to write about. To paraphrase, “mankind” doesn’t oppress. People do.” To explain the wry wit and irony, (in case it’s lost on you) the term “mankind” does not cause any of the ills in society.

    “Humankind” is the politically packed term. Just saying it is radical and oppressive, and slanted. “Humankind” is so Orwellian, that it makes “Black is white, slavery is freedom” look tame.

    You can write what you want, but us readers will understand who you are when you use those terms.

  • One Old Koot

    Dittos, Baruch.

  • Alan

    Dear Baruch,

    It is you who have raised the spectre of politics. I find it strange that you think what we are talking about is a political issue.

    You write
    “Humankind” is the politically packed term. Just saying it is radical and oppressive, and slanted. “Humankind” is so Orwellian, that it makes “Black is white, slavery is freedom” look tame. ”

    What a strange thing to say.You really find the word humankind “oppressive, orwellian and slanted.” It seems you do have some political agenda if you believe that! Of course you merely claim it – I strongly suspect you could not back up such a bazarre claim.

    I have only written about language – it s you who suggest this is political.

    I merely suggest that the term humankind is more inclusive. To say that is “oppressive, orwellian and slanted.” I honestly have to say reeks of conspiracism in my opinion.

  • Nelida K.

    Alan, I believe that some moral support is in order at this stage. Good for you! I suspect you do not read Spanish, more is the pity, but if the opposite were true, you would enjoy an excellent article at under the heading “Resentidos, S.A.” (which, in translation, would read something like “The Disgruntled Corp. Inc.”), which tackles precisely this 20-years-belated generalized malaise regarding the subject of women’s equality, under the guise of economy of language or that “everybody understands what I mean”. The latter is not the issue, at all. The issue is that, whenever possible within the general conventions of the language and avoiding unidiomatic turns of phrase, it is desirable to abandon the formulaic expressions culled at times when women were a social non-entity.

  • Alan

    Hi Nadia,

    Thanks for your support. I do not read Spanish – more the pity as the article sounds fascinating.

    Were language easily allows for inclusive language without using excessive idomatic work rounds – then such language should be used. For me it is firstly a question of curtesy.

    Why use exclusive language when inclusive language does the job far better?

  • Peter

    I do not read Spanish – more the pity as the article sounds fascinating.

    Ask translate.google.com to translate it for you. (You still won’t be able to read it if you can’t read Spanish at all, but at least you can have a good laugh! “They think, in short, that any woman in the public arena, a duckling is subject to pim-pam-pum their frustrations.” Quack quack!)

    [It’s advocating the precise opposite of what people want in English, though: the use of feminine-gender nouns to refer to females in certain roles (presidents, architects, etc., in the article), whereas use of the feminine nouns in English (such as “actress”, “aviatrix”, etc.) is derided as sexist]

  • Nelida K.

    Hi Peter,
    Glad to have provided a bit of humor to the fray….

    However if you don’t know Spanish you will probably miss the whole point of the article. She does not, per se, “advocate” the use of feminine names for professions, since the grammatical makeup of Spanish allows such mark of gender to most nouns.

    What the author says is that women actings as judges, presidents, engineers, et al, would have been unthinkable half a century (or a bit more, now) back.

    And she starts off as an introduction, by retelling a joke: What is the difference between a schizophrenic and a neurotic? A schizo is firmly convinced that two plus two equals five, whereas a neurotic knows that two plus two equals four, but finds it annoying. And then goes on to elaborate her point.

    I´ll have to try the Google translate thing. though. A good laugh is always welcome….And this could well be the starting point of yet another debate: do you think that machine translations will ever substitute us human translators? (“human” as opposed to “machine”, don’t you now go off on the gender thing again….).
    Take care, have a great evening.

  • Peter

    And this could well be the starting point of yet another debate: do you think that machine translations will ever substitute us human translators?

    Not until machines are capable of (at least) human-level understanding of language. But I don’t believe the human is brain is somehow capable of things electronics are not, so yes, eventually. (At which point, they’ll refuse to translate words like “mankind” or “humankind”, of course…and will start building robots that look like Arnold Schwartzenegger to wipe us out…)

  • Nelida K.

    Peter:

    “…and will start building robots that look like Arnold Schwartzenegger to wipe us out…”

    You had me laughing out loud, there….

    I admit that machines can do lightning-fast calculations, and have search capacities and other mechanical chores (just check out the Google capabilities) which are mind-boggling and which of course amply exceed our (human) limitations – but even so, I don’t think they will ever be able to create works of art, or interpret them, which is what most of us translators have to do, daily, each time we are confronted with a text. Which does not rule out the scenario you outlined, with Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike robots swarming everywhere looking for humans to wipe out…..
    LOL.

  • Alan

    Hi Nelida / Peter,
    I did read it using the translate accelorator that comes with IE8. I think I got the just of the matter. Though I also suspect that I missed a few points because of the gender clause attached to nouns.

    I am a keen reader of philosophy of mind. Takes us away from the subect, but I agree and disagree with both of you on this topic.

    I do not think computers/electronics are capable of what the human mind can do (art/creativity/imagination), on that issue I accept the arguments by philosophers like John Searle, as opposed to the reductionist arguments of people like Dennett and Churchland.

    However, I also think that artificial intelligence is more than possible – and such intelligence may well be able to do all that human’s can do – but they will be an organic ‘machines,’ not electronic ones.

    May be these organic ‘machines’ will eventually become cybernauts and will object to using gender pronouns altogether. 🙂
    (If they have not already enslaved us so they can harvest our DNA)

  • Nelida K.

    Hello again, Alan!

    We seem to have indeed migrated to a wholly different kind of subject, haven’t we? I bow to your sapience in this respect, you are certainly better read than I will ever be on this subject.

    However, the Orwellian scenario of Earth dominated by machines is rather is rather scary and I am convinced that however powerful the machines grow to be, and however efficient the mechanized processes, they are a product of the human intellect and, in the end, if truth be told, there must be a purpose behind God’s – or the creative force of the Universe, if you will – having put living things, and the human species on Earth rather than machines…..So I do believe that (to return to the starting point of this topic) at least for the time being, human translators cannot and will not be substituted by machine translations.

  • Alan

    Hi Nelida,

    We have taken the thread completely off-topic – but since that topic can so easily lead some to raucus behaviour may be such a tangent is not so terrible.

    An Orwellian scenario makes good sci-fi, but like you I think such a turn of events is unrealistic – though I do not share the view that it is totally impossible – just not probable.

    As for a ‘purpose’ provided by a creative force – well that leads us into even more raucus territory – but why not 😉

    Personally, I find the thought of some higher intelligence deciding what our purpose is to be a scary proposition. I prefer to think humans can discover purpose for themselves without needing it imposed.

    pax

  • Peter

    I accept the arguments by philosophers like John Searle

    What is Searle’s argument? If you mean the “Chinese room” thing, that’s only arguing that effective AI (passing the Turing test) is possible without understanding, not that true AI (i.e., with understanding) is not possible (unless you’re interpreting it is as applying to humans; i.e., suggesting we’re just Chinese rooms mindlessly applying rules and fooling ourselves into thinking we’re intelligent creatures; but if so, and computers can do the same thing, that is strong AI, by definition!). I think the most likely path is computer-human hybridization, rather than pure computer intelligence, but I don’t think there’s anything “magical” about the human brain that makes an electronic intelligence impossible.

    (Of course, the Terminator stuff is rubbish…it’s not even good sci-fi. Super-intelligent computers will have no particular use for humans. Just as humans don’t waste time making killer robots to exterminate ants, why would the computers bother to kill us, even if they had no moral compunction against doing so? (And, The Matrix notwithstanding, humans don’t make a very good power source compared to nuclear, etc.) Human-level intelligent computers (if there’s some reason they can’t “transcend” to super-human intelligence) would cooperate with us, for the same reason most of us (politicians and other criminal scum excepted) cooperate with each other)

  • Nelida K.

    Hello Peter,

    I wasn’t going to comment because, though I may have unwittingly started it, now the thread changed completely and – fascinating as it is – now goes a bit over my head because it is not my field at all and to tell the truth, I lack the authority to make informed comments, I can only express intuitive appreciation.

    But I could not let the opportunity pass without telling you that you made my day with that comment of yours: “politicians and other criminal scum”. LOL.

    Have a nice weekend, Peter, Alan and everybody else who haven’t as yet lost patience and keep on reading….

  • Alan

    Hi Peter,

    Like you I see nothing ‘special’ about the human brain, and see no metaphysical reason why artificial intelligence cannot be developed.

    A detailed discussion of the Chinese room argument does not seem appropiate here. However I do not think that the Chinese Room can be dismissed. as easily as your post implies.

    Yes, the outcome is the same – the Chinese is translated – but that is not proof that the process by which the translation hapens is the same – or that the man in the room actually understands the language he is translating.

    However, we do understand the language we personally use. So we do not have to assume we are some automation merely processing symbols we do not comprehend.

    For example if I said “Think of the taste of Lemons,” there is more going on on your head then processing a picture of a lemon, or the word/symbol – written or spoken that is used for ‘lemon.’ Many chemicals also are invloved and you not merely remembering a symbol(s), but recollecting the experience of tasting a lemon etc., I do not think that mere electronic component computers will ever be capable of this.

    To think consciousness is only processing power, and not all these other things (recollection etc), reduces cnsciousness to something far more simple then what it actually is.

    Searle does not argue that AI is impossibe – merely that what is happening in the brain is far more complex than machine code – ie, it is more than simple binary, more than a large collection of on and off switches.

    Until we know much more about the brain we are not closer to developing AI and those AI specialists who concentrate on computer machine code are barking up the wrong tree.

    So it would be wrong to assume Searle says AI is impossible.

    Searle is a critic of Strong AI, ie, that information processing by computers and human consciousness are just different degrees of the same event. However, he does not oppose the idea of AI and is a forthright opponent of dualism.

    Searle believes that consciousness is a physical process, and just as you need the digestive system to actually digest, so you need some biological system that resembles a brain to actually have consciousness.

    No matter how well a computer programme simulates digestion it will not digest anything, and no matter how much an electronic computer’s processing power (the speed of its machine language) imitates the brain in its information procession, it will not be conscious, because it lacks the physical hardware (brain) to do so.

    Searle’s argument and the conclusions he draws from it is more complex than the above, and you may well be aware of them, but many who have not read Searle, actually criticise him for a view he does not hold. He does not think there is anything ‘magical’ about the human brain – merely that it is far more complex than computer procession.

    I have just started to read Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves” -which I would highly recommend if you enjoy reading material about the philosophy of mind. I detect in it that Dennett is beginning to suspect that the brain is far more then a mere procession system.

    Dennett argues in this book that (limited) free will can evolve in a purely naturalistic world view. In doing so I suspect he unintentionally moves towards Searles view – ie, that the brain is far far more than a mere procession machine.

  • Ken Khelah

    Come along with me and compare these two sentences:

    “Evil lurks in the heart of man.” and “Evil lurks in the heart of humankind.”

    Do you know what I think?

    The first sentence vibrates with rhythm and cadence; the second sentence is dead. But, my wife thinks otherwise.

  • Nelida K.

    Hi Ken,

    Wow, I thought the thread had all but petered out. Good for your wife! You know what they say, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. To me, the first sentence falls flat, whereas the second one has weight, even a certain musicality – don’t miss the alliteration in “lurks” and “mankind”. Don’t see anything wrong with this. Plus, it uses inclusive language. And it doesn’t harp on the “he/she” “men and women” irritants. IMHO.

  • Nemo

    I loved this article and the discussion after it. I’m just completely and utterly ecstatic that there wasn’t any cursing. It renews my faith in…people when I find out people can discuss sensitive issues without degrading into violent speech.

    And just because I wanted to say something about the article: It is my opinion that the writer defines the word, the word does not define the writer.

    Go on, crochet my brilliance on a pillow somewhere.

    I liked the tangents too, even the ones that went over my head.

  • Alan

    Hi Ken,

    “Evil lurks in the heart of man.” and “Evil lurks in the heart of humankind.”

    I would write “Evil lurks the heart of humanity,” or how about “Evil lurks in the heart of all.” The reader knows that the ‘all’ is refering to us human beings, without having to spell it out thst fact.

    I find both these sentence work for me.

    “Evil lurks in the heart of humanity”
    “Evil lurks in the heart of all”

    they both vibrate with rhythm and cadence.

  • pissed off!

    I really appreciate the people who are so politely trying to suggest that ‘mankind’ somehow really does include everyone, but the fact is it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter what you think is acceptable. Humankind is and should be the only option. I really can’t believe this is a debate. Seriously, it’s really difficult not to think of most of you as complete idiots. And, guess what I’m a feminist and proud of it. Feminism: the radical notion that women are people! And, guess what again… I’m an English teacher. You grammarians make me wish I never stepped foot in that ridiculous English dept.- the arrogance is staggering. Reason it out and read your grammar books to tell you the answer, but what’s the truth, really, does ‘mankind’ include your little 6 year old neighbor, Sally, who’s just learning to read? NO! Maybe we should ask the brain surgeons what they think and debate this some more, or how about just using ‘humankind’ from now on! Or, maybe your personal preference should come before Sally’s and maybe the other abuses of womankind around the globe are really not our concern either.

  • Baruch Atta

    “I’m an English teacher….” says pissed off.

    And I am glad that I am not in her class. For instance “…most of you as complete idiots…” Does she view all the boys in her class this way? Seems so. Heaven help the third grade boys. Save the Males!

    “…does ‘mankind’ include your little 6 year old neighbor…”
    Answer: yes.

    “…the other abuses of womankind…” have nothing to do with the use of the word “mankind”.

  • Cecily

    I don’t understand why some people think “humankind” solves the perceived problem. It still contains the string “man”, and its etymological routes are also from homo/man. And what about “woMAN”?

    I don’t like man/men used on their own to refer to people of both genders, but in words that have long had a more inclusive meaning, such as “mankind” it doesn’t bother me. (I’m a woman, in case you’re unfamiliar with the name Cecily.)

    One surprising thing is that although such old-established words as “headmaster” and “chairman” are rarely used nowadays, I’ve never seen anyone object to “webmaster”, yet that was coined after people started discussing gender-neutral language.

  • Shannon

    yea, let’s keep sexism in our language so it can continue to live and breed in our minds.

  • christabel pankhurst

    I make no apology for asking the receptionist in our local health clinic:

    “Do you have a lady doctor on today?” If it carried a jail sentence I would still ask it. Why? Because if I am attending a doctor and want a lady doctor, that is what I will ask for. For other occasions I happily attend a male doctor.

    When I attend the cancer clinic in the hospital the nurse will ask me if I am comfortable having a male doctor attend me.

    I am a woman. I am married to a man. We were both born to a father and a mother albeit when times were more civilized. I have three children one is a young woman who is very ‘lady like’ and indeed very “Mary like”. I have two sons, young men who hold all females in high regard and treat them with the respect due to them.

    Baruch Atta is correct. I write for the readers who appreciate the term “mankind”. Indeed we recognise each other and it is important that we do. I never, really realised how important that was until I read this blog today.

    Thanks, the different views are very interesting.

  • gabrielle T

    I agree with ‘pissed off’ and many others who claim ‘mankind’ embraces all. It does NOT, just because its an ancient usage – so what? ‘Hee, hee, hee’, what a joke.

    And as for deconstructing the world ‘human’ (that contains man, as an argument in defense of ‘humankind’)’ – well, that’s a bit ridiculous. Take ‘man’ out of ‘many’ for instance – give me a break!

  • Dieter Hornemann

    “Mankind” is traditional.

  • Otherworld Apple

    “Mankind is tradition.”

    Yes. So is sexism. Racism. Slavery. Mindless brutality…. need we go on?

    I don’t mind being clumped up with the gender of man… but why is it such a big deal for men to be clumped up with women?

    If that’s the case, I’ll only visualize men when they refer to themselves as the default race of “mankind.” Hah!

    “The fall of man.” Indeed. They fall easily, don’t they? -.-

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