Comments on Morality: Humans and Apes – What is the difference?

Controversial philosopher and ethicist, Peter Singer, has argued that people with cognitive disabilities should be used for medical experimentation instead of healthy chimps.

Tommy is 26 years old. He is being held in solitary confinement in a wire cage. He has never been convicted of any crime, or even accused of one. He is not in Guantanamo, but in upstate Gloversville.

How is this possible? Because Tommy is a chimpanzee.

Contrary to the caricatures of some opponents of this lawsuit, declaring a chimpanzee a person doesn’t mean giving him or her the right to vote, attend school or sue for defamation. It simply means giving him or her the most basic, fundamental right of having legal standing, rather than being considered a mere object.

Essentially, Singer’s goal is to eliminate exceptionalism (the idea of uniqueness) from human beings; this of course can be done by considering animals—or in this case, apes—to be on the same moral plane as humans. To better understand Singer, it’s important to point out his utilitarian philosophy, which places human progress at the heart of the paradigm. To take this philosophy to its logical conclusion, this means that human beings who have become a hindrance to society, should be terminated (or used for experimentation) at will. This is why he is outraged by the idea that we would do medical experiments on healthy apes, instead of disabled humans.

This controversy raises the question: should human beings and apes be considered equal?

Should and ought

First and foremost, anytime we say that something should or ought to be a certain way, we are speaking out of a moral conviction. To say something ought to be a certain way, is to compare it to a moral standard; it is to say that one choice is of greater moral value than another. This is where many worldviews begin to collapse. If human beings are capable of recognizing and measuring moral decisions, it must mean that there is something that we are measuring them against. As CS Lewis would say, “we know a line is crooked because we have some idea of a straight line.” This moral measuring must transcend naturalistic philosophy, because moral judgments that rise above opinion also rise above naturalism. Therefore, to say humans ought or should do anything is ludicrous.

Now you could say that what is moral is what is in favor of human progress (which is a blind extrapolation in of itself)–however, not all decisions that we would consider to be moral are in favor of any kind of progress. There is no basis for the claim that morality is tied to human progress or personal well-being.

Are humans on a different moral plane?

Consider this: anytime a moral judgment is made, it is made by a person, about a person. I would not call a tree immoral for falling onto my house, or a tiger immoral for killing a young zebra. We prosecute other human beings because we think they ought to know better. A man can be tried for killing puppies, but a dog cannot be tried for killing a child. The same scenario applies to apes. It would be immoral for me to rush into a fire and save my dog instead of saving my brother. It is an axiom that human beings are of greater value than other creatures. It is no more arrogant to believe this, than it is to believe in the law of gravity.


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