Animal rights group seeks ‘legal personhood’ for chimps

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A U.S. animal rights group on Monday filed what it said is the first lawsuit seeking to establish the "legal personhood" of chimpanzees.

The non-profit Nonhuman Rights Project asked a New York state court to declare a 26-year-old chimp named Tommy "a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned."

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Tommy's "detention" in a "small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed" in central New York is unlawful and demands his immediate release to a primate sanctuary.

Chimpanzees "possess complex cognitive abilities that are so strictly protected when they're found in human beings," Steven Wise, the president of Nonhuman Rights Project, told Reuters.

"There's no reason why they should not be protected when they're found in chimpanzees," he added.

Chimps look 'depressed'

The lawsuit on Tommy's behalf is among three the group is filing this week on behalf of four chimps across New York. The other chimps are Kiko, a 26-year-old chimp living on a private property in Niagara Falls, and Hercules and Leo, two young male chimps used in research at Stony Brook University on Long Island, the group said.

Written By: Reuters
continue to source article at cbc.ca

72 COMMENTS

  1. Oh dear. Where do we draw the line and say “this species is cognitively complex and should be a legal person, but this species doesn’t qualify”? There’s no doubt in my mind that keeping animals in substandard conditions should be illegal, and if a chimpanzee is being kept in a “small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed”, then the owner should be prosecuted and the animal confiscated.

    But to start declaring particular species or individuals to be legal persons is to open a can of cognitively simple oligochaetes.

    • In reply to #1 by Macropus:
      Agreed. The legal action appears ill thought through. How does this case affect those humans who have severe intellectual disabilities? Are they now to be stripped of their status as a legal person? This is a serious can of worms being opened. Yes, all animals need to be protected from having the human animals treating them badly, but by trying to qualify any of those animals in this way could have disastrous results for those of us who are already so vulnerable.

      Oh dear. Where do we draw the line and say “this species is cognitively complex and should be a legal person, but this species doesn’t qualify”? There’s no doubt in my mind that keeping animals in substandard conditions should be illegal, and if a chimpanzee is being kept in a “small, dank, cement…

    • In reply to #1 by Macropus:

      Oh dear. Where do we draw the line and say “this species is cognitively complex and should be a legal person, but this species doesn’t qualify”?

      When they ask for it.

  2. As has already been said here, this would likely open the proverbial can of worms and if this was allowed for chimps then no doubt pressure groups would want it for other primates, dolphins and any animals perceived to show signs of intelligence.

    • In reply to #3 by Miserablegit:

      As has already been said here, this would likely open the proverbial can of worms and if this was allowed for chimps then no doubt pressure groups would want it for other primates, dolphins and any animals perceived to show signs of intelligence.

      The same argument was used against black people, or even people from another country.

      If we aspire to be a civilised, moral society, we need to open that can. If not, I could claim to be better than all you humans and feel justified in wiping out all human beings.

  3. We must be the only type on animal on the planet willing even to entertain the idea that other species of animals have “rights”.

    Once you start going down that road there is no place to draw the line that is not controversial. I have some respect for people who are 100% vegan, wear no animal products, consume no medicines based on animal testing, and would not destroy a wasps’ nest that had taken up occupation in their baby’s bedroom, but beyond that point we’re all “guilty”. It’s just a question of degree.

  4. I’m not sure about the exact consequences of legal personhood but I’d be happy to see an expanded range of legal rights and protections for the more intelligent of animals starting with chimps. I’d would be better though if they asked for legal personhood for “the other chimp species”, one species already has it.

  5. If a company can be defined by law as a “legal person,” so-called Corporate personhood, I don’t see why Chimps, which, after all, share over 95 per cent of their DNA with humans, cannot be likewise defined. Go Chimps!

  6. This lawsuit is ill conceived and bound to fail. The rights of all animals should be protected IMO in so far as them being treated humanely, properly fed, watered, given adequate mental stimulation and interaction with either humans or other animals to maintain their interest and happiness with their environment etc. However trying to do this by having them declared people is ridiculous. There are members of the corvid family (rooks, crows, magpies) that display even more skilled tool use than most primates. Various eagle / vulture species have learned to drop either bones or hard shelled prey like tortoises to break them open. Octupuses display intelligence that rivals animals with much larger and supposedly more complex brains. The line between human and non-human is becoming increasingly blurred as we learn more about animal intelligence but as yet no animal can pass a Turing Test and until then it seems extreme to try and call them persons.

    Mind you I’ve met plenty of people who I doubt would pass a Turing Test too :)

    I also suspect we’ll face this dilemma with artificial intelligence in the not too distant future. At what point does an AI be deemed to be sentient, self aware and hence a person rather than a construct? Sci fi writers have pondered it for decades. Probably in less than 100 years we’ll have to face it for real.

    • It’s possible they don’t expect to win but are using the publicity of such an usual case to highlight the problem and perhaps gain increased animal protection out of it. I’m reminded on Asmov’s “Bicentennial Man” in which the robot Andrew Martin fights a long legal battle for person-status fully expecting to lose at every stage but with each stage gaining in other ways.

      In reply to #7 by Arkrid Sandwich:

      This lawsuit is ill conceived and bound to fail.

      • In reply to #13 by paulmcuk:

        It’s possible they don’t expect to win but are using the publicity of such an usual case to highlight the problem and perhaps gain increased animal protection out of it.

        I would think so too except that by taking the personhood route, I’m afraid the evangelical hysteria (who won’t even contemplate shared ancestry) completely drowns out the principle of animal protection.

      • In reply to #13 by paulmcuk:

        “Bicentennial Man” in which the robot Andrew Martin fights a long legal battle for person-status fully expecting to lose at every stage but with each stage gaining in other ways.

        If I remember correctly he did win eventually, but only by making the ultimate sacrifice.

  7. I think this is a step in the right direction, if only to shed light on the advanced intelligence of many species and to therefore condemn the treatment of them as mindless. Jokes of “person” meaning ‘subject to prosecution’ aside, granting such status to simian (or dolphin, or elephant!) intelligence would give the protection of those species a stronger legal backing.
    Besides, we all know that corporations are legal persons, and they derive much protection from this status, so I can’t see why a similar legal status could not be granted to chimpanzees. Cruelty to animals is already prosecuted far too little, but if that were changed to ‘abuse of a person’ it would be a more serious offense.

  8. @OP – A U.S. animal rights group on Monday filed what it said is the first lawsuit seeking to establish the “legal personhood” of chimpanzees.

    This seems rather poorly thought out. While I see an intention of giving chips some protection with human/animal “rights”, it would be unreasonable to expect chips to take on human responsibilities to keep the law.

    It would also serve little purpose in habitat, as the African civil wars and genocides there, have shown scant regard for human rights anyway!

    The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Tommy’s “detention” in a “small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed” in central New York is unlawful and demands his immediate release to a primate sanctuary.

    That does not mean that laws should not protect animals (chimps, dogs, horses etc) from being cruelly treated or kept in unsatisfactory acommdation.

    • In reply to #10 by Alan4discussion:

      Further to my earlier comment, – at a world level, a little better focus would help in setting priorities!

      @10 – This seems rather poorly thought out. While I see an intention of giving chimps some protection with human/animal “rights”, it would be unreasonable to expect chimps to take on human responsibilities to keep the law.

      It would also serve little purpose in habitat, as the African civil wars and genocides there, have shown scant regard for human rights anyway!

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25222336

      Thousands of Eritreans ‘abducted to Sinai for ransom’

      Up to 30,000 Eritreans have been abducted since 2007 and taken to Egypt’s Sinai to suffer torture and ransom demands, new research says.

      The study, presented to the European parliament, says Eritrean and Sudanese security officers are colluding with the kidnap gangs.

      At least $600m (£366m) has been extorted from families in ransom payments, it says.

      Victims are kidnapped in Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea and taken to Sinai.

      Eritrea has denied its officials are involved in the kidnappings.

      Most of those targeted are Eritrean refugees fleeing the country, says the report – The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond.

      “Their captors are opportunistic criminals looking to profit from their vulnerability,” the report says.

      “[The victims] are then taken to the Sinai and sold, sometimes more than once, to Bedouin groups living in the Sinai.”

    • In reply to #11 by Peter Grant:

      Good, rebel against the tyranny of the discontinuous mind!

      This will especially confuse the lawyers :D

      I await the transcript of the chimps witness statement, and wonder which oath it will swear? !

  9. About 5 years ago an autonomous island of Spain gave “human rights” to gorillas. It was hoped that Spain would follow suit – don’t know about the current status.

    My local zoo gave Orangutans Ipods for brain stimulation. Lawsuit aside, I vote yay for ‘legal personhood’. Obviously this opens doors to unforeseen problems, but in the interim, might be the only way to abort the suffering.

    Damn CNN, they had a very brief “report” about the OP – ’twas nothing but snark. A golden opportunity to highlight ape’s plight trashed.

    • In reply to #17 by Stafford Gordon:

      Isn’t it a bit patronizing and arrogant of us to decide what their rights are? After all, they’ve been around a lot longer than we have!

      Ummmm. No they haven’t. We’ve both been evolving the exact same amount of time since diverging from our most recent common ancestor.

  10. I always fear of sarcastic, bullying and joking comments on Animal rights groups, when something like this is comes out. But the audience here (irrespective of whether I agree or disagree with individual comments) are very mature. Really good people despite (or because of) being non-religious.

  11. If a company can be defined by law as a “legal person,”

    I think you will find that in law that would be an artificial person, there seems to be a bit of misunderstanding here in relation what a PERSON is, Persons are not people, a person is an entirely legal construct, in law it is not the corporation that is defined as person, it is the other way round, you as a person, in law, are defined as a corporate entity, this fiction is specifically created for the purpose of enforcing obligations in relation to any statutes or acts, in short when the law refers to you as a PERSON they are not referring to you as human being, but as a legal entity, they are not doing you any favours in this, ever wondered why all capitals are used in court documents? This is because “A.N. OTHER” is a corporation; the courts never use your lawful name in proceedings.

    “Qui sentit commodum, sentire debet et onus.” – He who enjoys the benefit, ought also to bear the burden.

    Animals cannot be PERSONS, because they cannot be held to contractual obligations or satisfy the conditions which might apply in relation to any particular right or privilege, they are also not moral agents, so cannot be indicted in criminal proceedings, although animals were held responsible in medieval courts of course, and had the spectacle not been so pathetically tragic, it would at first thought be quite amusing.

    Anyway, in theory this should amount to an epic fail, but my point is this, never mind the chimps, do you want to be a “PERSON”?

  12. I disagree, and so does Mitt Romney ;)

    Or are you saying that people are not people in law, rather legal people are people, not actual people. So what are actual people according to the law, according to you? And even if it’s correct, don’t you think it’s angels-on-a-pin dumb?

    There were also attempts to declare zygotes to be people; in state legislatures, IIRC.

    I agree with the poster who said they should have rights akin to those of the mentally disabled, though one difference is that such people have non-disabled relatives, and their well-being should be taken into account, whilst chimps do not.

    • In reply to #22 by PERSON:

      I agree with the poster who said they should have rights akin to those of the mentally disabled, though one difference is that such people have non-disabled relatives, and their well-being should be taken into account, whilst chimps do not.

      What about orphans?

    • In reply to #25 by wanstronian:

      I’m a bit behind the curve here – has “person-hood” been given a legal definition, supported by testable scientific criteria?

      Science will tell you it’s a continuum, the law tries to insist on drawing a line somewhere…

  13. I’m a bit worried by this potential acceleration in the person population. It seems to me we could operate a more measured induction into person-hood by operating a quid pro quo scheme…..with Republicans perhaps?

  14. I’m a little disappointed at how many commenters see this as “opening a can of worms”…and portray that as a bad thing. To my mind this can of worms has been closed for far to long, and the law needs to begin taking this issue seriously. Now.

    And why in the name of the holy FSM would granting legal protections to some of our fellow animals mean taking them away from some humans??? It’s not like there’s some finite pool.

    The real problem is the longstanding, and irrational, legal assumption of human exceptionalism. Yes, any place the line is drawn will be tricky and controvertial. THAT INLUDES THE CURRENT POSITION OF THE LINE! So why not explore moving it?

    Or better yet, why not get rid of arbitrary “lines” and start working on a continuum which acknowledges the actual fact that there are no stark dividers between species when it comes to capacity for suffering.

    By the way. I don’t think anyone is contemplating giving full legal rights, responsibilities, citizenship, etc. to a chimps. Merely recognizing the level of cognition they DO have, and extending certain protections to it.

  15. Ah, Earth. Where the animal that overran the planet scrambles to be seen to ‘flatter’ the other species’ survivors. What species are left have a box drawn on a map as their ‘habitat’. Humans decided their ‘box’ was planet sized. The dreamt-up benefits of human legal standing, what is this to these beings? Nothing of benefit, when weighed against the lost millions of acres of forest “harvested” for more human breeding structures.

    • In reply to #34 by Stafford Gordon:

      I visit here to learn, and I find what you say in response to my comment interesting; would you care to elaborate please?

      Fair enough. I’m willing to explain further (although I’m really just a lay person repeating concepts I’ve learned from Richard and other experts) but honestly I’m not sure what more to say.

      Humans and chimps have “been around” exactly as long as each other. This is obvious if you think about it. We split off from a common ancestor somewhere around 5-7 million years ago and since then, both species have continued to evolve for the same amount of time. In order for your original comment to be correct, we would have to assume that humans somehow evolved “from” chimps or that our common ancestor was “more” of a chimp than a human. That’s not the case.

      Perhaps I have misunderstood what you meant? Or perhaps you have a specific question or a detail upon which I can elaborate. Or perhaps someone lese can correct me or expand upon the idea?

  16. I see a lot of comments that claim this is a can of worms, and that it is ill thought out, but no specific consequences. That is aside from one commenter suggesting this would somehow weaken the rights of the mentally disabled. I wouldn’t be surprised if people had said roughly the same thing about giving rights to different minorities, to women, or other sections of the human population.

    So far they’re only applying for person hood in the respect that chimps have the right not to be imprisoned. I see no harm from this. As for for the dangerous path argument, people say that about everything, almost literally. If we regulate firearms, have universal healthcare, lower military spending, remove mandatory minimums, remove the death penalty, allow gay marriage. If you can’t suggest anything wrong with a particular act, waving your hands and suggesting that it will lead to something bad is not a valid argument.

    • In reply to #36 by NMLevesque:

      So far they’re only applying for person hood in the respect that chimps have the right not to be imprisoned.

      Then that would also mean chimps (or any ape) could not be exhibited in zoos or used for medical research.

      The issue of ‘personhood’ in this context is ill defined and vulnerable to unilateral dismissal on the basis of over-reach. The bigger picture and the one that should be first addressed are long overdue laws, with gnashing teeth, that would protect all animals (from chimps to chickens) from abusive, neglectful and inadequate private or commercial ownership/captivity. The first step would be to socially and legally acknowledge that animals are sentient and deserving of a higher standard of protection than chattel. Another good step would be to bring a definite end to the often disastrous attempt at domesticating wild animals (often as status symbols or props in an animal hoarder’s exotic menagerie).

      Personhood? No. Non-negotiable and enforced guidelines of care appropriate to the species? Absolutely.

      • In reply to #38 by Lilium:

        In reply to #36 by NMLevesque:

        So far they’re only applying for person hood in the respect that chimps have the right not to be imprisoned.

        Then that would also mean chimps (or any ape) could not be exhibited in zoos or used for medical research.

        Honestly, I think my suggestion in #26 could be helpful here too.

        • In reply to #36 by NMLevesque:
          Honestly, I think my suggestion in #26 could be helpful here too.

          It could hypothetically be called Fox Zoos. And ‘appropriately’ misleadingly named as there would be no fox there.

  17. Rights are fundamental rules, legal and ethical regarding what persons are accorded or allowed to do, it is a fundamental issue in civilisation. I am all for the recognition of certain principles in the way we treat or deal with other species and deeply concerned that we should not be conducting ours affairs in a way that causes other species distress either directly or indirectly.
    We have every reason to believe that chimps have intelligence, emotions and psychological states, they show distress, comfort others and have been observed in acts similar to mourning and even playing deceptions on each other. They require protection and care when they are in proximity to humans and should so be treated.

    However to accord another species even one as closely related genetically, ‘legal personhood’, I think goes too far. If we do so are we also to consider whether a chimp is criminally culpable? i.e. how do you guarantee the rights of a victim who is savaged by a chimp? You sue the owner not the chimp. In which case, is the chimp a person with rights if they are owned? If you are attacked by another human do you sue their owner? The legal personhood idea becomes fuzzy and to apply for legal personhood in respect of chimps would require in my view a rethink on what constitutes personhood.

    • In reply to #37 by Vorlund:

      However to accord another species even one as closely related genetically, ‘legal personhood’, I think goes too far. If we do so are we also to consider whether a chimp is criminally culpable? i.e. how do you guarantee the rights of a victim who is savaged by a chimp?

      Time for one of my favorite Dawkins online papers: Gaps in the Mind Usually when I leave that link I say “this applies to other topics as well as animal rights” but for once animal rights is the issue. And my answer and I think what Dawkins says in that paper is that what you are doing in your comment is what Dawkins calls “legalistic” thinking. You are claiming either you give an animal rights or you don’t and if you do then they have to be the same rights as humans. As if having rights is some boolean switch that can be either on or off.

      Even when it comes to humans we don’t grant everyone the same rights. In the US non-citizens don’t have a lot of the rights that citizens have. For example, it is legal for the president of the US to order you killed with no trial if you are not a US citizen. (BTW, I think that is wrong but that’s another issue). Or consider children or the mentally ill or criminals in all those cases we take rights away from people for various reasons, sometimes for their own good (or at least we claim) and sometimes for the good of society.

      So granting some rights to chimps or other animals doesn’t by any means mean that we have to treat them the same as humans. IMO it’s just a very rational and eventually inevitable evolution of us as a species to realize that suffering is bad and not just human suffering but animal suffering as well.

      How we balance suffering, e.g., is it OK to experiment on animals to provide great benefits to humans (I would argue yes) is a whole other question and there is a lot to debate there but IMO the starting point that chimps and other primates should have some rights — e.g. not to be vivisected — is very rational.

      • In reply to #40 by Red Dog:

        For example, it is legal for the president of the US to order you killed with no trial if you are not a US citizen. (BTW, I think that is wrong but that’s another issue).

        Pretty extreme example but I’m assuming you mean this is hypothetically happening under US jurisdiction. FYI, that is wrong. Anyone on US soil is afforded the same rights as citizens just as inversely, anyone on US soil are bound to abide by American laws. One exception is non-citizens do not have the right to vote (duh). I think there is another specific and technical exception though it escapes me right now; I’m inclined to think it’s the presidential eligibility requirement but I would quickly admit it might be something else (though something almost as remote in probability).

        • In reply to #43 by Lilium:

          In reply to #40 by Red Dog:

          For example, it is legal for the president of the US to order you killed with no trial if you are not a US citizen. (BTW, I think that is wrong but that’s another issue).

          Pretty extreme example but I’m assuming you mean this is hypothetically happening under US jurisdiction

          No. There is nothing hypothetical about it at all. It happens on a fairly regular basis in Pakistan when the US decides to launch a missile at someone without any trial or any due process at all just the decision based on intelligence that the US refuses to talk about that they think they have good reason to believe most of the people they are going to blow up with the missile are terrorists. When they even talk about it at all (which is very rare) they admit that they kill “collateral damage” when they do it but they assure us that they aim to keep the innocent civilian deaths to a minimum.

          I’m not sure how involved the president is in those decisions but it’s his ultimate authority as “commander in chief” of the US military that authorizes it.

          But there are other examples as well that are more sinister. Since its nameless, brown, Muslims getting blown up in Pakistan I don’t expect most of you would care. But under Bush there were real examples when the CIA came to Bush and said “here is this guy we want to kill or grab off the street and whisk away to torture” and Bush said OK and they did it. (Probably really said something like Yeehaw! or good job Blackie!)

          And even under Obama the US maintains that our president has the right to order someone killed or kidnapped with no due process. There are documented cases (a Canadian citizen is one example) of people who were picked up that way and not only weren’t they terrorists it wasn’t even the right guy. The Canadian guy was tortured brutally for months in some middle east or eastern european torture center.

      • In reply to #40 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #37 by Vorlund:

        But the issue of rights is a legal issue! Its as simple as that and either a law applies or it doesn’t. There is no infinite variation there are only exceptions in particular cases. I don’t think I have said explicitly that those rights have to be the same as a human’s rights (you may have interpreted it as such) The article is about a thing called personhood (whatever that is) and in my mind it hasn’t been defined were it to be applied to chimps.

  18. In reply to BanJolvie # 49:

    Thanks for your response to my last post on this.

    I think there’s a risk of going off the subject, but here goes!

    Firstly, in my original comment I was just being flippant.

    But now, I’m going to stick my neck right out!

    If we evolved from chimps, it follows that they were here before us. Although they and we are both basically African apes, they, as far as I understand it have remained little changed. However, we, via various previous forms have evolved into the human species Homo Sapiens; “the naked ape”.

    Our brains have enlarged and we have become capable of speech and all the other attributes which make us essentially human beings.

    Although we still carry the most convincing piece of evidence I know of for the fact of evolution, the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which first evolved in the fish for the purpose of controlling the gills and which therefore now takes a circuitous route to our larynx as it does somewhat in the Giraffe, for reasons that I’m sure we all here understand! But I digress.

    So, despite the flippancy of my original remark I think I’m right in saying that we ain’t quite the same as we used to be but chimpanzees more or less are.

    Ooooh, I’ve stuck my neck right out now, but as always, I stand to be corrected.

    Incidentally, no matter how long a time a chimp spent at a type writer, she/he would never succeed in replicating the works of Shakespeare; the reason can be found in ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ by what’s his name.

    • In reply to #52 by Stafford Gordon:

      Firstly, in my original comment I was just being flippant.

      I kinda figured. No objection to the tone on my part. I actually agreed with your general point that there is human hubris evident in the presumption that we can grant “rights” to other species. I was merely correcting what I viewed as a fairly glaring inaccuracy.

      If we evolved from chimps, it follows that they were here before us. [Emphasis added]

      IF we had evolved from chimps, then the rest of your point might be valid. But we did not. That is a creationist-style misunderstanding of evolution. Chimps and humans evolved form a common ancestor. that ancestor was no more a chimp than it was a human. We are the same distance from that ancestor. Any reasoning that follows from this misstatement is flawed.

      Although they and we are both basically African apes, they, as far as I understand it have remained little changed.

      It is possible (probable?) that the chimps have remained more “primitive” in some respects than we. But their evolution has not been stagnant. A modern chimp would not – in principle – be any more likely to successfully interbreed with our MRCA (most recent common ancestor) than you are…assuming that our MRCA could somehow step out of a time machine looking for love today. Chimps and humans are both different fully different species from our MRCA.

      However, we, via various previous forms have evolved into the human species Homo Sapiens; “the naked ape”.

      Our brains have enlarged and we have become capable of speech and all the other attributes which make us essentially human beings.

      We have shed our hairy coats and our brains have grown, yes. Chimpanzees have also changed in various ways from our MRCA. Those changes – from our perspective – may seem less drastic than our own. But then, perhaps a chimpanzee would think that WE look more like that MRCA than does any member of her group.

      Remember that the amount of physical change we have undergone is probably dwarfed by the cultural evolution which has occurred – at an exponentially faster rate – since our brains apparently reached some kind of threshold for memetic reproduction. We may behave very differently from our other Great Ape cousins, but MRCA might recognize our bodies as readily as theirs.

      In any case, even if the list of common traits is longer between MRCA and chimpanzee than between MRCA and human (very possible depending upon how the list is drawn up and just what qualifies as a distinct “trait”), that does not change the fact that humans and chimpanzees BOTH are modern species which evolved AFTER diverging from MRCA. We have “been around” the same amount of time.

  19. Surely the qualification of personhood would go hand in hand with a right to vote. I’m not sure I want a section of the electorate throwing shit at me as I wait to fulfil my democratic obligations, particularly if it’s by a “person” who (in all probability) can’t write his own name, and shows little respect for the democratic process (or indeed anything else). If this lawsuit was intended simply as a vehicle to highlight animal cruelty it is likely to backfire spectacularly. That said, I’m really enjoying following this ethical but ultimately political debate.

  20. In reply to BanJolvie # 54.

    I should, of course, have said speciation not “variation” ; I’m not a biologist.

    I think it best to leave the matter now.

    As for damning everyone to hell; steady on old bean!

    S G

  21. OK, please allow me to try again:

    If human children and the “mentally disabled” (which could mean practically everyone) have rights then so should other apes.

    As to the corresponding duties, other apes obviously have none. Like with children, it is we who have the duties toward them.

    • In reply to #62 by Peter Grant:

      OK, please allow me to try again:If human children and the “mentally disabled” (which could mean practically everyone) have rights then so should other apes.As to the corresponding duties, other apes obviously have none. Like with children, it is we who have the duties toward them.

      I’ll accept that.

      S G

    • In reply to #62 by Peter Grant:

      OK, please allow me to try again:

      If human children and the “mentally disabled” (which could mean practically everyone) have rights then so should other apes…

      I haven’t been following this thread, so you’ll have to forgive me if the point I’m about to make has already been made, but someone’s IQ isn’t the only criterion by which we judge their humanity. A human being whose intelligence is lower than a chimpanzee or dolphin’s is still a member of our own species, and that carries with it a lot of evolutionary baggage.

      Intelligence is a rather arbitrary thing by which to judge an entity’s worthiness anyway. If birds were suddenly gifted with sentience, would they conclude that we are not as excellent as they because we lack the ability to fly? Insects outnumber us by a billion to one and occupy every part of the planetary surface, so are superior to us in purely Darwinian terms. And if the ice caps melt, aquatic critters will have the last laugh on all of us. As for bacteria, they can survive on the surface of the Sun. Fact. Probably.

      There’s an Emo Philips joke which goes “I used to think that the brain was the greatest organ in the human body, then I realized ‘Hey! Look what’s telling me that!’”


      Aside from our intelligence, the only thing as far as I can see which distinguishes our species is the capacity we have for empathy. The rest of the animal kingdom is basically made up of psychopaths. A dog might be spooked if it sees a human or cow get hit by a train and have their entrails spread fifty meters along the track, but that won’t prevent Rover scarfing down any bit of viscera which lands in his vicinity. Have a heart attack at home and while you’re passed out the kitty cat you dote on will try to eat your eyeballs out of their sockets if it hasn’t had its lunch yet.

      If we’re looking for a criterion by which to judge whether another species should get to shelter with us under the umbrella of ‘personhood’, perhaps IQ should be a less important consideration than interspecies empathy. Give a chimp a canary: if it feeds and nurtures the thing and shows signs of loss when it’s taken away, that could be a sign of personhood; if it bites Tweetie’s head off the moment they’re introduced, probably less so.

      The other consideration is that bestowing this sort of protection on chimpanzees means that out of all the living things on Earth, we would deliberately be giving an evolutionary advantage to the species which most resembles the one which in the planet’s history has caused the greatest damage and has been responsible for so many extinctions that if an asteroid similar to the one which wiped out the dinosaurs were to pass close by, it wouldn’t even bother to crash into us. This could be like giving Ted Bundy the keys to Jeffry Dahmer’s cell, or a better analogy.

      • In reply to #65 by Katy Cordeth:

        Yes indeed, chimps actually far surpass us in some areas of intelligence. As one of our closest living relatives they are an interesting case though, wouldn’t you say?

        Chimps are capable of empathy, but even psychopaths have some rights.

      • In reply to #65 by Katy Cordeth:

        If we’re looking for a criterion by which to judge whether another species should get to shelter with us under the umbrella of ‘personhood’, perhaps IQ should be a less important consideration than interspecies empathy. Give a chimp a canary: if it feeds and nurtures the thing and shows signs of loss when it’s taken away, that could be a sign of personhood; if it bites Tweetie’s head off the moment they’re introduced, probably less so.

        I instantly thought of this. Also, while I agree with your general point about our capacity for empathy, I’d also point out that your own observation kinda undercuts the point about our enormous caring for other species. You know, that humans have:

        caused the greatest damage and [...] been responsible for so many extinctions

        ..that we leave a planet-killing asteroid with nothing to do.

        Sort of a mixed bag this test. Humans might fail it just as often as a lot of other species. Like a housecat, we certainly aren’t above eating the remains of beloved former beloved companions…sometimes even within our own species when things get grim. Hunger is a universal motivator.

        I think I’d probably look to capacity for suffering (at multiple levels) as an indicator of need for legal protections, or “personhood”.

        • In reply to #67 by BanJoIvie:

          In reply to #65 by Katy Cordeth:

          If we’re looking for a criterion by which to judge whether another species should get to shelter with us under the umbrella of ‘personhood’, perhaps IQ should be a less important consideration than interspecies empathy. Give a chimp a canary: if it feeds and nurtures the thing and shows signs of loss when it’s taken away, that could be a sign of personhood; if it bites Tweetie’s head off the moment they’re introduced, probably less so.

          I instantly thought of this. Also, while I agree with your general point about our capacity for empathy, I’d also point out that your own observation kinda undercuts the point about our enormous caring for other species. You know, that humans have:

          You do know that the monkey in that picture thinks the kitten is its babby, right? Or a toy? There was a documentary a few years back in which a group of children were tested to see if they could tell the difference between a living thing and a plush toy. I can’t remember the specifics but the outcome was that very young kids, about three or so, I think, couldn’t make this distinction, but those a year older could. At some point in a child’s development it becomes aware of what life is as it relates to beings other than itself. That, I would maintain, is the time when empathy is born.

          I’d also point out that your own observation kinda undercuts the point about our enormous caring for other species. You know, that humans have:

          caused the greatest damage and [...] been responsible for so many extinctions

          ..that we leave a planet-killing asteroid with nothing to do.

          I’m aware of the irony. That was the point. This is about animals being given ‘personhood’. The same status as humans, in other words. And humans for all our empathy are the most destructive animal ever to exist. Hence the serial killer comparison.

          I think I’d probably look to capacity for suffering (at multiple levels) as an indicator of need for legal protections, or “personhood”.

          Basing it on suffering alone would be the humane approach, but most animals are capable of suffering. Would a gorilla if mistreated suffer more than a cow subjected to the same amount of abuse? And by how much? If it could be quantified and the cow were found to experience half as much suffering as the gorilla, would that make the cow half a person? Personhood has to be predicated on more than the amount of torment something can withstand.

          • In reply to #70 by Katy Cordeth:

            You do know that the monkey in that picture thinks the kitten is its babby, right? Or a toy?

            Well, technically, no. I don’t know what the GORILLA (ape, NOT monkey – sorry, pet peeve) actually thinks, and neither do you.

            But to the larger point that Coco’s “empathy” for the kitten is actually a kind of misfiring of the parenting instinct, I don’t see that as relevant. I’ve heard the same argument advanced for the origin of human empathy. The basis of the empathy makes little difference AFAICS. The point is that the gorilla is nurturing and caring for the kitten and seems to have an emotional bond. If your personhood test is interspecies empathy, then it appears some of our ape cousins can pass it. As you say a few others like elephants and dolphins might as well.

            At some point in a child’s development it becomes aware of what life is as it relates to beings other than itself. That, I would maintain, is the time when empathy is born.

            I’m not an expert, but I think “empathy” is not the best name for the capacity you describe. I’ve heard it called a “theory of mind” or “agency attribution.” It’s the understanding that other minds are distinct from your own, and don’t know the same things you do. Self-awareness, as you say, is part of it (the famous mirror test.) It seems to develop in stages. Empathy is certainly related to it, perhaps arising from it. Interestingly, the ability to lie also seems to arise from it, and most children begin to experiment with lying when they hit this phase. Or so I’m told.

            Empathy, as I understand it, is more specific. It is often held to involve the vicarious experience of emotions (especially suffering) on behalf of another’s perceived (or imagined) situation.

            This is about animals being given ‘personhood’. The same status as humans, in other words.

            No. Not the same status as humans. ‘Personhood’ is a legal framework, and it has more than one status. Thus a corporation can be one type of legal person but not legally equivalent to an individual human. No one is arguing that chimps should have an identical status to humans under the law.

            humans for all our empathy are the most destructive animal ever to exist.

            Right, so I don’t really understand why you think empathy itself – or destructive potential for that matter – is germain to legal personhood. Unless you mean to argue that humans also should not be afforded this status.

            Basing it on suffering alone would be the humane approach,

            Sure it would be humane, and that’s one selling point, but not the only one. To clarify, however, I said “capacity for suffering (at multiple levels)” which is not captured by your statement, “suffering alone.”

            but most animals are capable of suffering.

            True, but not the same capacity on as many levels.

            Would a gorilla if mistreated suffer more than a cow subjected to the same amount of abuse?

            Quite probably.

            And by how much? If it could be quantified and the cow were found to experience half as much suffering as the gorilla, would that make the cow half a person?

            Agreed. Quantification of capacity is one of the main questions to address. Admittedly this is difficult, but dismissal of an important question due to difficulty isn’t a very useful approach.

            Personhood has to be predicated on more than the amount of torment something can withstand.

            Not withstand, experience. How many levels and types of suffering are within the capacity of a given species? If a dog gets cancer, she suffers physical pain. If a human gets cancer she suffers physical pain, and additional pain from contemplating the future (which dogs don’t appear to do.) She also suffers empathetic pain from considering the impact of her illness on those she loves. Etc. There are other potential layers of suffering that arise from various cognitive abilities.

            This is why I raise capacity to suffer as a measure. Because it encompasses your empathy test (empathy increases capacity to suffer) and gives a better focus to the question of mental capacities than something nebulous and human-centric like I.Q.

      • In reply to #65 by Katy Cordeth:

        the kitty cat you dote on will try to eat your eyeballs out of their sockets if it hasn’t had its lunch yet.

        It’s a question of survival. You’d do the same if you couldn’t get out of the house to buy lunch. Your cat is smart enough to realize you are dead and won’t be needing your eyeballs any more. It empathizes with you, in the sense that it reads your feelings when you’re alive, but you don’t have any feelings when you’re dead.

  22. In reply to #68 by aldous

    the kitty cat you dote on will try to eat your eyeballs out of their sockets if it hasn’t had its lunch yet.

    It’s a question of survival. You’d do the same if you couldn’t get out of the house to buy lunch. Your cat is smart enough to realize you are dead and won’t be needing your eyeballs any more. It empathizes with you, in the sense that it reads your feelings when you’re alive, but you don’t have any feelings when you’re dead.

    That’s not what empathy is. That’s just perception of some state of ‘livingness’, and a very basic one at that: give a cat a clockwork toy mouse and it will react as though the thing were alive. Empathy depends on self-awareness, which only elephants, dolphins and apes seem to possess.

    I’m not sure I’d resort to murder if I became trapped in my house, but if I did I would expect to feel subsequent remorse. If Kitty empathizes with me, even if as you assert this is based on nothing more than my movements and general impression of life, why doesn’t this extend to the mice she captures only to torture mercilessly before dispensing with or the birds she hunts down?

    If the type of empathy you claim her capable of were real, we would expect to see examples of it in her near relatives, even if to a lesser degree. There are examples of predators bonding with animals which would ordinarily be considered their prey, but I find it hard to believe lions typically feel a twinge of remorse as they bring down an impala and start to feed on it before the beast is even dead.

    As much as we tend to anthropomorphise the animals we open our homes to and insist they somehow know us and share our values, the fact is we’re kidding ourselves. Dogs are pack animals: a dog’s genuine love for its owner is based on group identity, so this doesn’t count as cross-species empathy even if it is what it resembles. Cats, though, like the majority of the animal kingdom are stone-cold Anton Chigurghs. Give me my Whiskas, friendo.

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