There has been a mass killing of dolphins in Japan. Many protested, claiming that the slaughter is destroying the life of “persons.” Take for example an opinion column by Virginia Morrell in the National Geographic:
In the past two decades, however, our understanding of the animal mind has changed. A growing number of scientists, evolutionary biologists in particular, no longer see humans and all other animals as separated by a cognitive chasm. Rather, they recognize that the brains of all animals, including the human animal, share many of the same qualities and abilities because they are designed for many of the same tasks and have a general, common ancestry.
Morrell makes a pitch for dolphin personhood:
Many of us are struggling these days to redefine our relationship with other animals. There are calls for certain species, including whales, dolphins, elephants, and chimpanzees, to be considered persons with rights. It required many centuries for human societies to recognize that other people had rights, and extending some kinds of rights—at a minimum, not being kept in captivity or used in biomedical research—to other animals is an even greater challenge.
The slaughter in Japan is not immoral because the dolphins are persons or are “like us”–they’re not. The slaughter is immoral because we are human--based on animal welfare, not rights, analysis–e.g., the slaughter served no meaningful human benefit and was conducted in an especially cruel and pain-causing way.
Ironically, the title to Morrell’s piece gets to the heart of what I am describing, even if she doesn’t: “Real Tragedy of Taiji Is Our Inhumanity Toward Animals.” Not our indolphinity, our inhumanity!
Only we have that sense of moral right and wrong that transforms what is a matter of utter indifference in the amorality of Darwinian nature into a matter of intense moral concern and ethical import.