- There is also the ‘slippery slope’ argument often voiced by judges in cases brought by the NhRP. This argument claims that if certain nonhuman animals, like great apes, elephants and dolphins, are recognised as persons, then there is little to stop the trend from moving down the scala naturae to farmed animals and others, whose use we take for granted.
- A related misconception is that rights given to nonhuman animals would be equivalent to human rights. But the rights sought by the NhRP on behalf of their nonhuman clients are species-appropriate – the right not to be confined, and (where relevant) the right to bodily integrity: for instance, not to be experimented on. They do not seek the right to an education or the right to vote that only humans should possess.
- But resistance could be due to something even more intractable: our need to place ourselves apart from the other animals. A theory advanced by the anthropologist Ernest Becker may provide insights into this deeper resistance. In The Denial of Death (1973), he suggested that human awareness of personal mortality creates a deep subconscious anxiety that is mitigated by defences against the knowledge that we are biological entities who share the same fate with the other animals at the end of life. These defences are expressed culturally, religiously and even in our legal system where our animality is denied and our need to be qualitatively different from and above the rest of the animal kingdom is challenged by nonhuman personhood and rights. Our species attempts to deny our own mortality by promoting the false narrative ‘I am not an animal!’ In fact, numerous studies have shown that people are more sensitive to being compared with other animals when they are subconsciously reminded of mortality. Thus, efforts to promote the rights of other animals are pushing against a deep human need to cope with the fear of death.
- It’s an uphill battle to recognise personhood in other animals, even when they are clearly persons by any current legal definition or criteria. The fact that judges have come close to but have not granted a single right to another animal tells us more about human psychology than about the psychology of elephants, great apes and cetaceans, or any other nonhuman beings. Organisations like the NhRP should continue to hold the US common law legal system accountable for being inconsistent – and, frankly, speciesist – in applying the law to cetaceans, elephants and apes. Even as they do, scientific evidence for autonomy in still other groups of animals, from monkeys to birds and dogs, only mounts. Today, there is little doubt that these animals, too, should be accommodated with basic species-specific rights. The real question may be: ‘Who deserves our respect?’ In an ideal world, all sentient beings (whether deemed persons or not) would have rights that protect them from human abuse – a necessity that is an unflattering indictment of our human nature.
- Lori Marino is a neuroscientist and an expert in animal behaviour and intelligence. Formerly on the faculty at Emory University, she is the founder and executive director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy in Utah, and president of the Whale Sanctuary Project.
- This is an important paper, but not one I can engage with fully at the moment.
- My printout is copiously annotated!
- ‘Happy’ is a – mistreated – elephant, who is alleged to be a person. Hence the paper’s title.
- It references a number of other useful papers, including the following I didn’t have:-
→ King & Marino - Octopus minds must lead to octopus ethics
→ Marino - Sentience in all organisms with centralized nervous systems
→ "Marino (Lori) & Mountain (Michael) - I Am NOT an Animal – Denial of Death and the relationship between Humans and Other Animals"
→ "Fernandez (Angela) - Not Quite Property, Not Quite Persons: A ‘Quasi’ Approach for Nonhuman Animals"
- Obviously it deals with Animal Rights, but it deals also – rather too quickly in my view – with what it is to be a Person.
- It seems to muddle Legal Persons, which need not have any sentience, with Moral Persons, which must – and much else besides.
- There’s an interesting suggestion that’s somewhat similar to my Degrees of Personhood.
- My overall view is that granting ‘personhood’ to non-human animals is too heavy-handed. A very slimmed-down definition of personhood is adopted (basically autonomy, together with self-awareness, emotion and strong social bonds); later on, the ‘self-awareness’ requirement seems to be dropped.
- ‘Autonomy’ is defined as ‘the ability to act voluntarily and control one’s behaviours according to one’s preferences and goals’. Rather a liberal requirement.
- Nowhere is the question of moral agency raised, even to be rejected as by Gary Francione.
- Sub-Title: "She has deep emotions, complex social needs and a large, elephant brain. Her legal personhood should be recognised too"
- For the full text see Aeon: Marino - Happy the person.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2023
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)