The Primate Diaries

     Dolphins, such as this individual caught and
     used by the US Navy, could be granted
     personhood rights that protect them from
     such abuse.

            Image: United Press InternationalIn Douglas Adams’ series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy it turned out that dolphins were super intelligent beings from another world who felt protective of the hairless ape creatures that were dithering about feeling self important:

On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much–the wheel, New York, wars and so on–while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man–for precisely the same reasons.

It has long been understood that dolphins are one of the most intelligent species on the planet, however new research suggests that they are second only to humans in the size and complexity of their neural architecture. This raises important ethical issues about the capture and killing of dolphins in the wild. Last year the heart-wrenching documentary The Cove (a likely nominee in the Academy Award for Best Documentary) revealed that thousands of dolphins are regularly slaughtered by Japanese fisherman and fed to school children as “whale meat.” Futhermore, a 2005 report by the World Wildlife Foundation found that hundreds of thousands of cetaceans are killed each year through commercial fishing around the world.

Now, scientists are speaking up about this slaughter and pointing out that the extraordinary intelligence of dolphins demands that the legal designation of “nonhuman person” be put in place to protect them in the same way that European countries have for Great Apes.

The Great Beyond is reporting this morning that a special session on the ethical and policy implications of dolphin intelligence will be part of the annual conference for the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in San Diego on February 18, 2010. Lori Marino of Emory University will be leading the session and in her abstract writes that:

In this presentation I will discuss the neuroanatomical basis of complex intelligence in dolphins, how the neuroanatomy provides evidence for psychological continuity between humans and dolphins, and the profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions.

However, Marino suggests we go even further than simply protecting dolphins from harm. Even such amusements as marine park shows or “swim with dolphins” programs are psychologically damaging to these highly intelligent species and should be reconsidered.

These arguments were highlighted in The Sunday Times of London yesterday where they interviewed Marino about her research:

What Marino and her colleagues found was that the cerebral cortex and neocortex of bottlenose dolphins were so large that “the anatomical ratios that assess cognitive capacity place it second only to the human brain”. They also found that the brain cortex of dolphins such as the bottlenose had the same convoluted folds that are strongly linked with human intelligence.

Such folds increase the volume of the cortex and the ability of brain cells to interconnect with each other. “Despite evolving along a different neuroanatomical trajectory to humans, cetacean brains have several features that are correlated with complex intelligence,” Marino said.

Loyola Marymount University professor Thomas White, who will also be speaking at the conference, suggests that the legal classification of “non-human persons” would be the best way of limiting such impacts. This is not as radical an idea as it may sound. The law is fully capable of making and unmaking “persons” in the strictly legal sense. One Supreme Court case in the 1890s decided that it was up to the states to decide if women were to be counted as legal “persons” as far as the right of practicing law was concerned:

The Court argued that it was indeed up to the State’s Supreme Court “to determine whether the word ‘person’ as used (in the Statute) is confined to males, and whether women are admitted to practise law in that Commonwealth.”

As atrocious as this ruling sounds, such a precedent continued well into the twentieth century and a Massachusetts judge ruled that women could be denied eligibility to jury status because the word “person” was a term that could be interpreted by the court.

Such a flexible interpretation of personhood was demonstrated most dramatically in 1886 when the Supreme Court granted personhood status to the first nonhuman. In this case it was a corporation and Southern Pacific Railroad (part of robber baron Leland Stanford’s empire) snuck in through a legal loophole to gain full personhood rights under the 14th Amendment. Such rights have now been extended to all corporations. Prior to 1886, dating back to the 1600s, corporations were viewed as “artificial persons,” a legal turn of phrase that offered certain rights to the companies but without the full rights of citizens. By using the wording of the 14th Amendment (intended to protect former slaves from a state government seeking to “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”) it was ruled that corporations should enjoy the same status.

The Spanish Parliament came to a similar conclusion for Great Apes in 2008 that would grant some limited personhood rights to nonhuman animals for the first time. As reported by The Guardian newspaper:

The environmental committee in the Spanish parliament has approved resolutions urging the country to comply with the Great Apes Project, founded in 1993, which argues that “non-human hominids” should enjoy the right to life, freedom and not to be tortured.

This ruling came after Austrian animal rights advocates had attempted, and failed, to adopt the chimpanzee Hiasl so that he couldn’t be sold to a zoo or laboratory. The judge in that case decided that chimpanzees were property and therefore couldn’t be adopted (something that the law allows only for “persons”). However, as the history of this term suggests, there is nothing inherent to modern legal frameworks that would prevent a different judge from coming to another conclusion.

While it is extremely anthropocentric to grant personhood protections to nonhuman animals only because they resemble some aspect of us, it would seem that we have to start somewhere. We once found it acceptable to purchase and sell other human beings as property and to deny personhood to our mothers, wives and daughters based on the capricious decisions of patriarchal judges. Permitting highly intelligent beings with rich emotional lives to be bought, experimented on, or trained to satisfy our own amusement (or used as tools in military programs) is an archaic practice that should be abolished. If granting personhood status is a way to offer that protection, than I’m all for welcoming Flipper into the family. Afterall, as Douglas Adams has suggested, dolphins may be a great deal more than we now realize. Rather than simply vanishing and leaving a note reading, “So long, and thanks for all the fish,” wouldn’t it be satisfying to read in the postscript, “And, hey, much love for respecting our right to exist, it’s more than we gave you credit for.”

Comments

  1. #1 Katharine
    January 4, 2010

    I suggest a special legal classification for nonhumans with certain behavioral characteristics.

    Figuring out which species fit in this category is difficult, but it’s necessary.

    Personhood is too far.

  2. #2 orion
    January 4, 2010

    To be frank, I can’t think of anything more naive and stupid than this idea. Where do you draw the line with regard to what species etc are ‘persons’ (or whatever legal term you define)? And on what basis do you decide? Many species are intelligent (octopi for example), and many of our food species are more intelligent than companion animals (pigs are smarter than dogs).
    We are all animals and we all have to kill other species to eat (and yes, plants are species that we have to kill to eat). And if you give a species a ‘right’ as a ‘person’, does that also confer the responsibility for that ‘person’ to act in accordance with the law and treat other species appropriately? Would a dolphin or chimpanzee have to comply with animal cruelty laws? They certainly wouldn’t be able to. Are there legal age requirements (how old does a dolphin have to be before it is an adult)? Could you try a chimpanzee in court for breaking the law?
    Why should dolphins (or humans for that matter) have any more ‘rights’ than other animals? We have ‘dolphin safe’ cans of tuna, but why should a tuna’s life be any less valuable than that of a dolphin?
    This whole idea smacks of a vegan’s idealistic but totally unrealistic view of the world. It certainly isn’t based on biology or any other science for that matter.

  3. #3 Tamara
    January 4, 2010

    Could we de-person corporations? Pretty please?

  4. #4 robinottawa
    January 4, 2010

    I think this is interesting. It’s humans looking for common ground in values, and the use of classification as a framework for the implementation of those values. Pretty normal. Good article.

  5. #5 Chris Whitman
    January 4, 2010

    The idea that attaching personhood to one animal species means you’re going to have to give it to all animals (and plants?) is a textbook slippery slope argument. You could apply an identical argument to the decision to afford personhood to women, in fact.

    Regarding similarities between humans and the animals we consume for food, even if you don’t believe now that animals are self-aware and experience suffering, I would hope you’d entertain the idea that new information might make you change your mind. The statement that considering cetaceans as persons is wrong simply because it might lead us to question some of our other deeply held beliefs seems very much like special pleading for the status quo.

    Also, we already recognize the personhood of disabled individuals who may not have the capability to act rationally or may not be personally responsible for some of their actions. It’s easy to consider extending an idea like this to animals who, while lacking in our cognitive capabilities, have a similar capacity to experience joy and suffering as have humans.

    I have to say that comment #2 sounds like the worst kind of knee-jerk reactionism.

  6. #6 CPRyan
    January 5, 2010

    “Personhood” is a strange and problematic concept. Corporations qualify, as do children born without any cognitive capacities, but dolphins, chimps, bonobos don’t. Very suspect. In any case, be sure to check out The Cove, a film centered on the dolphin trainer responsible for “Flipper,” who has spent his life trying to undo the damage he helped cause.

  7. #7 orion
    January 5, 2010

    No Chris, my previous comment was not knee-jerk reactionism; it was an attempt to get you (and others) to actually think about the wider aspects of this proposal. If anyone is reacting without thinking, it is the proponents of this proposal.
    It is all well and good – and sounds wonderfully warm and fuzzy – to suggest we give some sort of ‘person’ status to other species. But what does that actually mean? What are the implications of that? What benefits does it confer, but also, what are the costs of those benefits? Does a ‘person’ have to comply with the law? I think that’s a pretty good question.
    And you completely misread my post. I am not suggesting we may need to give ‘personhood’ to other species if we give it to dolphins – I am suggesting that the whole concept is flawed and should not even be considered at all.
    This whole thing about self-awareness is a red-herring, and borders on the spiritual. Do animals have a soul? Of course not, and neither do humans. There is absolutely no evidence for such a concept – and I would hope than on a science blog we would restrict our comments to the evidence rather than descending into some sort of spiritual superstition. Do animals feel suffering? Of course they do, no-one with any credibility would deny that. But then, every animal probably does. Does that mean we should give them special status too?
    I eat animals. Other animals eat animals. Plants eat animals. Animals eat plants. It’s called nature. Sharks don’t worry about the feelings of the seal they are eating, nor do lions feel contrition if the antelope died slowly and painfully. Foxes often kill more than they need and waste the leftovers (never mind, it becomes food for the scavengers who have to eat too).
    And no, we are not better or different to other animals – we are, quite simply, animals, just like the shark or the lion. Anyone who thinks we are ‘better’ than other animals probably got their opinions from a religious book – they certainly didn’t get it from a biology textbook.

  8. #8 Chris Whitman
    January 5, 2010

    The behavior of another animal does not morally absolve you anymore than the behavior of another human does. If you’re going to appeal to nature, what’s “natural” about experimenting on chimpanzees or the organized hunting of dolphins by modern technological means?

    This is the issue with the natural fallacy. There is nowhere we can look in nature to tell us what our morality ought to be; we must construct it as we go. An appeal to nature is a thinly disguised appeal to the status quo. I do not have to feel that I am superior, in any sense, to a fox in order to avoid eating meat any more than I need to consider myself superior to a fox in order to use a computer or live in a house. How do you know which parts of non-human animal behavior from which animals we ought to embrace as natural and which we are free to ignore? Horses have canine teeth like we do, and yet they are herbivores. Why is it natural to copy bears or foxes in our diet but not horses?

    As for why it would be ethical to eat plants (or experiment on them or make furniture out of them; I don’t want to turn this into a discussion strictly about vegetarianism) even if we decided it was not ethical to do the same to animals, I hope that isn’t a question you seriously have to ask. Besides a few really crazy folks out there on the fringes of the animal rights community, most people base their beliefs on the ethical treatment of non-human animals on concepts like the ones in the article: the consideration of how animals are capable of experiencing suffering. It is much the same reasoning as informs our moral behavior towards other humans. In the case of plants, they have no central nervous system and do not appear to experience pain. While some people have claimed that plants react to to trauma in a way that is not purely mechanical, these assertions have so far not been reproduced in a laboratory setting. To suggest that there are no differences at all in the ability of animals and plants to experience suffering is, honestly, nuts.

    You claim that other people have not adequately considered their positions, and yet you are simply regurgitating the anti-AR party line verbatim. If you were interested in researching your own position, you would find that many people have answered questions these questions often, and in great detail. I probably engage in basically exactly this dialogue about once a month (maybe I should just start copying and pasting a response).

    If you’d really like to check out some good information on reasoned arguments for animal rights, while I don’t agree with him on everything, I would recommend taking a look at Peter Singer’s arguments. They are very well-structured, logically sound and not in the slightest unreasonable. If anything he is fairly conservative in his assertions.

    If you haven’t guessed, I personally feel that we should not use any animals for food, clothing or personal products, and that we should avoid performing animal testing in unnecessary situations (such as cosmetic testing). I think there’s a lot of room for debate in many other areas of animal rights, and I don’t think everyone needs to become a strict vegan right this very second, but I do feel that it’s important to ask questions about what kinds of rights animals should be considered as having, and I think it’s definitely a positive thing for us, as a society, to address these as they come up.

  9. #9 orion
    January 5, 2010

    Chris
    You ask me why it is natural to copy the behaviour of bears and foxes in our diets, but not horses? In response, I would ask if you have ever studied biology at all, and have any conception about how the human digestive system works? I’m going to suggest that if you stand out in a field and eat grass all day, you’re going to die of malnutrition. But if you eat a mix of plant and animal matter (like a bear or fox) then you will probably be ok.
    You also suggest that I am ‘regurgitating the anti-AR party line verbatime’. Since I neither know or care who the ‘anti-AR party is, it would be pretty difficult for me to ‘regurgitate’ their position. If we happen to agree on some issues (and I have no idea if that is true or not), then so what? It doesn’t make either of us wrong unless you can demonstrate that. I don’t think you have.
    You stated your position at the end of your post – I had pretty much figured it out anyway – so it is only fair I state mine. I am a wildlife scientist and I am an omnivore, as are you, despite your claims.
    I have heard time and time again claims by people about being vegetarians or vegans, but they are all, I am sorry to inform you, false. There is no such thing.
    I ask you this. How many animals do you think had to die so you could eat your breakfast this morning, or dinner tonight? You would be staggered – because it is in the thousands. Yes, that’s right, insects are animals too, as are anelids. And if they weren’t killed by pesticides in a conventional farm, they were deliberately killed by predatory insects which were introduced specifically to kill them on a organic farm.
    And you may not wish to eat animals, but you do anyway. You consume many invertebrates every day. They live inside you. They live on you. You use insecticides and pesticides to remove them from your house. Your bed is infested with them, and you deliberately kill them.
    And how many animals died so you could wear the clothes you have on? Are they natural fibres like cotton? Look up what happens at a cotton farm some day. Think about the habitat destruction that took place to make that farm, or that factory that produced the synthetic fibres.
    You talk about animal rights. Ok. What animals? All animals? Does that include arthropods? Anelids? Or are you one of the cute and cuddly brigade who thinks that pandas are important but mosquitoes should be killed?
    You finish your post by stating that it is important to ask questions. I agree. You should ask questions. But you should also think a little more and a little deeper about some of the things you are suggesting.
    I know about animal ethics and animal rights. It is my work, and I live with it all the time. I don’t need to read books by Peter Singer – although I have and strongly believe he needs to move out of his ivory tower and into the real world. I live with animals. I experiment with and on animals. I research them. And yes, I eat them. Which is why I actually know a little about them.

  10. #10 Bernee
    January 5, 2010

    Anyone who believes that this idea of granting dolphins a type of personhood is off-base should give a suggestion as to what would be a better solution to the dolphin slaughter/torture that is happening in Taiji, Japan. They should check out “The Cove” on U-Tube, so they have an idea why this plan was put forward in the first place. Whether a person considers themselves to be vegan, meat-lover, spiritual, atheistic, religious, animal lover or whatever, if they are the least bit civilized, then after they see with their own eyes what is happening to the dolphins they would agree that some solution to this atrocity is necessary. A person doesn’t even have to believe the studies that say that dolphins are second in intelligence only to man to believe that no one should blatantly torture them the way that is currently being done. Our civilization is already demanding humane treatment of our pets and of most of the creatures that our society routinely uses as food sources; surely all but the most brutal and hardened of individuals should agree that dolphins should at least get that much protection, yes? So why are they not? And if the only workable solution is to welcome dolphins into our family as “nonhuman persons” then hurray for our new brothers and sisters! I think the people who are capturing and slaughtering the dolphins in such gruesome ways are the ones showing they are undeserving of “personhood.”

  11. #11 orion
    January 5, 2010

    Bernee,
    Before you sound off about the ‘slaughter’ of dolphins, go and have a look at what happens on a commercial fishing trawler some day. Do you feel the same sympathy? Then have a look at a crop duster spraying insecticides on a field. Do you have the same sympathy for the orthoptera? You should. Don’t they die en-mass in agony too?
    Come on people. If you want animal rights, how about you give ALL animals rights. Or is it only for animals which are like us (intelligent mammals)?
    That’s pretty anthopocentric and hypocritical, don’t you think?

  12. #12 Pierce R. Butler
    January 5, 2010

    … the cerebral cortex and neocortex of bottlenose dolphins were so large that “the anatomical ratios that assess cognitive capacity place it second only to the human brain”.

    The linked article does not say whether brains of other cetacean species were analyzed in the same way. Since so much of whale brains are devoted to highly sophisticated auditory signal processing, I suspect many species would probably meet a neuroanatomical definition of intelligence.

  13. #13 Field Notes
    January 5, 2010

    What if some dolphins actually *enjoy* the work they do for the military? Would it then be wrong to deprive those dolphins of meaningful work and a sense of accomplishment? After all, unemployment takes a tremendous toll on human self-esteem.

    I think rather than debating what qualities an organism must posses in order to be granted personhood rights, we should be talking about how to recognize when, and under what circumstances, organisms experience psychological pain in addition to physical pain. Then we can adjust our partnerships with them to reduce it.

  14. #14 Chris Whitman
    January 5, 2010

    In response again, I am aware of the results of deforestation and industry on animal populations; that doesn’t mean I can’t take whatever steps are within my power to reduce my impact on the lives of animals. No vegetarian or vegan, or even omnivorous person who strives to improve the condition of non-human animals in any way (except for perhaps a few on the fringe) believes that we can go our entire lives without killing anything remotely classifiable as an animal.

    Personally, I try not to kill even insects in my day to day life. However, since it is not always possible to preserve the lives of all animals, I think we should show a stronger preference for more intelligent animals. I don’t believe this is hypocritical, as I think it is a shared appreciation of the ability to experience suffering or joy, however that might translate to one’s neurophysiology, that provides our moral impetus to treat others’ lives with respect, and not simply the “magic of being alive” (or some other such new age concept).

    Arguments along the lines of “if you cannot save every single animal, you shouldn’t bother saving even one” are bordering on the absurd. Biologist or not, I don’t think you get a free pass from basic rational thinking. Do you refuse to get out of bed in the morning because you won’t be declared king of the world? Even acting as an omnivore, a limited respect for the increased rights of some animals in areas where it is hardly even debatable is not much of a sacrifice. We do what we can.

    You might just as easily comment that most industry takes a great toll on human beings. If it is impossible then to take any half measure — to try to do what you can in your own life to reduce suffering — without eliminating suffering entirely, do you believe it is acceptable to enslave and abuse humans for any reason you would like? I would expect that you, like most people, despite being party to an industrial economy responsible for the inhumane treatment of millions of people around the globe, still feel that this is wrong, and would like to do what you can to improve the situation. It sounds very much like you are validating yourself by equating taking any position on animal rights with an impossible endeavour.

    To reiterate less politely, I have come up against these same tired arguments time and time again. You claim that I have not considered my position, and yet it is you who have not taken even a moment of your time to look into the basic, widely known refutations of your arguments. While I don’t mind discussing this topic, I don’t feel it’s a valuable use of my time to educate you on the basic concepts behind animal rights. If you cannot consent to do even a bare minimum of research, I’m afraid I see no reason to continue this conversation.

  15. #15 adam ansell
    January 5, 2010

    The techniques used in comparing the ratio of neocortex to the primitive brain can be flawed (see Healy and Rowe,(2007). A critique of comparative studies of brain size. Proc. R. Soc. B 274, 453–464). But as Pierce Butler pointed out, comparative studies ignore the functional elements of the tissue itself.

    Orion- while you say you are a scientist who works with animals your statements indicate that perhaps you don’t know as much as you think you do. For example, you employed the appeal to nature fallacy: “Sharks don’t worry about the feelings of the seal they are eating, nor do lions feel contrition if the antelope died slowly and painfully.” Now find me a behavioural ecologist who is willing to say what any non-human animal feels. You make assumptions based on your judgements of the cognitive capacities of these animals but there is no evidence to support it.

    Your interpretation of the word vegan is also incorrect. A vegan is a person who follows the principle of least harm, so animals which are killed by farming techniques or equipment are an unpleasant side effect of remaining alive. However, think for a second what the animals you eat were fed: plants and other animals. So crops produced to fatten up your dinner also resulted in the deaths of invertebrates and perhaps small mammals. Hence, the least harm occurs by eating the plants ourselves rather than diluting the energy they contain through other species first.

    If you want to consume dead animals that’s fine. But you should probably consider the flawed logic of your arguments in doing so. Might I suggest you look into the environmental elements of animal production and how it impacts upon wildlife populations (The 2006 UNFAO publication “Livestock’s Long Shadow –Environmental Issues and Options” would be a good place to start). The water and land use alone are what keep me from eating animals.

  16. #16 orion
    January 5, 2010

    Chris
    Looks like you are having a bit of a dummy spit there because I refuse to accept your view of the world and refuse to accept your stawman arguments that have nothing to do with anything I have stated. To suggest that:
    “…Arguments along the lines of “if you cannot save every single animal, you shouldn’t bother saving even one” are bordering on the absurd..”
    is patent nonsense, because I never suggested anything of the sort. I actually spend my life attempting to save animals – but I do it through real mechanisms such as habitat restoration, not by pollyanna concepts such as granting ‘personhood’ to dolphins.
    You state categorically – with a complete lack of evidence – that I have not considered the “…basic, widely known refutations of your arguments…”. That’s the problem isn’t it? You think you are right, and that your argument is absolutely, indisputabley, correct, and I am obviously an idiot because I can’t see it and accept it.
    Here’s an alternate view. I actually have read these arguments you speak about, but I don’t agree with them. Here’s a third view. On this – and other so-called moral issues – there is no one right answer, but things are situationally dependent.
    How about you try and see things beyond your narrow world concept? You talk about “showing a stronger preference for more intelligent animals”. Wow – I’m staggered. I would have thought someone like yourself would treat all animals equally and with equal respect. Maybe it’s my flawed approach, but I don’t think I am better than a dolphin. And I don’t think a dolphin is better than a chimpanzee because it is (supposedly) more intelligent. And I don’t think an octopus is better than a squid for the same reasons. But that’s just me.
    And I’m not a biologist – I am a wildlife scientist. We are different. I spend my time in the bush with the animals and plants.
    I would love to know what you do and what your background is so we have a point of reference for these discussions. What field of science do you work in?
    Adam
    If you want to do minimal harm to animals, in accordance with your vegan definition, you should become a hunter and gatherer – or in your case, I guess just a gatherer. As soon as you clear land for crops, you harm other animals. But then, that’s actually how nature works. Some species compete with each other, some have a symbiotic relationship, but in the end, its eat, breed or die. We humans just happen to be better at competing that most other species. And we are just another species of animal; nothing more, nothing less. That’s why your arguments about nature are so fundamentally flawed. You appear to think we are apart from nature, and that we shouldn’t act in accordance with natural laws and biology. Nothing could be more wrong.
    And I know too well the concept of inefficiency in trophic levels, so yes, I understand that it would be all the more efficient if we all became vegetarians. But there is no ‘flawed logic’ in my argument for doing so. I never argued any other way. According to the same argument, all carnivores and omnivores should become herbivores and the world will be an efficient food production nirvana. But then, who will predate on the herbivores and reduce their numbers (pretty important in my field of study)? Or do we just compete against each other for the ever reducing amount of vegetation that we are all eating? Last time I looked at my physiology, I was an omnivore. So, I’m going to go along with nature (once again) and act accordingly.
    And please don’t lecture me about the impact of animal production on wildlife – that’s my field of expertise and if you want an argument on the subject you will get both barrels.

  17. #17 adam ansell
    January 5, 2010

    It is my field too, but I am a biologist. I wasn’t aware you could be a wildlife scientist without being a biologist, since ecology is part of biology as is zoology etc. But you are attempting to build a strawman by saying that all carnivores/omnivores should become herbivores. Can you name any other terrestrial megafaunal species numbering around 7 billion which is at the top of a food web? Me neither. And if you cut out meat you’ll still be an omnivore, however if you cut out plant foods you’ll be dead in a few weeks. What does that tell you about your physiology?

    We have the capability to develop technologies to produce large amounts of plant matter sustainably using vertical farming, doing so in our largest population centres where the people are thus reducing transport costs and emissions while providing employment where it is needed most. Can you do that with animals? Who wants to live next door to a piggery or broiler farm in the city? Eating meat is the way of the past, there are too many humans to do it sustainably. There’ll be a lot more habitat available if we invest our efforts in developing sustainable food production methods.

  18. #18 Simon
    January 6, 2010

    Continuing where CPRyan left off personhood is a problematic issue from a ontological POV. Tooley asked whether it was the capacity that or first actualisation that granted personhood and as far as a I know this has yet to be fully explored.

    Personally I think it is an ontological-teleological type error to make use a cognitive capacity the defining ontological signifier.

    I just find it interesting that many people who use personhood to justify the use of other animals are inconsistent in other areas.

  19. #19 Pierce R. Butler
    January 6, 2010

    Though I wish the discussion here had followed a more informative cetacean theme, it bears pointing out that the issue of “personhood” is coming open to re-definition, at least in the US, from an entirely different perspective.

    More than 20 states have efforts underway, either through voter initiatives or legislative proposals, to declare “personhood” a legal characteristic of (human) fetuses.

    This is, obviously, an explicit gambit by the anti-abortion movement, and reflects no more philosophical or ecological depth than the rest of their agenda. (Need you ask?) However, interaction with pro-cetacean activists and other animal-rights people may lead to some interesting combinations.

  20. #20 orion
    January 6, 2010

    Adam
    Of course I can be a wildlife scientist without being a biologist. I have studied biology, as I have studied other fields (such as statistics and environmental law), but I don’t call myself a statistician or lawyer either. My degree is in wildlife management, as is the area where I work, so that’s what I call myself.
    Interesting how you talk about ‘the top of a food web’, since it’s nonsense to talk about the ‘top’ of a web. You may talk about top order predators and mesopredators etc, but the food web is exactly that – a web. Top order predators get consumed eventually as well.
    And interesting that you seem to be referring to humans as a ‘megafaunal species’. I have never heard us referred to as such, but if you want to define us that way feel free. You will probably confuse a lot of people though.
    Your question about meat, vegetation and what that tells me about my physiology is easy to answer – it tells me nothing about my physiology, except for your assertion that humans are unable to survive on meat alone, and will be dead in a few weeks if they try. So? I can’t remember making any other claims to the contrary, and anyway, I doubt very much your assertion is true. I suspect the Innuit live on little else but animal protein, and almost certainly go many weeks without plant matter in their diets. Unfortunately, I am unable to find any studies to confirm it either way. You obviously know of some otherwise as a ‘biologist’ you wouldn’t be making a claim based on a complete lack of evidence. Could you please direct me to some of those studies your refer to so I can read them as well (or are you just making it up)?
    And you may be a biologist (I’m having doubts by the way), and you may know something about the technological capabilities for food production (I haven’t seen any evidence of this, but I will take your word), but you seem to live on another planet with regard to your information about how humans live, cities, unemployment, etc.
    You may wish to come down from that ivory tower, and have a look at the broader world, where important things like culture exist. You do know what that is right? This blog was started by an anthropologist. Have a chat to him. Because if you think you can discard millions of years of evolution and thousands of years of cultural development, because you and a few others (the VAST minority of humanity) think that dolphins are people and eating meat is bad and we should all live in cities surrounded by vertical farms then – to quote a famous Australian film ‘The Castle’, which is all about human culture – ‘your dreaming’.

  21. #21 Steve Best
    January 7, 2010

    Thank you for this enlightened thinking and article, let’s evolve finally, for it’s almost too late for us and our many nonhuman animal victims.

    You may find my recent article on ethology and the humanist Left interesting….

    Minding the Animals: Ethology and the Obsolescence of Left Humanism

    http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/vol5/vol5_no2_best_minding_animals.htm