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Should apes have rights?


Should apes have rights?

In 2008, Spain became the first country to commit to the Great Apes Project, an initiative from scientists and philosophers who believe that the great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans – should be granted basic rights. But what would extending rights to apes actually mean? Does extending the concept of human rights to great apes make any sense from a moral philosophical point of view? Are rights, like the capacity to make moral judgements about whether or not to protect other species, something only humans can appreciate? An absorbing Battle of Ideas debate.

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Related topics: Debates, Science Progress

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Goh said:

To be a ‘speciest’, as those who believe in the moral superiority of human beings over other animals are dubbed (I count myself among them) is NOT the same as being racist or sexist. It is grossly inaccurate to liken the speciest defence of humanity to the scientific racism that debased black people in the colonial period. In fact, I would argue that the ethicists and animal rights activists are closer to that because they place human beings in a continuum with other animals as did the scientific view of race back in the day!

Anthony said:

I agree with Helene Guldberg that species loss is part of nature but I would go further and argue there are species we seriously need to wipe out such as mosquitoes.

Sue J said:

Can you apply ethics to animals?

Getit said:

Helene Guldberg says hers is a minority view but I don’t think the majority of people seriously want animals to have rights they just don’t want them to suffer. I don’t see there is this drive to cause animals pain for the sake of it even in experiments.

Benji said:

The main problem in this debate seems to me to be how estranged the ethicists and behavioural psychologists from thei special historical quality of being human in a 21st century human society. They seem on the face of it to be trying to find reasons to give more rights, or moral standing to animals but the real effect of what they are arguing is to downgrade humans vis a vis animals by saying things like all species feel pain etc. I believe it is humane to spare animals unnecessary pain, even as we kill and then eat them. Try asking a hungry polar bear to be humane.

sciencewobbles said:

I think pain is an issue for apes and other species but lets not get carried away factory farming gives quite a lot of animals endless food shelter and in most cases humane care – thats more than a lot of our fellow ciitzens enjoy accross the globe.

Fran said:

Hate the way the ‘painism’ and the RSPCA guy refer to womens rights, rights of black people in the same breath as apes – that is shocking – they really don’t get the point which is well made in the programme on why human beings are different. They really do degrade what it means to be human. If that’s ‘apeist’ so be it.

Roab said:

When I think of rights for different causes, e.g. the right of women to vote, the right for gay men to openly express their sexuality without fear of legal reprimand, this is something that is fought for, so in effect most rights are gained by fighting for it!

When Jeremy Taylor discusses the similarity of the DNA of man and chimpanzee at 98.5%, I agree that this figure proves nothing as to how similar we are. The issue is genotype and phenotype. A chick and a human share about 98% DNA sequence/genetic code, but clearly they couldn’t be more different! In terms of phenotype it is things like appearance, size weight, form (physical attributes) that show the real variety, because the genes in a DNA sequence code for different things, so let’s say hypothetically the chick and human have an identical code of G-A-T-C-C, while this phenotypically codes for protein in the beak of a chick, for a human this sequence can code for nails and hair (keratin).

My main issue or source of contention with Dr Guldberg however is the way she claims that since the beginning of time, 99.9% of animal species have become extinct. How does she know that? That is far too general a point to make.

I’m still convinced that animals have sense of some sort, they aren’t ‘dumb’ they do perceive, they demonstrate behaviour traits as Dr Ryder says like rescue, cooperation etc.

A great Battle of Ideas discussion overall, very lively and engaging.