I have recently been reading about Neanderthals who apparently buried their dead, cared for their sick, hunted with fairly sophisticated tools, made fire, made an instrument out of a bone (this is disputed), and certainly had the physical capacity for language (also much debated - hyoid bone etc).
Can they be called "human" for want of a better word? Is language the key in defining us and them? Clearly they are a far cry from chimps so what criteria should we use? It is impossible to establish their thoughts but there was compassion and empathy surely at our level if they cared for their sick - one old skeleton with no teeth lived to an age which would have been impossible without him being "spoonfed". Does this imply a moral sense? From reconstructions they looked almost identical to us.
So what, if anything, would set us apart?
Thank you for your excellent question. Assuming that your evidence about Neanderthals is approximately right, I think that you are asking not so much the question whether they are human--that tends to be understood as the question whether they are members of the species Homo sapiens, which they are not--but rather whether they are *persons*. Some people will indeed put forth the use of natural language (like Hopi, Swahili, or French) as the defining characteristic for being a person. However, that is problematic because, for instance, many autistic individuals are incapable of language--yet most would count them as persons nonetheless. By the same token, the Great Apes Project holds that non-human great apes, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans, should be accorded the status of persons in spite of their not having a language. (By the way, having a system of communication is not enough to have a language. See Anderson's book, _Dr. Doolittle's Delusion_ for a detailed defense of...