Friday, February 26, 2010

Practical Ethics: "Shall Ape Be Allowed to Kill Ape?"

Over at Practical Ethics they are asking "Shall Ape be Allowed to Kill Ape."
However, the defenders of rights for great apes and other animals often miss a crucuial point about the extension of universal human rights to animals. It is not only humans that are liable to violate any rights that non-human apes might hold. Other apes are liable to do so as well. Consider the right to life. It is well known that chimpanzees have a propensity to kill one another ... If we take the idea that non human great apes have the right to life then surely we have a responsibility to police all ape communities to uphold the right to life, in the same way that we try to ensure that the right to human life is upheld, by policing human societies.


People commonly object to vegetarianism by saying "Other animals eat each other, so why can't we eat them." The standard reply is that humans have free will in a way that animals do not, so we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. I actually think this reply needs to be beefed up a little, but it is very interesting to note that it doesn't seem to apply at all here. Advocates of personhood for all great apes push the idea that chimps and the like really do have human like levels of self-awareness and self-control. If we extend the moral community to them, it looks like we have to extend both rights and responsibilities.

What the practical ethics post misses, though, is that the other apes have their own communities and already are policing their own behavior. Just as we allow different nations to handle their own murder cases for the most part, we should probably allow other ape communities to handle their own ape-on-ape violence for the most part. We make exceptions in the international case when the violence rises to the level of crimes against humanity, or when the justice system of the nation seems hopelessly broken. Perhaps we could identify similar thresholds for the other apes. Chimpanzee troops fight wars. Might we be obligated to send in peacekeepers?

3 comments:

Khakjaan Wessington said...

Sloppy. Your argument hinges on free will and you take it as given when it's so clearly not. Makes it hard to take the rest of the argument seriously.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Bring up the issue of free will when I say "Advocates of personhood for all great apes push the idea that chimps and the like really do have human like levels of self-awareness and self-control."

I can take it as given, because the advocates for ape personhood have asserted it, and the problem being raised is a problem for *them*. Will they follow through and accept the logical consequence that we must police other ape communities. I also take it from granted because they have actually made a fairly good case for it.

Julian E said...

Does ought --> can? If so, then the question of how concerned humans could prevent ape-on-ape violence when we are unable to prevent fellow humans with whom we can communicate using full human language abilities from hunting them for bushmeat might be relevant.

Still, it's a bit of a dodge, since that's entirely hypothetical anyway given our current politics and such, and if we suppose politics different enough from our current ones that we'd consider sending blue helmets to keep peace among non-human apes, then we might as well suppose a well-developed human capacity to keep that peace, satisfying Kant's law in the hypothetical.