I was excited by the May 5 article “Activists push for chimp to be declared a ‘person,’ ” largely because of the fascinating philosophical issues it raises and the currents in modern culture that it exposes. Personally, I disagree with the notion of animals — even high-order animals like chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins — being declared “persons” and afforded “rights” largely on two grounds.
First, contrary to most popular thinking, the majority of human beings are not “persons” either, properly speaking, so it seems incredible to afford the epithet to lower-order creatures.
Second, contrary to most popular thinking, animals are not deserving of “rights” because they have no capacity to bear corresponding responsibility in our society. I do not mean that animals, children, or adult humans of both diminished capacity and full capacity ought not to have “rights.” Of course they ought to. But I mean that they do not “deserve” them.
In fact, most of us do not “deserve” the things we think we are entitled to, strictly speaking. But many are unaware of it because the distinction between due reward (a right) and undue reward (a gift, sprung from Grace) have been so successfully blurred and then lost by fuzzy thinking.
I know that the dictionary defines a person simply as a human being and that grammatically, in English at least, “person” is used as the singular of “people.” But in a deeper sense, humanity is what we are born with sans effort, while personality, or personhood, is something that we achieve through the course of life, through striving and effort.
Personhood is an achievement, not a right, making it a different order trait than mere humanity itself. Its acquisition is not through the dispensation of courts and parliaments, or in the case of human beings through accident of birth, but through other means. But I could be wrong.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.