Summary of “The Deficient Animal”

The “Science of man,” as David Hume put it-understanding human beings as human beings, both individually and collectively-has been something of an embarrassment.
What Darwin and neo-Darwinians achieved was rooted in a concern with continuities among species, in showing how human beings evolved from animal predecessors.
This increasingly exclusive focus on biological similarities tended, on the one hand, to fold the human being entirely within the continuum of the animal order and, on the other hand, to minimize, downplay, or ignore altogether the distinguishing characteristics of the human species.
The philosophical anthropologists argued, in Arnold Gehlen’s words, that “For a human’s situation to correspond with that of true mammals, pregnancy would have tolast approximately 21 months.”2 The persistence of such infantile features was related to other human peculiarities, including the long period of helplessness at the infant stage, the similarly protracted stage of development preceding sexual maturity, and, most important, the curious but undeniable absence of a well-developed structure of instincts.
In the late eighteenth century, Johann Gottfried Herder had called the human being “The deficient being”; others, following Herder, described humans as animals “Not yet determined,” “Unfinished,” “Incomplete,” “Physiologically premature,” and “Organically deficient”-and ever malleable.
In sum, human beings must of necessity make up for their instinctual impoverishment by actively transforming the world to suit their own ends, mastering and re-creating nature rather than merely adapting to it.
By nature, the human animal is a language animal, and upon this symbolic frame is built the entire interconnected edifice of culture.
The conclusion is unavoidable: The human animal is, like no other, a cultural animal.

The orginal article.