featherless biped

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From featherless +‎ biped, from the dialogue The Statesman by Plato (427–347 B.C.E.): “λέγω δὴ δεῖν τότε εὐθὺς τὸ πεζὸν τῷ δίποδι πρὸς τὸ τετράπουν γένος διανεῖμαι, κατιδόντα δὲ τἀνθρώπινον ἔτι μόνῳ τῷ πτηνῷ συνειληχὸς τὴν δίποδα ἀγέλην πάλιν τῷ ψιλῷ καὶ τῷ πτεροφυεῖ τέμνειν, [] [I say, then, that we ought at that time to have divided walking animals immediately into biped and quadruped, then seeing that the human race falls into the same division with the feathered creatures and no others, we must again divide the biped class into featherless and feathered, []]”.[1]



featherless biped (plural featherless bipeds)

  1. (idiomatic, chiefly humorous) A human being.
    Synonym: (chiefly humorous) naked ape
    • 1863 June 27, [Charles Reade], “Very Hard Cash. Chapter XVI.”, in Charles Dickens, editor, All the Year Round. A Weekly Journal. [], volume IX, number 218, London: [] Chapman and Hall, [], →OCLC, page 413, column 1:
      The schoolmen—or rather certain of the schoolmen—for nothing is much shallower than to speak of all those disputants as one school—defined woman, "a featherless biped vehemently addicted to jealousy." Whether she is more featherless than the male, can be decided at the trifling expense of time, money, and reason: you have but to go to court. But as for envy and jealousy, I think it is pure, unobservant, antique Cant which has fixed them on the female character distinctively.
    • 1889 July, Charles Kendall Adams, “Discipline in American Colleges”, in Lloyd Bryce, editor, The North American Review, volume CXLIX, number CCCXCII, New York, N.Y.: [s.n.], →ISSN, →OCLC, page 15:
      A boy should be directed and restrained; while to a man should be given the range of a large discretion. But the college student is often neither a boy nor a man. [] Reference is here made, of course, to that species of featherless biped which at times, especially when taken alone, seems to show many of the characteristics of rational intelligence, but which, when merged into a crowd of its fellows, is apt, on the least provocation, to part with its power of thought and lapse into all manner of irrational ways.
    • 1933 (date delivered), Arthur O[ncken] Lovejoy, “The Principle of Plenitude and the New Cosmography”, in The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea [], Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, published 1948, →OCLC, page 102:
      There were, of course, other elements in the medieval Christian system which were adapted to breed in the featherless biped a high sense of his cosmic importance and of the momentousness of his own doings.
    • 1996, Steven W. Horst, “Causal and Stipulative Definitions of Semantic Terms”, in Symbols, Computation, and Intentionality: A Critique of the Computational Theory of Mind, Berkeley; Los Angeles, Calif.; London: University of California Press, →ISBN, part III (The Critique of CTM), section (Explanation and Demarcation), page 232:
      Aristotle's characterization of humans as featherless bipeds is an attempt at a demarcation criterion. It happens to be a poor attempt, since apes, tyrannosaurs, and plucked chickens are also featherless bipeds. But even if humans were, in point of fact, the only featherless bipeds, the featherless-biped criterion would at most give us a litmus for distinguishing humans from other species. If what we wanted was an explanation of what makes Plato a human being, the fact that he is a featherless biped is clearly a non-starter.
    • 2008 June 16, Dan Tynan, “Bill Gates: 10 Memorable Moments”, in ABC News[1], archived from the original on 2011-02-15:
      The day Microsoft went public, [Bill] Gates became an instant megamillionaire (actually a $234-millionaire, based on the IPO price). But it wasn't until July 17, 1995, that Forbes magazine named him the richest featherless biped on the planet, with a net worth just shy of $13 billion.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Used throughout the history of western philosophy as an example of an unsatisfactory definition of the term human being.



  1. ^ Plato (1925), “The Statesman”, in , Harold N[orth] Fowler, transl., Plato in Twelve Volumes [], volume VIII (The Statesman, Philebus, Ion), Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, published 1975, →ISBN, section 266E, pages 40–41.

Further reading[edit]