Thursday, March 12, 2009

Planning Chimp

Today, I was teaching tutorials on abortion. One of my favourite articles on the topic is Tooley's 'Abortion and Infanticide'. In it he argues that one only has a right to life if one is able to conceive of oneself as a continuing being over time. The result is that neither a foetus nor a young infant has a right to life. The argument also has interest to other areas of practical ethics, such as animal rights. It could be used to argue, for example, that most animals have a greater interest in avoiding pain than in continuing to live - something I find plausible.

This recent news story, of a zoo chimp that collected stones to throw at people later, came up in the tutorials though. It suggests that some animals are able to imagine and even plan for the future. Maybe this chimp has more right to life than a human baby!

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At 4:11 pm, Anonymous Eloise said...

I think babies have as much skill for collecting things to throw...
The issue I can see with the argument in general involves who gets to decide the question in cases where the individual involved can't actually choose to avoid pain by ending their life - an adult human or a wild monkey or a dolphin (springs to mind because I know they do commit suicide) can do this to some extent, but a newborn baby probably couldn't.

At 4:16 pm, Blogger Ben said...

He's not talking about euthanasia - it's ok to kill any young baby, because they simply don't have the right to life.

I'm fascinated by the fact that dolphins commit suicide. Must look that one up.

At 12:03 pm, Anonymous Eloise said...

Basically dolphins breathe by conscious effort, and have to come to the surface at regular intervals to get air, meaning that they can kill themselves by just neglecting to do this. I've never heard of one doing this in the wild, either because it is an effect of captivity or because wild ones are harder to observe.
(Now I have a slightly tasteless emo dolphin image in my head, thanks muchly...)


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