The world of things is different now from what it was half a century ago, but Rene Dubos doubts that there have been basic changes in life itself, in those attitudes and activities, needs, and yearning, that are the most important for happiness and suffering, for hope and despair—the differences between humanity and animality. Sophisticated and civilized as we may be, we have retained from our distant ancestors the ability to derive profound satisfaction from the small happenings of daily life.
Beast or Angel? attempts to trace the origins of needs and yearnings that have always been those of humankind everywhere and always. In this search, Dubos expresses the same concerns and uses the same words when speaking of the past, the present, or the future—the reason being that the biological and psychological characteristics of humankind have remained essentially the same for at least fifty millennia.
We are human to the extent that we live according to certain principles which have a human quality. This quality has emerged and continues to emerge from the choices that we make throughout our individual lives and that humankind has made from the beginning of its existence. To be human is to be able and willing to choose among the options that are offered to the human species by the natural order of things. This book examines human species, not only on the basis of the biological and psychological attributes it shares with animal species, but more by identifying its choices throughout pre-history and history.