On June 10, 2008, I parried Francione's thrusts against the Great Ape Project. Today I added the following (plus a few minor addendums elsewhere needed for continuity, that are not featured in the followng except):
The Great Ape Project itself is as positive as it can be expected to be towards rights for all sentient beings. Here I quote from "A Declaration on Great Apes", which prefaces the Great Ape Project collection of essays:
Our request [for great ape rights - DS] comes at a special moment in history. Never before has our dominion over other animals been so pervasive and systematic. Yet this is also a moment when, within that very Western civilisation that has so inexorably extended this dominion, a rational ethic has emerged challenging the moral significance of membership of our own species. This challenge seeks equal consideration for the interests of all animals, human and nonhuman. It has given rise to a political movement, still fluid but growing. The slow but steady widening of the scope of the golden rule - 'treat others as you would have them treat you' - has now resumed its course. The notion of 'us' as opposed to 'the other', which, like a more and more abstract silhouette, assumed in the course of centuries the contours of the boundaries of the tribe, of the nations, of the race, of the human species, and which for a time the species barrier had congealed and stiffened, has again become something alive, ready for further change.
The Great Ape Project aims at taking just one step in this process of extending the community of equals. We shall provide ethical argument, based on scientific evidence about the capacities of chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans, for taking this step. Whether this step should also be the first of many others is not for The Great Ape Project to say. No doubt some of us, speaking individually, would want to extend the community of equals to many other animals as well; others may consider that extending the community to include all great apes is as far as we should go at present. We leave the consideration of that question for another occasion.
Let us comment on this statement of the Great Ape Project on rights for animals in general:
- it acknowledges utter dominion over all animals, not just great apes
- it calls considering "equal consideration for the interests of all animals" a "rational ethic", which is surely praise
- it challenges species-membership as a legitimate grounds for discrimination
- it envisions the Great Ape Project as "just one step in this process of extending the community of equals." Clearly that leaves other steps as possible, and are praised by the project as according with "a rational ethic", as noted, and as extending the golden rule, perhaps leading to many steps for extending the community of equals, perhaps to other animals as well
- it cites the golden rule, treat others as you would have them treat you, which justifies rights for more animals than great apes
- it acknowledges that many people will want to extend animal equality more generally
- it suggests some "other occasion" for considering animal rights more generally, which is perfectly appropriate, as this must come outside an alliance for great ape rights, given that not all allies - indeed most - are not animal rightists
Another factor that is key here is that the GAP, in the Declaration just cited, declares that great apes "have mental capacities and an emotional life sufficient to justify their inclusion within the community of equals." It is vital to distinguish logically between necessary and sufficient. This sufficiency, anyway, is the basis for great ape rights. It is actually not speciesist and is morally unexceptionable. It is true that great apes have sufficient minds to be awarded rights. It is a good place to start in fully moral argumentation - when asking who deserve rights - to begin first with those whom we agree have sufficient characteristics for rights, and then to investigate from there what is needed to have rights. The statement leaves it open that other kinds of nonhumans also have sufficient minds - say, in the form of sentience - to be awarded rights. The only speciesist ethic would be to assert that it is necessary for beings to have humanlike cognitive characteristics to be awarded rights. The GAP never endorses this speciesist, exclusive doctrine. So it asserts part of animal rights that is unexceptionable. True, it emphasizes human-like qualities. But again, why not pull a lever that will deliver uncounted thousands of animals from violence?
Thank you, and have a great day!
FURTHER READING ON ANIMAL RIGHTS INCREMENTALISM
A Selection of Related Articles
Sztybel, David. "Animal Rights Law: Fundamentalism versus Pragmatism". Journal for Critical Animal Studies 5 (1) (2007): 1-37.
Short version of "Animal Rights Law".
Sztybel, David. "Incrementalist Animal Law: Welcome to the Real World".
Sztybel, David. "Sztybelian Pragmatism versus Francionist Pseudo-Pragmatism".
A Selection of Related Blog Entries