Nonhuman Rights

Sunday, November 24, 2019
First Aired: 
Saturday, May 27, 2017

What is it

Human rights—like freedom from discrimination and slavery— are fundamental rights and freedoms that every person enjoys simply because they're human. But what about other animals, like monkeys, elephants, and dolphins? Should they enjoy similar fundamental rights? If we can extend the legal notion of personhood to inanimate, abstract objects like corporations, then shouldn’t we also extend it to other sentient creatures? How should we understand the concept of a “person” when it’s applied to nonhumans? What kind of cognitive and emotional complexity is required for nonhuman personhood? John and Ken extend rights to their human guest, Steven Wise, author of Rattling The Cage: Toward Legal Rights For Animals.

This episode was recorded before a live audience at Stanford University and is viewable on video.

Listening Notes

John and Ken first explore different definitions for what it means to be a person. John proposes that a person is a being with a conception of self, while Ken argues that a person is a being who has a capacity for pain and the ability to inflict pain on themselves. John wonders what it will take for society to recognize the rights of nonhuman persons, considering that it took the Civil War for the United States to recognize the rights of African Americans.

The hosts welcome Steven Wise, leader and founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project, to the show. Ken asks Wise what he means by a “nonhuman person.” Wise responds that the definition of “a person” is up to the courts. Still, Wise is personally convinced that nonhuman animals are persons because they can suffer, live in social groups, and possess complex emotions. He argues that, on top of this, imprisoning animals is worse than imprisoning humans who have committed crimes because animals do not know what they did wrong yet suffer all the same.  

Ken presses Wise on his definition of personhood: if humans can do moral wrong to animals, can’t animals do moral wrong to humans? Wise clarifies his stance on the rights of nonhuman animals, arguing that we should leave them alone. John questions whether it is still a violation of rights when we catch a bear who has been tearing trash apart at a campsite and put it in a cage to be transported away. To Wise, humans need to take responsibility for encroaching on bears’ habitats and, in turn, forcing them to seek additional sources of food. The discussion concludes with our hosts wondering why we believe that all humans have rights.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 7:17): Liza Veale chats with primatologist Franz de Waal and learns about how social animals cannot help but be empathetic. She also discusses how emotions lead to and can control our actions with neuroscientist Antonio Demacio.

  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:08): Ian Shoales wonders what nonhuman rights would be like for animals like elephants who sometimes present in circuses or are butchered in the wild for their tusks.


Comments (6)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, November 4, 2019 -- 12:04 PM

Animals, in their primary

Animals, in their primary consciousness, are simply other living things inhabiting earth. They do not have any sort of notion(s) regarding rights, in the human sense of that concept. True, they have altruistic motives for protecting their own members and, more importantly, their is not clear how much of this they are conscious of and how much is reactionary. Survival is a genetic imperative, even though the 'selfish' gene, as proposed by Dawkins, is not at all selfish in the way we recognize selfishness. Now, whether or not animals have rights INHERENTLY, as living beings, depends on how we want to look at it. There are those among us who espouse causes And, causes are as plentiful as the minds which conjure them. After all, animals have no advocates other than their human admirers. And, as such, humans feel the need to defend children of a lesser God. And so, we get to the crux of the matter---well, several of them: 1. We recognize the importance of animal life to that of our own. We would be bereft of many benefits, possibly of the privilege of life itself, were it not for animal life generally. We don't think too much about plants, other than whether they are edible. Or poisonous. But animals are useful in many ways. 2. We have kinship with primary consciousness which is unattainable with non-sentient chlorophyll factories. Our sense of husbandry is as old as humanity itself. 3. We tend to think more of those life forms whose behaviors may mimic our own, and we feel good about how much compassion and empathy we exhibit towards them. So, for many of us, animals, their protection and sustainability are a cause, and we begin to talk about rights, as further justification for treating them like fellow citizens of the planet. Thinking, perhaps, that given time they will supersede our dominance by superseding our species. Pragmatism takes on a new meaning. And, after all, evolution is an ongoing process...
There are no animal rights, per se. Only those we say they can (or ought to) have.

RepoMan05's picture


Thursday, November 7, 2019 -- 1:59 PM

Well it's really just a

Well it's really just a theist aproach to justify original predation. In their sick little labyrinth of psychosis they believe in the original predation in the garden of Eden. Their justification is really just that animals are food and they themselves aren't animals. Nope, they're God's faithful servants on a mission to save some blah blah blah for God! But w/e. Gotta eat something... Why they can't like the idea of growing fish from a tree, I have no idea. Phobia of apples? "Not wise enough, blah blah blah, doom blah blah, the end of the world has to be managed blah blah."

The whole classification of animals thing is really just an extension of the British equivocation fallacy to turn family into a competition so as to justify nepotism and slippery slope for aristocracy. You know it as racism.

Past and future get a little fuzzy. They got all this blather to explain their past not knowing it's verses to set a future and or deny that future as it suits their nepotism.

You can set it to happen faster but those delusional bastards will just troll it out longer till they can come up with a way to cash in on it before you can.

The racists think they're going to get seats in the federal fallout shelters because they paid in on building them. They dunno they're just mutts. The new imicrowave seats six.

RepoMan05's picture


Thursday, November 7, 2019 -- 2:31 AM

Theism and science aren't

Theism and science aren't supposed to mix. One of the two ends up on the dinner table. It ain't science.

RepoMan05's picture


Thursday, November 7, 2019 -- 3:27 PM

Why so few consider on their

Why so few consider on their own how arrogant and counter productive it is to codify, a riddle that will never be solved.

RepoMan05's picture


Sunday, November 10, 2019 -- 4:38 PM

The problem with making a

The problem with making a list of animal rights is that it always has to be kept at a lower standard than Human Rights. Is this because we have to value humans higher than animals or is it so we don't have to run into the problem of having to revise Human Rights to fit animal rights? All animals with a penis/vagina reproductive dynamic reproduce in a rapey manner. You can't tell a lioness not to harass a male lion until he's ready to rape her. It's what she's made to do. It's what he's made to do. It's what we're all made to do. Believe it or don't. Truth exists independently of you and your beliefs.

RepoMan05's picture


Monday, November 11, 2019 -- 10:38 PM

It may be a good time to

It may be a good time to mention "human rights" is just a misnomer for "inhuman rights".

Steven Wise, Founder and President of the Nonhuman Rights Projects

Bonus Content

VIDEO: Nonhuman Rights was recorded before a live audience at Stanford. Watch the entire show!



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Jack Herrera

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