Are there any non-human people? Analyze the following questions in order. First, what is it that makes a person a person. Then, are there any non-human animals that have all of those things. (You might want to think about the chimpanzees and gorillas who have learned sign language and taught it to their children, the gorilla Koko who had a pet cat and grieved its loss, and who made up new sign-language words, the gorillas and elephants who paint pictures, the chimp who tried to save a colobus monkey from being attacked by other chimps, the gorilla Bintu who fetched a keeper to help an injured human child, and so on.) Explain the best case you can for some non-human animals being people. Explain the best case you can against those non-human animals being people.
(Make sure you do not state these cases as if they are both your personal opinion. You must indicate that these are arguments that someone might make, and not necessarily your personal opinion.) Say which case is better and explain why.

Don't attempt this topic unless you can accept at least the possibility that the meaning of the word "person" doesn't automatically include the meaning of "human." If you think that the word "person" is just another word for "human," or "human being," or "human body," don't pick this topic unless you are prepared to either come up with reasons why we should define the word person so that it only includes humans or to possibly change your mind about the definition of a person.

Follow-up questions. These ideas aren'toff-limits, if any of them come up in the course of answering your assigned question, go ahead and discuss them in any way you see fit. But I do want you to focus on the question(s) I've assigned to you, so don't make any of these questions your primary topic unless I've specifically assigned you, or given you permission to do that question. If you want to focus on a follow-up question, ask me, and I might give you permission.

Remember, the topic here is to determine whether or not there are any non-human persons, not to decide beforehand that there aren't any, and then bend logic and evidence into whatever shape is necessary to make it look like that conclusion is true.

If you are reading this and thinking to yourself that there can't be any non-human people no matter what the facts turn out to be, and that you can fulfil this assignment by "explaining" that this unexamined conviction has to be right, you should pick another topic. (Of course, if you've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and have come to that conclusion after seriously considering the other side of the issue, you're fine.)

Students with the unexamined assumption usually start off by thinking of various differences between human and non-human animals and then claiming that because humans and non-humans are different in this way, non-humans cannot be persons.

This strategy usually fails.

Sometimes it fails because the "difference" isn't a difference. The thing that humans have turns out to be something at least some animals have too.

Other times it fails because the student cannot come up with any reason why that thing is necessary for something to be a person. (Especially since it is often the case that lots of humans lack that thing too.)

For instance, it is sometimes said "we can understand 'morality' as an abstract concept while nonhuman animals, although sometimes capable of crosspecies compassion such as rescuing or caring for humans in various ways, do not understand morality in this abstract way, therefore it is morally okay for us to inflict the most horrific tortures upon innocent animals for quite trivial ends." The understanding of morality as an abstract concept may indeed be a real difference between human and nonhuman animals, but it is not the kind of difference that has ever before been considered morally important, and no actual reason has ever been given in support of it being important. It is, in essence, an irrelevant difference, of no mor moral importance than the presence or absence of fur, wings, or horns.

Well anyway, if you can more-or-less see both sides of the issue, and are willing to accept that any answer is possible, this is a fun topic. If you can only see one side of the issue, and are totally unwilling to accept that the other side might possibly be right, you will probably write papers that are very far from being logically sound, so consider yourself warned.

Remember that "person" is a morally loaded term. If something is a person, then it has rights that non-persons do not have. Persons have rights of self-expression and self-determination, and it is morally wrong to kill, maim, torture, abuse or imprison persons. Some nonpersons, such as, say cows, have at least the right not to be tortured, but they do not necessarily have all the rights that persons have.

Generally, mentally complete and healthy humans are reckoned to be persons because they have certain capacities including free will, self awareness and a certain set of cognitive capacities including the capacity to understand such concepts as mathematics, science, the idea of morality and of seeking goals beyond immediate self gratification.


Koko Gorilla
Gorilla Foundation
Wikipedia: Koko_(gorilla)
A Conversation With Koko
Koko The Gorilla Mourning The Loss Of Robin Williams

Washoe Chimp
Washoe, the First Chimpanzee to Break the Language Barrier
She Told The Chimp She Had Lost Her Baby
A Chimpanzee Reacts Emotionally To Her Pregnant Worker.
Friends of Washoe : Meet : Washoe
Washoe and the family teach Loulis to use sign language
Touching Story Of A Chimp Named Washoe - YouTube
Next of Kin, My Conversations with Chimpanzees

Binti Gorilla
Binti Jua - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gorilla Saved a Life - YouTube
Binti the Gorilla - Travel Channel 


Follow-up topics:

Define Person What is a person, anyway?
Social Persons Is our definition of a person partially based on morality, society or history? Should it be?
Considered What if humans weren't considered persons?

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