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Nonhuman Personhood Rights (and Wrongs)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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"American Chimp" by Nathaniel Gold

               "American Chimp" by Nathaniel Gold

Americans take their rights seriously. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about what actually constitutes a ‘right.’ Religious believers are correct that they have a right to freely express their beliefs. This right is protected under the First Amendment to the US Constitution that prohibits Congress from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” However, as a result, devout believers feel it is a violation of their rights when intelligent design creationism is forbidden in the classroom or when prayer during school sporting events is banned. After all, shouldn’t the First Amendment prohibit the government from interfering with this basic right?

The answer is no and represents an important distinction when understanding what a right actually is. Because public schools are government-run institutions, allowing prayer during school activities or promoting religious doctrines in the classroom is a direct violation of the First Amendment. These activities infringe on the rights of those who do not share the same religious beliefs (or any at all). The key point is that rights are obligations that require governments to act in certain ways and refrain from acting in others. The First Amendment obligates the government to protect the rights of all citizens from an establishment of religion. You may have the right to freely exercise your beliefs, but that doesn’t give you the right to impose your views on others in public school.

It was just this understanding of rights as obligations that governments must obey that formed the basis for a declaration of rights for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Vancouver, Canada last month. Such a declaration is a minefield ripe for misunderstanding, as the BBC quickly demonstrated with their headline, “Dolphins deserve same rights as humans, say scientists.” However, according to Thomas I. White, Conrad N. Hilton Chair of Business Ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the idea of granting personhood rights to nonhumans would not make them equal to humans. They would not vote, sit on a jury, or attend public school. However, by legally making whales and dolphins “nonhuman persons,” with individual rights under law, it would obligate governments to protect cetaceans from slaughter or abuse.

“The evidence for cognitive and affective sophistication—currently most strongly documented in dolphins—supports the claim that these cetaceans are ‘non-human persons,’” said White. As a result, cetaceans should be seen as “beyond use” by humans and have “moral standing” as individuals. “It is, therefore, ethically indefensible to kill, injure or keep these beings captive for human purposes,” he said.

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. For example, one Supreme Court case in 1894 (Lockwood, Ex Parte 154 U.S. 116) decided that it was up to the states “to determine whether the word ‘person’ as therein used [in the statute] is confined to males, and whether women are admitted to practice law in that commonwealth.” As atrocious as this ruling sounds, such a precedent continued well into the twentieth century and, in 1931, 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 under the Citizens United ruling in 2010, which is what allowed Mitt Romney to confidently declare “corporations are people, my friends.”

But 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. As a result, between 1890 and 1920, out of all the 14th Amendment cases that came before the Supreme Court, 19 dealt with African-Americans while 288 dealt with corporations. With the legal stroke of a pen, artificial persons were granted all the protections of citizens.

But that would be unlikely to happen with whales, dolphins, or even great apes. A “nonhuman person” would have a definition similar to this earlier tradition of “artificial person,” one that grants limited rights that a government is obligated to protect. Furthermore, according to White, the term would only apply under very specific criteria for nonhumans that had self-awareness, complex social as well as emotional lives, and evidence of conscious awareness (so, for example, ants would never be considered persons under law). According to White, these criteria have been met in the case of dolphins and whales and our legal institutions should incorporate this evidence into American jurisprudence.

“One of the most important aspects of science is that scientific progress regularly raises important ethical questions,” said White. “As scientific research produces a more accurate picture of the universe, it often reveals ways that human attitudes and behavior may be out of synch with these new facts.”

This has already been established in some parts of the world. In 2008 the Spanish Parliament came to a similar conclusion for great apes that would grant limited personhood rights to nonhuman animals for the first time so that, according to The Guardian newspaper, they “should enjoy the right to life, freedom and not to be tortured.” This ruling came one year 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 defined as 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.

Eric Michael Johnson About the Author: Eric Michael Johnson has a Master's degree in Evolutionary Anthropology focusing on great ape behavioral ecology. He is currently a doctoral student in the history of science at University of British Columbia looking at the interplay between evolutionary biology and politics.

Follow his work on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @primatediaries.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Alain0209 11:03 am 03/9/2012

    Jerry was a man ! (Thanks to Robert Heinlein)

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  2. 2. EricMJohnson 11:08 am 03/9/2012

    A classic! Here’s a link to the short story for those who don’t know it: http://bit.ly/z8OhBi. It was written in 1947. Heinlein was ahead of his time.

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  3. 3. MadScientist72 4:01 pm 03/9/2012

    What a crock! Cetaceans can’t serve on a jury, can’t register with selective service, can’t stand trial if they commit an act that would be deemed a crime for a “human person”…. The list goes on & on. If you can’t fulfill the obligations of citizenship, you shouldn’t get the rights!

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  4. 4. pgnelson 4:39 pm 03/9/2012

    Don’t animal abuse laws cover this to some degree? We already have a sliding scale of non-human rights without use of “personhood”. You can pull all the legs off a live fly with impunity but do the same thing to a dog and you’ll go to jail, and rightly so. I think you might have an easier time convincing people that cetaceans are animals deserving of particular dignity and should not be held captive, than you will convincing people to call them persons. Also, the only reason we know so much about the intelligence and dignity of dolphins is because we can kidnap and imprison them, so what would this mean for dolphin research?
    @Madscientist72: My mother in law is an immigrant and therefore can’t serve jury duty but she still has a right not to be tortured.

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  5. 5. MadScientist72 4:57 pm 03/9/2012

    @pgnelson – As an immigrant, she’s not allowed to serve on a jury. That’s different. Unless she’s got some sort of mental impairment, she’s still able to fulfill the duties of a juror. She could apply for citizenship and, if sucessful, she’d be subject to jury duty, just like everyone else. Even without citizenship, she’s expected to obey the laws & would be subject to punishment if she didn’t. As a non-citizen resident, she’s held to some of the obligations and received some of the benefits, but not all (ex. she can’t vote). But she has ALL the rights of a human being (such as the freedom from torture) that this country hold inalienable. Of course, dolphins are protected from torture too – it’s covered under those animal abuse laws you mentioned.

    But the point I was trying to make is that non-human animals can’t do the things that are expected of people and shouldn’t be accorded the full rights of, because they are NOT people. Neither are corporations, regardless of the fact that they were able to corrupt the law into giving them the rights of people.

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  6. 6. MadScientist72 5:09 pm 03/9/2012

    @ pgnelson – A couple more things… First, your mother-in-law is a single individual. In the case of cetaceans, were talking about an entire order of animals (that’s 3 levels of scientific classification above species) that are incapable of fulfilling the duties of citizenship.
    Second, have you ever seen footage of dolphins mating? it looks supiciously like gang-rape. if we were to hold them to human laws, every male dolphin would be in jail & the species would be extinct in a generation. On a similar note, Orcas (killer whales) commonly hunt other cetaceans. If cetaceans were people, they’d all have to be jailed for murder.

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  7. 7. N a g n o s t i c 7:31 pm 03/9/2012

    Eric Michael Johnson says “The First Amendment obligates the government to protect the rights of all citizens from an establishment of religion.”

    Eric Michael Johnson is wrong. The First Amendment does no such thing.

    From the point of view of an individual citizen, a positive right is a right to get something from the government. A positive right thus obligates the government to take action. When we talk about having a right to eduction or a right to health care, we are talking about positive rights.

    A negative right is a right to be left alone – the right for individuals to act without government interference. A negative right thus obligates the government to not take action. This includes things like the right to free speech, the right to keep and use property, freedom of religion, etc. Most (if not all) of the rights listed in the U.S. Bill of Rights are negative rights.

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  8. 8. EricMJohnson 7:33 pm 03/9/2012

    MadScientist: I think if you had read my post before commenting that several of your misconceptions would have been cleared up.

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  9. 9. ScientificSandy 12:11 am 03/10/2012

    Nagnostic: negative rights, as you call them, absolutely do obligate the government to act to protect your right to be left alone. If one agent of the government, anyone from a police officer to a public school teacher, violates your right to be left alone, another agent of the government is obligated to act to protect your rights. If no one is obligated to protect your rights (positive, negative, unsigned, or whatever else you want to call them) you don’t actually possess those rights.

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  10. 10. N a g n o s t i c 1:38 am 03/10/2012

    ScientificSandy, The concepts of negative and positive rights are well known, and quite old. The philosophically, a negative right is not conferred by a government, it is a natural endowment of a (law-abiding) individual. As such, it exists regardless of governmental action.

    A positive “right” is more properly regarded as an expectation of beneficial action by one individual, directed towards another entity.

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  11. 11. N a g n o s t i c 1:49 am 03/10/2012

    So, ScientificSandy, it’s fairly clear that you’re confused, and in error.

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  12. 12. N a g n o s t i c 1:55 am 03/10/2012

    At any rate, my original point was Eric Michael Johnson’s depiction of the First Amendment was portrayed as definitive, when it most certainly was not. The portrayal was Eric Michael Johnson’s subjective take, informed by his apparent belief in positive rights.

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  13. 13. N a g n o s t i c 2:07 am 03/10/2012

    A true right cannot cease to exist, any more than an idea can cease to exist, should the government decide not to honor it. A true right, even in this shades-of-gray world of ours, tends to be negative in nature (negative in this context does not equal “bad”).
    A “positive” right, or “expectation of action”, tends to erode individual rights, and cannot be exercised without obligating other people.

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  14. 14. N a g n o s t i c 2:08 am 03/10/2012

    “Positive rights” turns us all into agents of the government.

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  15. 15. EricMJohnson 2:10 am 03/10/2012

    Nagnostic: I have removed your earlier (and quite lengthy) comment because you just reproduced James Rogers’ post when a link would have done just as well. It can be read here: http://bit.ly/xOhSPA.

    To address your concern, I am taking the use of rights (both positive and negative) as obligations directly from Thomas White’s discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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  16. 16. zsingerb 2:29 am 03/10/2012

    The comment in the article: “The First Amendment obligates the government to protect the rights of all citizens from an establishment of religion. ” only protects citizens from an establishment of religion BY THE GOVERNMENT. It does not and should not be interpreted as preventing citizens from expressing their freedom of religion including in government facilities. No one is asking others to join in the prayer, but the idea that citizens exposing others to prayer violates the rights of those others is irrational. The definition of a person is still in flux, thus allowing unborn people to be “people” if they are wanted (a pregnant woman being attacked and that attack causing a miscarriage can be considered manslaughter) but not a person if not wanted (see the abortion laws in the US. Person hood for humans needs better definition before we start with other animal species. Peter Singer (no relation to me)believes that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood—”rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness”—and therefore “killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living. So he would say that even a human being who is born is not necessarily a person. Like I said, let’s get courts or legislators to correctly define what is a person among ourselves before we start thrusting it on non-humans.

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  17. 17. N a g n o s t i c 8:13 am 03/10/2012

    zsingerb nails it.

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  18. 18. outsidethebox 11:44 am 03/10/2012

    So where do you stop? Do you give human civil rights to chimps? Dogs? Pigs? (supposedly at least as smart as dogs) How about ants? Bacteria? When you start with an irrational idea it is difficult to find a rational place to stop.

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  19. 19. Jerzy New 12:01 pm 03/10/2012

    The problem with animal personhood is that it makes animals more harm than good. It prohibits well-meaning conservation but will not protect animals from human-caused habitat destruction.

    However, giving person rights to corporations is very dangerous idea. Corporations get person-like protection, but don’t have person-like vulnerability. Can you put a corporation to jail? Does a corporation feel pain? Corporations act like psychopaths – they act to maxomize profit without human emotions.

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  20. 20. squavy 3:23 pm 03/10/2012

    Junk science. Political science. Not real science.

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  21. 21. N a g n o s t i c 4:03 pm 03/10/2012

    Eric M. Johnson is being facetious when quoting Mitt Romney

    Such rights have now been extended to all corporations under the Citizens United ruling in 2010, which is what allowed Mitt Romney to confidently declare “corporations are people, my friends.”

    It is doubtful that Romney was referring to the 1886 Southern Pacific Railroad case. It’s fairly obvious that Romney was simply recognizing that corporations are collections of people, who benefit by employment or investment.

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  22. 22. meteor 6:49 pm 03/10/2012

    Really? This is considered science? So what’s the difference between political zealots masquerading their prejudices as science and the creationists?

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  23. 23. Jerzy New 7:02 pm 03/10/2012

    Corporations are legally persons? It’s extremely short-sighted and dangerous idea.

    Corporations got human privileges, but they don’t have human weaknesses. You cannot put a corporation to jail. Don’t people in the US know the saying that corporations are psychopaths – act intelligently for profit but have no morality?

    No wonder that Americans find themselves increasingly controlled and abused by rich corporations. Remember those sci-fi stories, where corporations de facto rule the world and act as sort of evil persons, killing both outsiders and their own workers and managers?

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  24. 24. Jerzy New 7:19 pm 03/10/2012

    Animal personhood?

    Shouldn’t killer whales be sued for serial murder and cannibalism of other cetaceans – and sentenced to punishment by closing in oceanarium?

    Would a court give chimpanzees legal right to rainforest – and who would enforce it over governments of poor African countries?

    In sum: People who talk about legal rights for animals but put aside practical problems – like habitat destruction, poaching etc. are nothing but useless distraction in really helping animals.

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  25. 25. Shoshin 6:23 am 03/11/2012

    I nominate Daryl Hannah for POTUS of the Animal Kingdom. She seems to know everything about everything, so she’s the logical place to start.

    Maybe she can have Eddie Murphy (Dr. Doolittle on his resume) as Secretary of State.

    Now why does SCIAM even print garbage articles like this? Is the editorial staff so screwed up that they think that this is even remotely relevant to anything whatsoever except of course pleasing the eco-nut faction on their editorial staff?

    SCIAM’s eco-editors are a joke and have no concept of anything scientific.

    The nuttier and goofier, the more they lap it up.

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  26. 26. EricMJohnson 8:01 am 03/11/2012

    zsingerb (#16): Thank you for your thoughtful comment. There are several points I would like to respond to as you touched on some common misunderstandings:

    1) You wrote: No one is asking others to join in the prayer, but the idea that citizens exposing others to prayer violates the rights of those others is irrational. You are correct so long as you’re referring to public space, like a park or street corner, or if it’s being done on private property with the express permission of the owner (such as private religious schools). However, the central issue about religion in public school is that these facilities are operated by the government. The First Amendment obligates government to protect against the establishment of religion in such cases and there is a large body of precedent to support this. See, for example, McCollum v. Board of Education (333 U.S. 203, 212, 1948), Engel v. Vitale (370 U.S. 421, 1962) or Lee v. Weisman (120 L.E. 2d 467/ 112 S.C.T. 2649, 1992).

    2) You wrote: The definition of a person is still in flux, thus allowing unborn people to be “people” if they are wanted (a pregnant woman being attacked and that attack causing a miscarriage can be considered manslaughter) but not a person if not wanted (see the abortion laws in the US). This is incorrect and is a commonly misunderstood point. There are currently only eight states (Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii,
    Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont) that do not have some form of criminal statute making it a crime to kill an unborn fetus. However, these crimes fall under the category of “fetal killing” and none apply the term “person.” The fact that a fetus is less likely to survive outside of their mother’s womb until a fairly late stage of pregnancy obviates the personhood language of the 14th Amendment. But this is an important issue that remains highly contentious and I appreciate you bringing it up.

    Note: Everyone commenting afterwards (#18-25) would do well to see how zsingerb phrased his objections in a reasoned and thoughtful fashion.

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  27. 27. Patrick Clarkin 10:42 am 03/11/2012

    Eric, very nice piece on a difficult subject. From what we know of animal intelligence, it shouldn’t be controversial to say that cetaceans and apes show “evidence for cognitive and affective sophistication.” I wonder where that threshold has to be placed to grant personhood status, however.

    If, as White said, if it would only apply to species showing self-awareness, complex social/emotional lives, and conscious awareness, then we could test those things, and it would in fact be scientific (for example, being able to pass the mirror test). Those species should have special status, at least to the point that they should be placed at the pinnacle of the list of species we should not exploit, abuse, or treat in a utilitarian way.

    The larger point is that the dividing line between emotional-cognitive sophistication vs. simplicity is not so clear-cut, and we can now find behavioral traits that we once thought were uniquely human in other species. And why shouldn’t we? Evolution is a gradual process, so we should expect to find continuity in genetic and phenotypic traits in our cousin species, including behaviors and emotions. I’m biased that humans are particularly special, then after that the apes and the cetaceans, but in general I think we should do what we can to minimize suffering in intelligent creatures wherever possible. At the very least, the ‘personhood’ status debate makes us think about that.

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  28. 28. darioringach 1:44 pm 03/11/2012

    “It was just this understanding of rights as obligations…”

    Rights entail obligations, but the reverse is not true. Obligations do not entail rights. The fact that we recognize our obligations to other living beings does not mean they have rights.

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  29. 29. Bora Zivkovic 6:13 pm 03/11/2012

    @Shoshin – people who dislike the content of a blog post often pretend to be ignorant of how the site works, trying to fake shifting the blame to SciAm editors for a piece that is clearly labelled as “Blog” on a blogging network that employs independent writers who can write whatever the heck they want with zero editorial control or oversight (something that has been noted a number of times here on the network).

    If you have something substantive to say to join the discussion with Eric, let us hear it – and address it to Eric who is quite capable of defending himself. The rest is distraction, which, by definition, is trolling.

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  30. 30. Quinn the Eskimo 11:01 pm 03/11/2012

    I draw a bright, clear sharp line at Snooki.

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  31. 31. MadScientist72 10:52 am 03/12/2012

    @ Nagnostic – You seem to be confusing the concepts of “can not” and “should not” with regard to rights. While a government should not take away the rights of its citizens, history and the nightly news are full of evidence that they certainly can do so. In many parts of the world, there is a wide discrepancy between the rights people should have and those they do have. Just ask the people of China, Iran or Myanmar – if their governments will let them talk to you. If you can’t exercise a right without fear of government reprisals, you don’t have it.

    @ zsingerb – By your argument the U.S. government would have been powerless to respond to the 9/11 attacks, because they were an exercise of religious beliefs. Similarly, if the Catholic church were to decide to have another Inquisition, the government would have to stand aside and let it happen. One person/group’s freedom of religion doesn’t allow it to violate the rights of another. At that point, the government is indeed obligated to take action to preserve freedom FROM religion. Otherwise, a strict black-and-white interpretation of the “Congress shall make no law” portion of the Ammendment would make any criminal law unenforceable if the act it was done for religious reasons – child molestation, torture, murder, genocide and many other despicable deed have been done in religion’s name.

    @ EricMJohnson – I read the story, but I don’t quite agree with its conclusions or applicability to the article. First, while both Jerry and B’na Kreeth would rightly qualify as people, neither is a MAN, which is defined as (in increasing order of specificity):
    (a) any member of the genus Homo (ex. Neanderthal Man, Peking Man)
    (b) the human race as a whole, aka the species Homo sapiens (usually capitalized)
    (c) an idividual member of the human species
    (d) a male member of the human species (usually adult).
    Second, the fact that Jerry and B’na Kreeth were able to testify in court highlights a significant difference from cetaceans or current non-human primates. Both characters were able to fulfill the obligations of personhood, even if in limited capacity. None of the animals in the article could do that.

    Another argument against “personhood” for animals – You could convince humans that they have an obligation to help the dolphins, gorillas, etc., but good luck trying to convince any of them of the reverse.

    Heinlein tells a good story, but Asimov’s robots were a much more practical solution.

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  32. 32. Night dreamer 11:31 am 03/12/2012

    @ outsidethebox: you stop with that which you haven’t got a reason to believe is conscious, self-aware and capable of feeling pain and having emotions. That said, we are not talking about bestowing all human civil rights to animals: only the more basic and important ones.

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  33. 33. EricMJohnson 12:32 pm 03/12/2012

    Patrick Clarkin: The larger point is that the dividing line between emotional-cognitive sophistication vs. simplicity is not so clear-cut, and we can now find behavioral traits that we once thought were uniquely human in other species.

    That is absolutely right and is certainly the crux of the problem. Most people continue to think there is a firm line separating “human” and “animal,” but the reality of evolution blurs this line. It challenges us to rethink what personhood entails. Is it reserved for humans alone or should we expand our definition to those species that display advanced forms of conscious awareness? Whichever side we may ultimately be on, it remains a very challenging question to ponder.

    Dario Ringach: Rights entail obligations, but the reverse is not true. Obligations do not entail rights. The fact that we recognize our obligations to other living beings does not mean they have rights.

    That is a misreading of what was written. White didn’t say that we have an obligation to cetaceans and therefore they should have rights. He was proposing that, based on specific criteria of cognitive, social, and emotional complexity, that cetaceans should be classified as “non-human persons” that would grant them individual rights under law and obligate governments to protect them from slaughter or abuse. You may disagree with his position, but you should first understand it.

    MadScientist: Another argument against “personhood” for animals – You could convince humans that they have an obligation to help the dolphins, gorillas, etc., but good luck trying to convince any of them of the reverse.

    According to US law, this is not a criteria for personhood.

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  34. 34. MadScientist72 3:56 pm 03/12/2012

    @ EricMJohnson – “According to US law, this is not a criteria for personhood.” Maybe it should be. US law is full of absurdities (like considering corporations to be “people”). Natural law is far more pragmatic: if there’s no benefit in it (to yourself, your offspring, your pack/herd/etc. or your species) you don’t waste resources on it. That’s why a pod of dolphins will never draft a declaration naming humans as “non-dolphin cetaceans” and orcas or sperm whale won’t lose any sleep over killing one of us who’s foolish enough to get too close. It’s the way of the world – we got to be the dominant species on earth by being the most efficient killers, not through any sort of moral superiority.

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  35. 35. John Murphy 8:39 pm 03/14/2012

    This article is a crock of rubbish and ought not appear in Sci Am.

    For example, in Lockwood, Ex Parte 154 U.S. 116 the Court was not saying that the States could decide who was a person in teh sense of deciding whether a dolphin or bacteria was a person. It was saying that the States could decide whether the word “person” in the statute should be interpreted and applied as if the word “man” were used instead of “person’, or whether “person” should be interpreted and applied as if the phrase “man or woman” were used instead of “person.” It had nothing to do with “personhood.”

    On a wider note, a “right” is not an obligation. It is an enforceable freedom of action (or inaction). It does not depend for its existence on the existence of a government, although as a practical consideration many rights need the coercive power of government to aid in their enforcement. That principle can easily be seen in the Declaration of Independence.

    Off topic a bit. As an Australian atheist, I am bemused by, for example, the banning of prayer in US public schools on the basis of the First Amendment. To me (and to the founders of the Republic), establishing a religion means that the government makes a particular religion a “state religion,” expends public funds on its support and extension, and perhaps, as in the UK, makes officials of the religion automatically part of the apparatus of government, and creates religious tests for public office – the head of state of the UK (the monarch) must be a member of the Church of England and, indeed, the head of the Church of England must be the monarch.

    Allowing christian prayers in public schools doesn’t seem to me to fit that description, but there it is.

    On the same topic, each of us has a bundle of rights. By definition, each of us must exercise those rights so as not to violate the rights our fellows possess. That is all there is to it.

    To say that christians praying at school violates the rights of non-christians (or atheists, such as myself) is a nonsense. People have a right to pray, however misguided they may be. They also have a right not to pray. Provided children are not forced to pray, the fact that some children do pray cannot be a violation of the “non-prayers” rights. It also seems to me that it is a violation of the would-be “prayers” rights to prevent them from praying. That seems to be the clear implication of the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court has found a way around that.

    Finally, the law in the US (as in Australia and everywhere ealse for that matter) does not consider corporations to be persons in the sense that it considers humans to be persons. Corporations can act like moral beings (or not) only in so far as their directors and employees act in that manner.

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  36. 36. lglenn3000 2:20 pm 03/17/2012

    Eric, you may enjoy reading this article on evolving notions of personhood, which explores legal paradigms from beginning of life & moral status, to animal transgenics, to human-machine mergers: http://www.jetpress.org/volume13/glenn.html.

    The clear cut dichotomy between ‘persons’ and ‘property’ is changing under the law, as you point out, and needs to continue to do so. Great article, well written!

    Link to this

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