Topic 2: Human Rights: Do other animals have them?
Philosophical ethics is, at least in large part, about human wellbeing. This raises the question of what human beings need in order to live decent lives.
In this topic we consider the important notion of human rights – what they are, where they come from and how they can be justified, and what obligations they impose on governments and citizens. And then we raise the question whether there are human rights that also extend to those animal species closest to us, namely the other great apes. And we ask, ‘If there are, should these rights be protected in law?’
Students consider the idea that humans need to have our basic needs met, to feel relatively safe and secure.
Lesson 1 begins with the story of Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee born in a US research facility and raised by scientists. He was the subject of an experiment to determine whether chimps are capable of learning human (sign) language.
When the experiment finished, Nim was relegated to a solitary existence in captivity. Of course, if a human were to be treated like this we would condemn the treatment as a violation of fundamental human rights; rights that are enshrined in US law.
In response to cases such as Nim’s, in 2008 the Spanish government granted certain human rights to chimpanzees and the other great apes. This tale provides the backdrop for the topic’s big question: Should other governments follow Spain’s lead in granting certain human rights to chimpanzees and other non-human great apes?
ABC’s Short & Curly team have created a podcast on this topic. Have a listen here.