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Chimpanzee Personhood: The Philosophers’ Brief

ANDREW FENTON & L. SYD M JOHNSON: ‘An amicus brief, drafted by 17 North American philosophers, was filed in support of a legal petition by the Nonhuman Rights Project to have two chimpanzees, Kiko and Tommy, released to an accredited sanctuary. To accomplish this, the Nonhuman Rights Project is asking the Court of Appeals of the State of New York to grant these chimpanzees habeas corpus relief… The brief, informally dubbed “Chimpanzee Personhood: The Philosophers’ Brief,” aims to clarify and correct philosophical concepts and ideas found in the prior rulings… and take issue with court rulings that, in an effort to deny Kiko and Tommy legal personhood, employ conceptions of personhood that are either inadequate or actually friendly to chimpanzees being persons.

A further goal of the Philosophers’ Brief is to demonstrate that the conceptions of personhood advanced by the courts could, if wielded improperly (as we argue they were), threaten the personhood of many vulnerable humans as well… Our central point can be simply stated: “person” and “human” are not synonyms. In fact, there is nothing unintelligible about the idea of nonhuman persons—anyone with even a passing knowledge of world religions and the beings that populate their teachings is aware of examples of persons who are decidedly not humans…

Why does it matter if the courts agree that Tommy and Kiko are persons? Right now, they are being held in solitary enclosures and are legally unprotected from being confined in this way even though doing so harms them. They are unprotected because under the law there are only persons or things, and Tommy and Kiko are not recognized as persons… So, unless and until Tommy and Kiko are recognized as persons, they remain legal things lacking even the most basic rights, including the right to live as chimpanzees, with other chimpanzees. Only an accredited chimpanzee sanctuary can adequately satisfy these basic rights’. SOURCE…


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