Standing Upright: The Moral and Legal Standing of Humans and Other Apes

By Kolber, Adam | Stanford Law Review, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Standing Upright: The Moral and Legal Standing of Humans and Other Apes


Kolber, Adam, Stanford Law Review


INTRODUCTION

In The Common Law, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that "even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked." (1) Holmes suggested that even dogs can tell the difference between intentional aggression and benign mistake, and his observation is often cited to show how a vague legal standard can still have clear applications. (2) Far less often is the quote considered as an empirical statement about the abilities of dogs. In that light, the quote suggests that dogs can understand humans well enough to discern the motivation (or lack thereof) behind some physical interaction between them. If dogs can understand the ways we treat them, we may think it matters more whether we treat them compassionately or cruelly. (3) And if dogs can make such distinctions, we may wonder how much more fine-grained and sensitive are the perceptions of smarter animals like chimpanzees and gorillas.

Calling the effort the Great Ape Project ("Project"), a number of scholars, scientists, and activists have organized to demand recognition of moral and legal rights for great apes. In the category of great apes, the Project includes chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, gorillas, and, surprisingly or not, humans. Supporters of the Project would like to see radical changes in the ways we treat great apes. These changes, if enforced globally, would mean an end to most biomedical experimentation on great apes; would largely eliminate the potential use of great apes for organ donations; (4) would prohibit, or at least require dramatic improvements, in the keeping of great apes in zoos; and would eliminate the use of great apes as a source of food. (5) Perhaps more radical sounding are the Project's claims that great apes should be considered equals with humans in the sense that the rights of apes should be respected no less than those of humans and that court-appointed guardians or other organizations should be enabled to protect the legal rights of great apes by bringing suit on their behalf. The Great Ape Project seeks nothing less than full moral and legal "personhood" for great apes.

Legal academia is awakening to the growing interest in the legal protection of apes and other animals. In 1999, Harvard Law School and Georgetown Law School announced that they would offer their first classes ever in animal law. (6) Less than a year later, Harvard's animal law instructor, Steven Wise, published a book demanding legal rights for chimpanzees and bonobos. (7) In what may be the clearest sign that discussion of great ape legal rights has entered mainstream legal discourse, Judge Richard Posner reviewed Wise's book in the Yale Law Journal. (8) Although Posner does criticize Wise's approach, he is surprisingly uncritical of Wise's aims and faults Wise principally on methodological grounds. (9)

In Martha Nussbaum's review of Wise's book in the Harvard Law Review, Nussbaum reveals a basic sympathy for Wise's project:

   We live, many of us, in affectionate relationships with dogs and cats and
   horses. And yet a large population of us not only eat meat and eggs and
   wear leather, but we also collaborate in the appallingly cruel conditions
   under which those goods are produced these days, involving the torture of
   calves, chickens, and pigs.... [W]e have not defined very clearly the
   conceptual framework we should use to articulate philosophically what
   sympathy tells us in our lives.... Meanwhile, however, there are animals
   like [the apes that Wise describes] leading lives of agony, and there are
   activists, like Steven Wise, ready to move ahead with practical legal
   recommendations, even in the absence of conceptual and theoretical
   consensus. (10)

No country has granted great apes anything near the kinds of rights sought by Steven Wise or the Great Ape Project. However, some countries have enacted significant protections for great apes. In 1996, biomedical research on great apes was banned in Britain.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Standing Upright: The Moral and Legal Standing of Humans and Other Apes
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.