Autumn 2018, friend and colleague Edwin van Leeuwen asked me an intriguing question: if I was interested in co-authoring a comment on an essay about Nonhuman rights? This was a topic we had talked about before and I find very fascinating, timely and relevant. So of course I said yes.
The central essay and our comment, together with other comments, are part of a special issue on the topic of Great Ape Personhood, published by the ASEBL Journal (Association for the Study of (Ethical Behavior)•(Evolutionary Biology) in Literature; St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, N.Y.). As so nicely explained by the editors (Gregory Tague and Christine Webb) in the introduction of this special issue: with his essay, Professor Thompson tries to bridge the false divide between natural science and humanities. Working from the foundations of philosophy and legal theory [and subsequently discussing important focus points for future research], he tries to reach scientists and their thinking in the battle for great ape personhood.
“Thompson relies on Nonhuman Rights Project attorney Steven Wise, who calls on scientists to awaken the thinking of judges deciding the fate of great apes. Perhaps it’s an unfair analogy, but Thompson attempts to do with primatology what climatologists from several generations tried to do – demonstrate how science is part of and can dramatically affect public policy. Thompson shows how what is empirically rational in science is treated differently in the legal arena, and that difference poses a real problem in the question of granting personhood status and other rights to great apes.”
Several interesting comments were made on the essay, both from philosophers and scientists. Edwin and me commented i.a. by suggesting some alternative ways science could support the quest for Great Ape Rights.
This project was definitely out of my comfort zone. And I see that as a good thing. Thompson’s essay and also the philosophers’ brief, written in support by a group of philosophers, have given me many new insights about the role of philosophy and science in society. How together, philosophy and science can have some very important things to say about the way we live in this world.
van Leeuwen E.J.C., Snijders L. (2019) A comment on Thompson “Supporting Ape Rights: Finding the Right Fit Between Science and the Law.” ASEBL Journal 14 (1), 46-48.