Dictionary Definition

anthropomorphic adj : suggesting human characteristics for animals or inanimate things [syn: anthropomorphous, humanlike]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • AHD: ăn'thrə-pə-môr′fĭk
  • /ænθɹɑpəˈmɔɹfɪk/


  1. Having the form of a man
  2. (of inanimate objects, animals, or other non-human entities) given human attributes
    • 1909, The Quarterly Review, p. 124:
      The mystic is one to whom the unitive, pantheistic, or at least the panentheistic, aspects of the divinity are as congenial as the deistic, polytheistic, and anthropomorphic aspects are to the institutional mind.


having the form of a man
  • Bosnian: antropomorfan
  • Croatian: antropomorfan
  • Danish: antropomorf
  • Finnish: antropomorfinen
  • German: anthropomorph
  • Serbian: antropomorfan
given human attributes
  • Bosnian: antropomorfan
  • Croatian: antropomorfan
  • Danish: antropomorf
  • Finnish: antropomorfinen
  • German: anthropomorph
  • Serbian: antropomorfan

Extensive Definition

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of uniquely human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings, natural and supernatural phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Subjects for anthropomorphism commonly include animals depicted as creatures with human motivation able to reason and converse, forces of nature such as winds or the sun, components in games, unseen or unknown sources of chance, etc. Almost anything can be subject to anthropomorphism. The term derives from a combination of Greek ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos), human and μορφή (morphē), shape or form.
Humans seem to have an innate capacity to project human characteristics in this way. Evidence from art and artefacts suggests it is a long-held propensity that can be dated back to earliest times. It is strongly associated with the art of storytelling where it also appears to have ancient roots. Most cultures possess a long-standing fable tradition with anthropomorphised animals as characters that can stand as commonly recognised types of human behaviour. The use of such literature to draw moral conclusions can be highly complex.
Within these terms, humans have more recently been identified as having an equivalent opposite propensity to deny common traits with other species - most particularly apes - as part of a feeling that humans are unique and "special." This tendency has been referred to as Anthropodenial by primatologist Frans de Waal.

In religions and mythologies

In religion and mythology, anthropomorphism refers to the perception of a divine being or beings in human form, or the recognition of human qualities in these beings. Many mythologies are almost entirely concerned with anthropomorphic deities who express human characteristics such as jealousy, hatred, or love. The Greek gods, such as Zeus and Apollo, were often depicted in human form exhibiting both commendable and despicable human traits. Anthropomorphism in this case is sometimes referred to as Anthropotheism.


Numerous sects throughout history have been called anthropomorphites attributing such things as hands and eyes to God, including a sect in Egypt in the 4th century, and a group in the Roman Catholic Church in the 10th century, who literally interpreted Book of Genesis chapter 1, verse 27: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

Opposition to anthropomorphism

Many religions and philosophies have condemned anthropomorphism for various reasons. Some Ancient Greek philosophers did not approve of, and were often hostile to their people's mythology. These philosophers often developed monotheistic views. Plato's (427–347 BC) Demiurge (craftsman) in the Timaeus and Aristotle's (384–322 BC) prime mover in his Physics are notable examples. The Greek philosopher Xenophanes (570–480 BC) said that "the greatest god" resembles man "neither in form nor in mind." (Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies V xiv 109.1-3). The similarity of these philosophers' concepts of god to the concepts found in the Bible facilitated the incorporation of much pre-Christian Greek philosophy into the Medieval Christian world view by the Scholastics, most notably Thomas Aquinas. Anthropomorphism of God is condemned by Islam, since Muslims feel that God is beyond human limits of physical comprehension. This conception is also championed by the doctrinal view of Nirguna Brahman.
From the perspective of adherents of religions in which the deity or deities have human characteristics, it may be more accurate to describe the phenomenon as theomorphism, or the giving of divine qualities to humans, rather than anthropomorphism, the giving of human qualities to the divine. According to their beliefs, the deity or deities usually existed before humans, therefore humans were created in the form of the divine. However, for those who do not believe in the doctrine of the religion, the phenomenon can be considered anthropomorphism. In fact, Stewart Elliott Guthrie, in his book Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (1993), theorizes that all religions are simply anthropomorphisms that originate in the human brain's tendency to over-detect the presence or vestiges of other humans in the natural world.
Lewis Carroll's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was banned in China's Hunan province because "animals should not use human language" and it "put animals and human beings on the same level."

In literature

Anthropomorphism is a well-established device in literature from early times. Aesop's Fables, a collection of short tales written or recorded by the ancient Greek citizen Aesop, make extensive use of anthropomorphism, in which animals and weather illustrate simple moral lessons. The Indian books Panchatantra (The Five principles) and The Jataka tales employ anthropomorphized animals to illustrate various principles of life.
Anthropomorphism is commonly employed in books for children, however not exclusively.

See also

anthropomorphic in Breton: Denheñvelegezh
anthropomorphic in Bulgarian: Антропоморфия
anthropomorphic in Czech: Antropomorfismus
anthropomorphic in Danish: Antropomorfisme
anthropomorphic in German: Anthropomorphismus
anthropomorphic in Estonian: Antropomorfism
anthropomorphic in Modern Greek (1453-): Ανθρωπομορφισμός
anthropomorphic in Spanish: Antropomorfismo
anthropomorphic in Esperanto: Antropomorfismo
anthropomorphic in French: Anthropomorphisme
anthropomorphic in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Anthropomorphismo
anthropomorphic in Italian: Antropomorfismo
anthropomorphic in Hungarian: Megszemélyesítés
anthropomorphic in Dutch: Antropomorfisme
anthropomorphic in Norwegian: Antropomorfisme
anthropomorphic in Japanese: 擬人観
anthropomorphic in Polish: Antropomorfizm
anthropomorphic in Portuguese: Antropomorfismo
anthropomorphic in Romanian: Antropomorfism
anthropomorphic in Russian: Антропоморфизм
anthropomorphic in Simple English: Anthropomorphism
anthropomorphic in Serbian: Антропоморфизам
anthropomorphic in Finnish: Antropomorfismi
anthropomorphic in Swedish: Antropomorfism
anthropomorphic in Turkish: İnsan biçimcilik
anthropomorphic in Ukrainian: Антропоморфізм
anthropomorphic in Chinese: 擬人論
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