Monday, 27 October 2014

Peter Singer Wants to Define Chimpanzees as People

Persons or animals? Image courtesy of Delphine Bruyere, Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

Peter Singer, Professor of bioethics at Princeton University, wants to do away with the distinction between humans and chimpanzees. In attempting to make his case, he takes up the story of a 26-year old chimp “being held in solitary confinement in a wire cage.”

Tommy, as the chimp is called, “has never been convicted of any crime or even accused of one” but is nevertheless being kept behind bars.

Professor Singer wants to change the destiny of not only Tommy but of every other chimpanzee as well. He wants to re-define them as persons:

“It is time for the courts to recognize that the way we treat chimpanzees is indefensible. They are persons and we should end their wrongful imprisonment.”

He argues that chimps “have close and complex personal relationships with others in their group. They grieve for lost loved ones. They are self-aware beings, capable of thought. Their foresight and anticipation enable them to plan ahead. We can even recognize the rudiments of ethics in the way they respond to other apes who fail to return a favor.”

This is not the first time that animal rights activists have tried to treat animals as persons:

· In January 2008 a chimpanzee named Matthew Hiasl Pan made headlines throughout the world as activists attempted to get the Austrian High Court to grant it the status of a person. The court refused to do so, however.

· In June 2008 the environmental committee of the Spanish parliament approved a resolution that called for the right to life and freedom for great apes.

· In early 2010, Thomas White, a professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, caused a stir by suggesting that dolphins should be treated as ”non-human persons".

The common denominator in these cases is a naturalistic /materialistic worldview that does not tolerate the view that humans are special. Rejecting Genesis, creation and the image of God, it attempts to elevate apes to personhood status – and make men into monkeys.


Singer, Peter. 2014. Chimpanzees are people, too. New York Daily News. (October 21).