[lit-ideas] Sources of the Great Apes' Personhood

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 9 Jun 2006 19:52:29 -0700



The above article indicates that some in Spain are advocating some human
rights for the Great Apes. I couldn't help reflecting upon Taylor's Sources
of the Self as I read.  I am in Chapter 7.   In Chapter 6 he discussed Plato
and in Chapter 8 he will discuss Descartes, but he sees Augustine as the
bridge between them.  For Plato there was a hierarchy: life, existence,
reason.  Only humans can aspire to reason.  Not all do, but the philosopher,
the one who leads the most estimable life, will.  For Augustine, God dwells
within us if we are Christian and only thus do we truly exist.  Augustine
emphasized the interiority of man in a way that Plato did not.  Without
Augustine, apparently, there could have been no Descartes who sees the
ability to think the affirmation of existence.


What is the justification for granting the Great Apes near equality with
man?  It couldn't be anything written by Plato, Augustine or Descartes. I
suspect it is based upon recent analyses comparing the genetic codes of the
great apes to homo sapiens.  The human genome has been compared to the
genome of pan troglodytes, the Chimpanzee:
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v437/n7055/full/nature04072.html and
our codes our 98% common.  


Wikipedia article:  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_ape>
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_ape says "The hominids are the members of
the  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_family> biological family
Hominidae (the great  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ape> apes), which
includes  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human> humans,
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimpanzee> chimpanzees,
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorilla> gorillas, and
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangutan> orangutans."  


Further down the article reads, "The exact criteria for membership in the
Hominidae are not clear, but the family generally includes those
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species> species who share more than 97% of
their  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA> DNA with the modern human
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genome> genome, and exhibit a capacity for
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language> language and for simple
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture> cultures beyond the family or band.
The  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind> theory of mind, providing
the capacity to lie convincingly, is a controversial criterion
distinguishing the adult human alone among the hominids. Humans acquire this
capacity at about four and a half years of age, whereas the bonobo, gorilla
and chimpanzee never seem to do so. However, without the ability to test
whether early members of the Hominidae (such as
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_erectus> Homo erectus,
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_neanderthalensis> Homo neanderthalensis,
or even the australopithecines) had a theory of mind, it is difficult to
ignore similarities seen in their living cousins. Despite an apparent lack
of real culture and significant physiological and psychological differences,
some say that the orangutan may also satisfy these criteria. These
scientific debates take on political significance for advocates of
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Ape_personhood> Great Ape personhood."


This "self" that Taylor is seeking the sources of is a human self, but many
are asking whether it is justified to distinguish the human from the rest of
the hominidae.  May not someone one day right, for example, Sources of the
Pan Troglodytes Self?  Those advocating rights for the great apes are using
the term "personhood."  What is the difference I wonder between "self" and



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