Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Rights for great apes?

Spain’s thinking about it. Peter Singer is happy. But some have their doubts:

Professor Steve Jones, of London University, says the idea is an "overstatement of what science, what biology can tell you".


"As most people know, chimpanzees share about 98% of our DNA, but bananas share about 50% of our DNA and we are not 98% chimpanzee or 50% banana, we are entirely human and unique in that respect," he said.


"It is simply a mistake to use an entirely human construct, which is rights, and apply it to an animal, which is not human. Rights come with responsibility and I’ve never seen a chimp being fined for stealing a plate of bananas."

***

Archbishop of Pamplona and Tudela Fernando Sebastian said he could not believe it was even being proposed.


"We don’t give rights to some people - such as unborn children, human embryos, and we are going to give them to apes," he said.

Discussions - 26 Comments

Are rights a human construct? Might we not argue that Apes have natural rights...that they order their lives so as to maximize happiness within the limits of the rationality afforded to them? They have a right and a rational responsibility to take any action necessary for their own survival and flourishing...as do human beings. We can’t give them what they already have, nor is it rational for us to give them what they cannot themselves earn. Should a catclysmic event occur that makes a planet of the Apes scenario a reality would they not attempt to place themselves above us? All creatures have a right to existence but they must secure this independence by the rationality they themselves have. Failling this they are at our mercy to use or not to use... and we do with them as we wish, for a law of nature recognized even by animals is that the strong do as they please and the weak suffer what they must. Should we be conquered by superior beings would they place their good on a par with ours, and thus enslave their rationality to our feeble understandings? Of course not...for it is right for the most rational to rule and rule in accordance to capability for rationality. Thus if we are invaded by aliens (possibly superrational apes) we would still have natural rights to ourselves,i.e. the obligation to reason in order to survive...and this could neither be granted to nor taken from us.

This is of course all science fiction....because not a single anthropologist has unearthed an ape civilization that sustained itself to such an extent that it managed to enslave human beings. Of course if rights are not natural but human constructs then we can construe them on different grounds than specie levels of rationality.

Of course Peter Singer doesn’t emphasize the aspect of rationality that entails domination or rule, but rather the aspect that entails responsibility to those less fortunate/rational...he says that we have reached a level of rationality that requires us to eshew the animal common sense of the melian dialogues/aristotle or thrasymachus and rather embrace a slidding scale recognition of rights based on levels of rationality that are not specist...thus if severely mentally retarted human beings have rights...so do dolphins, pigs, and apes. Of course the Athenians would probably have left the mentally retarded to die...and the Spartans would have done so without question or blinking, and Roman fathers reserved the right to put sons to death.

But what do we as human beings really mean by rights, and how (and how much) will we give these to animals beyond the laws we already have prohibiting extreme (and not so extreme) cruelty?

Ultimately "rights" come from the ability to force others to recognize them...this is reality. God does not grant rights, nor does Nature...at least, there is no evidence of enforcement. This means that granting "rights" to populations that can’t enforce them places all the burden on those who can...us. It also brings up the whole question of balancing rights with responsibilities...apes can have "rights," but they’ll never shoulder any responsibility for maintaining those rights.

In other words, granting "rights" to a population that can neither appreciate them nor enforce them is a pointless exercise...more about making the right-granters feel good than about real improvements in welfare. The apes need protection, just as children need protection. I’m all for laws protecting our animal cousins...that will suffice. And for those who argue that "rights" grant an extra measure of protection, they sure haven’t for HUMAN BEINGS in places like Darfur or Saddam’s Iraq. All granting animal rights will do is muddy the legal waters, make money for lawyers, and further degrade the sanctity of human life (by reducing us to the level of other animals).

Granting the other animals rights will, in fact, be good for lawyers if they start hiring them. Granting chimps rights but not newborns etc. is not a serious position, and is one piece of evidence among many that sophisticated Europeans and Princeton professors are losing touch with human reality. The question: Given that newborns, the severely retarded, and even fetuses and embryos have rights, why not chimps? is more serious. From a purely secular point of view, an answer today would have to begin with thinking about why theory of evolution might explain the behavior of all the beasts but the beast with speech. And when we showed up, evolution came to an end. The best writers around on this in our time are the novelist-scientists Tom Wolfe and Walker Percy. The difference between us and the dolphins is infinitely greater than the one beween the brainy dolphin and the dimwit tuna. And we don’t need the Bible to see that, except to notice that the Dolphins don’t have their own version of it.

Ooga booga dooga, ga-looga! Fooga, ooga, kungawlalooga. Doogla-ag boog, ooga ag DOOGA! Oog agla!

Do infants, the mentally disabled, etc. have rights? Certainly children don’t have a number of political and civil rights accorded to adults, and mentally disabled persons are often institutionalized. They have legal protections, but "rights"...only very basic ones.

I agree entirely with Concerned Party’s comments; this is cruelty to animals.

If we grant rights to apes, the next you know, ape politicians will be pitting baboons against orangutans. Ape judges will discover new and fantastic "rights" in the Coconut Constitution. Ape lawyers will file frivolous lawsuits, Ape feminists will tell female monkeys that they don’t have to walk around barefoot and pregnant anymore--and what of the Inevitable Clash with bananas? Don’t bananas, sharing half our DNA, also have rights?

No, my fellow Specieists, apes have done nothing to deserve the infliction of "Rights" upon them. In the words of Founding Father Heston, "Take your stinking paws off my apes, you damn dirty humanist!"

To deny rights to obvious humans (babies, children, etc) and confer rights to animals is horrible and vile.

Peter Singer is ... well ... a well educated idiot.

If we, as humans, are on the same plane as animals, then why is wrong for us to act like animals? Why can’t I go and kill off all the offspring of other males in my area? Why can’t I have a harem? Why can’t I let my own offspring to die because I refuse to relocate to a better part of the world where resources are better?

Why should we, as humans, be better than animals if we are on the same level as animals?

Of course, this rids us of the chains of morality, but, hey, we are just a higher thinking animal ... right?

We can rationalize our way to genocide, infanticide, and other evils, but that does not make it right.

Is there any real ethics in bioethics?

Is there any real ethics in bioethics? Doesn’t that depend on the ethicist?

"What we are talking about is very basic legal protection of rights which will guarantee each chimpanzee, bonobo or orang-utan the opportunity to live out his or her life according to his or her best interest," and what is that, exactly?


Don’t you wonder what possible effect this can have in Spain? How many ape species live there? Wouldn’t this only have any real effect if it were something passed and enforced in those African nations, where these beasts are part of the meat section of their food pyramid?


Perhaps if passed in Spain, that country could become an immigrant haven for the great apes. The Spanish would be ethically bound to welcome any ape immigrant who applied for entry. To be really fair, Spain would have to offer citizenship. Think of it this way, it might improve the mentality of the Spanish voting public.

When we want to do something wrong and pretend that it’s right, we call it "ethics".

Or a "Bill Clinton".

As a child welfare worker, I shudder at this. We have much work to do in terms of gaining recognition for the fact that children deserve our protection, and now people want to give rights to apes?

Deal with the human species first.

Dain, if you believe comment #2 do you still believe in a right and wrong? I think you do, which is why I’m asking you how you reconcile the two. I’m honestly curious.

Of course I believe in right and wrong, Andrew. In fact, I have a definition of evil: "Evil is the consumption of another human life for one’s own benefit." Very general, but it means that you treat other human beings like a consumer good, without regard for their wellbeing or feelings.

But that’s just me. I’m not convinced that this notion is "culturally universal" as they say. Moreover, insisting that we should believe in X (and codify it in the form of recognized rights) doesn’t mean a great deal. Enforcement is everything, and that generally takes both the victim and the victimizer. Without the "rightees’" acceptance of the responsibilities that go with those rights, I don’t think rights last very long. It’s organic, and a construction of both the grantor and the grantee. Is that any clearer?

Yes, but it seems you have a very Hegalian understanding of rights which can be troublesome. I always thought the fact that the Founders rooted natural rights in "Nature and Nature’s God" was what played a big part in keeping the American Revolution unique from every other modern revolution (a la the French Revolution, Russian Revolution, etc., etc.) I believe it’s the insisting that’s the important part, because that is what creates/is created by the culture and will affect the actions of said culture down the road. Lincoln’s moral suasion and what have you.

Any philosophical base will have some warts, Andrew. It’s part of our nature...no intellectual schema will suit us perfectly because we aren’t perfect. As for rights, lodging them in a fictive matrix can be very useful (the appeal to ultimate authority and all), but I prefer to root my beliefs in observable reality, not metaphysics. Of course, there probably is a Supreme Authority out there, and he/she/it might not be too please with my radical empirical stance, but then again I’m not to pleased with his/her/its unfunded mandates (be righteous, but enforcement is all up to you). Talk about given the keys to the asylum to the inmates!

Dain- You make me sad. I know it’s not worth the trouble to go through it all, but there are thousands of years worth of intellectual activity showing the empirical basis of believing in God and rights’s derviving from God not to mention similar thousands of years of religious history including the person of Jesus. I know, I’m wasting my time even bothering to write this and I won’t convince or even make you think twice about. But what would a comedy be without the requisite plot devices?

What empirical base for believing in God? It might surprise you to know that I am fairly knowledgable about theology as well as church history...everything from St. Anselm to Aquinas to Paul Tillich...hell, even Teilhard Chardin. I’ve never encountered anything that could be considered empirical proof of divinity...and that’s OK. He/she/it might well exist, but thinking so is a matter of faith, not reason.

Dain- You must be confused. All of Aquinas’ five ways for proving the existence of God are based around a posteriori empirical proof. It doesn’t matter though. This thread was upon a much more useful topic concerning the importance and definition of rights in politics, not God.

OK, Allan, I understand that you don’t want to argue here, but Aquinas proved absolutely nothing. His fives ways of proving God are useless rhetoric...to modern science they are nearly laughable. Sorry, dude, but that’s the way of it.

"His fives ways of proving God are useless rhetoric...to modern science they are nearly laughable." Some strong reasoning there. More insight than I can handle.

Do you even know the five ’proofs’, troll (and you are a troll...the sniping proves it)? No one who has any background in science will take them serious -- for example...if it moves, there must be a Mover. Pretty much boils physics and chemistry down to theology. Smart for the 13th Century, pretty dumb today.

So, instead of sarcastically commenting on my lack of rationale, why don’t you provide some of your own? But of course trolls are as dumb as a sack of hammers...you probably aren’t capable of reasoned discussion.

I’ve been thinking about this one for much of the day- sort of throwing it around in the back of my mind- and I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue was really settled by Socrates in the Republic. Masters of things, be it man or beast, should rule them with the good of the ruled in mind. When the question is of man the details are more sticky, but when it comes to beast, shall not simple obsvervances provide the solution? That is, in the wild let them be when they do not threaten the lives of men. In capitivity use them in such a way so as to provide them maximally beneficial relationship for both involved. For example, a dairy farmer will keep cows for their milk while providing them safety, food, and so on. It would seem that talk of natural rights, at least as far as beasts are concerned, misses the most obvious parts of life and reality.

Comment 18 is no different than comment 19. Once again the irony is lost on dain.

Hey, Sniper Dan, it’s your big chance to contribute. Instead of criticizing me or the way I post (which is substantive, despite what your limited ability to reason may conclude), let’s hear a ringing defense of how Aquinas proofed empirically that God must exist. Or perhaps just shut up...I could live with either.

"proved" of course.

"which is substantive" No it’s not. That was my point. 18 was no more substantive than 19. Too bad you can dismiss everyone else without thought or explanation, but no one can do the same to you.

Who are you, and who appointed you the "dain police?" All you ever do is follow me around and snipe...it’s childish. Say something interesting or thoughtful (if you can), or just go bother someone else. How does it feel to be a dain-derivative?

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