Animal minds Culture Naturalism

Can chimpanzees be non-human persons?

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From George Johnson at Undark:

In November, Judge María Alejandra Mauricio of the Third Court of Guarantees in Mendoza decreed that Cecilia is a “nonhuman person” — one that was being denied “the fundamental right” of all sentient beings “to be born, to live, grow, and die in the proper environment for their species.”

Agreeing to a petition by animal rights lawyers in Argentina for a writ of habeas corpus — a demand that a court rule on whether a prisoner or inmate is being legally detained — the judge ordered that the chimpanzee be freed from the zoo and transferred to a great ape sanctuary in Brazil.

In an earlier case, an appeals court in Buenos Aires upheld a judge’s demand that the city zoo provide an orangutan named Sandra with a way of life consistent with her “well-being, behavioral complexity, and emotional states.”

It has never been necessary to make claims about the “personhood” of animals in order to secure their humane treatment. But in an age when the internet has left many law offices hurting for work, expect a vast increase in creative litigation.

Though the science is far from settled, and probably will never be, the idea that something resembling a subjective, contemplative mind exists in other animals has become mainstream — and not just for apes. Recent popular science books include “What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins,” “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness” and “Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness.” More.

It’s not really all that difficult. An animal who lacks reason and moral sense often has, nevertheless, a sense that an experience is happening to itself. The dog who is informed that he is a “Good dog!” is the subject of an experience. He perceives that the approval is happening to him. But if subjectivity (“well-being, behavioral complexity, and emotional states”) is the criterion for personhood, why not dogs and ravens as well as great apes?

Actually, personhood is a concept developed for how humans relate to each other. Applying it to animals will likely diminish the concept for humans without helping the animals. In any event, there is no evidence of the claimed “continuum” between human and animal intelligence. It has been an abrupt break.

See also: Animal minds: In search of the minimal self

Are apes entering the Stone Age?

and

Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds

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One Reply to “Can chimpanzees be non-human persons?

  1. 1
    Jon Garvey says:

    I suppose it’s easy to rule that chimps can’t be put in cages by humans, but if this is a fundamentalright, who’s going to decide, or enforce, what a “proper environment for their species” is?

    If slave-making ants carry off another species to work in their nests, is that a proper environment, or a punishable violation of animal rights? If a lion male kills his rival’s cubs, or a chimp an enemy’s baby, is that the “fundament right” running its course, or a violation?

    And if God sends an ice age which destroys the “proper environment” of many species so they go extinct, has he violated a fundamental right?

    Or is this actually only about alleged human fundamental responsibility, and not rights at all? It seems we’re the only sentient beings bound by it, after all.

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