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An Argument for the Rights of Chimpanzees - Essay Example

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We hold these truths to be self evident", wrote Jefferson in 1776, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". A leading figure of the Enlightenment era, Jefferson embraced the ideals of the liberal philosophy of the day, considering all men to have inviolable rights of liberty and self-preservation…
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An Argument for the Rights of Chimpanzees
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Download file to see previous pages Women, ethnic and sexual minorities lobby for recognition of their rights as individuals of no lesser stature than any other. Indeed, very few of us would consider them unjust arguments: the days in which women were not allowed to vote, or when ethnic groups were segregated from one another are remembered with a sense of regret. Thus, that men, and women, have sacrosanct and equal rights is rarely disputed, even though in practice work remains to be done to see that these rights are respected.
However, the argument for equal rights is limited entirely to the realms of one species of the animal kingdom: Homo sapiens. A review of the scientific evidence regarding the ape, pan troglodytes, known more popularly as chimpanzee, provides a compelling argument for the extension of a number of rights to those apes and demonstrates that past and contemporary ethical discussions of rights have been severely limited and need to be revised.
Ethical philosophy draws a distinction between 'animals' and 'man', excluding all other life forms on this planet from its discussions. An example of this can be found in John Rawls' 'A Theory of Justice', where Rawls states that "we should recall here the limits of a theory of justice. Not only are many aspects of morality left aside, but no account is given of right conduct in regard to animals and the rest of nature" (488). Thus Rawls considers 'rights' to be limited in their application to human beings, distinguishing humans as something entirely distinct from the animal kingdom. Rawls does not just exclude other animals from a discussion of rights, but considers any arguments related to the duties of man towards animals to be "outside the scope of the theory of justice" (448). However, as Copernicus removed the earth from the center of the universe, knocking man off his pedestal for the further enrichment of the science of astronomy, so must ethical philosophy abandon all thought of man as occupying a reserved and elitist place above the animal kingdom.
Ethical philosophy is still grounded in concepts from the Enlightenment era, before the discoveries of Charles Darwin which revealed that human beings and all other animals shared a common ancestor. Rather than man being something distinct from, and overlord to, other species, humans are in fact close relatives to all other life on the planet. Rawls thus commits a fallacy in distinguishing humans from animals and limiting his discussion of rights to humans. Professor Richard Dawkins, a leading evolutionary biologist, observes that "legal and moral systems are deeply species-bound" (262). Unjustly and irrationally so, considering our evolutionary history.
Chimpanzees have the greatest claim to enjoying equal rights to the rest of humanity due to their close evolutionary proximity to Homo sapiens. Dawkins notes that "the last common ancestor of humans and chimps lived perhaps as recently as five million years ago" and that "chimpanzees and we share more than 99 per cent of our genes" (263). In the preceding five million years a number of intermediates between ourselves and chimpanzees have lived, some closer to the chimpanzee, some closer to the human (Dawkins, 263). The chimpanzee is just a short step away along the evolutionary tree of life from human beings. Thus, they surely have the rights to enjoy freedom, security and ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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