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Unformatted text preview: The Soul of the Ape Clive D. L. Wynne My title is borrowed from a book by Eugne Marais (18711936), published posthumously in 1969. Marais was one of the first to make a close study of the behavior of nonhuman primates in the wild. His analyses were far ahead of their time, because he attempted to understand the actions of these creatures in terms of the evolutionary continuity with Homo sapiens that Charles Darwin had earlier proposed. Although genetic analyses were still a long way off, it was obvious to Darwin and his converts in the 19th century that the great apeschimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos, or pygmy chimps must be our distant cousins. "He who understands baboon," Darwin noted, "would do more toward metaphysics than Locke." Although today we recognize baboons as monkeys, not apes, and therefore less closely related to us, Darwin's point still stands. And Marais was on the right track when he observed free-living and captive baboons in his native South Africa and puzzled over the similaritiesand differenceshe could see between their behavior and that of human children and adults. Most of the questions with which Marais grappled remain unanswered. But in recent years attempts to understand primate minds have spawned a controversial new ethic. It is based on the notion that the differences in psychology between people and other great apes are too small to justify different treatment. That is, nonhuman apes should get the same ethical consideration that their human brethren receive. This view is most manifest in the Great Ape Project, which describes itself as working to raise the legal and moral status of these animals. The ultimate aim of this group is to have the United Nations adopt a declaration on the rights of nonhuman apes, one that would make all medical research on them impossible. Supporters of the Great Ape Project are impressed by the genetic similarity between people and nonhuman apes and by the relatively short period of time since we and our closest relatives (chimpanzees) diverged from a common ancestor. Most advocates of this project point to what they consider the key psychological similarity between nonhuman apes and ourselves: Nonhuman apes, they argue, are self-aware. As a consequence of this self-awareness, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans must suffer in captivity in ways not so different from what we would experience under similar circumstances. This is not an abstract scholarly debate. There are about 1,600 chimpanzees held for biomedical research in the U.S., and these animals are essential to the study of several maladies, ones for which few if any other approaches are available. Probably the single most important example is liver disease. It was research on chimpanzees that provided the vaccine against hepatitis B. Carriers of hepatitis B are about 200 times more likely to develop liver cancer than the general population, so the hepatitis B vaccine can be considered the first cancer vaccine. More than a million people in the United States have been infected with hepatitis B, and nearly half the global population is at high risk of...
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This note was uploaded on 02/25/2008 for the course COGST 1110 taught by Professor Adkinsregan,e&ho during the Spring '08 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).
- Spring '08