Current Ideas: From Science to Philosophy to Law

AuthorLesli Bisgould
ProfessionAdjunct Professor, Faculty of Law
It is an important a nd popular fact that th ings are not always what
they seem. For insta nce, on the planet Earth, m an had always as-
sumed that he was more int elligent than dolphins b ecause he had
achieved so much the wheel, New York, wars and so on whilst
all the dolphins h ad ever done is muck about in the water having a
good time; but conversely, the dolphins had alway s believed that they
were far more intelligent th an man for precisely the same re asons.
— Douglas Adam s, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galax y1
Evolution is an unusual subject with which to begin a ch apter in a law
text, yet its introduction, together with the k nowledge subsequently
provided by evolutionary biology and other scientif‌ic disciplines, has
serious implications in this context. Inasmuch as it contradicts t he
Lockian and Ca rtesian assumptions on which the hi storical legal status
of animals is b ased, as will be reviewed in the second part of this chap-
ter, it is the basis of the demand for re-examination of that status, as
will be discussed in the thi rd and fourth parts.
1 (New York: Harmony Books, 1980) at 156.
Compared to the theories preceded it, evolutionary t heory takes a very
different approach to the question: what is an ani mal? It incorporates
the ideas that Dar win had presented together wit h all that was later
learned about the structu re and sophistication of animal life. The debate
about the human-animal d ivide has itself so evolved since the emer-
gence of the idea that humans and other pr imates descend from the
same ancestor that it is now occupied with such subtle disputes as
whether it is one or two percent by which human and chimpan zee DNA
differs.2 Whatever the genetic difference, it is trivial by comparison to
the similar ities; in a manner that would shock Sydney Smith, some sci-
entists now even describ e humans as the f‌ifth great ape.3
Study of the great apes has h ad a profound impact on human iden-
tity. Well known in this regard are the re searchers who came to be
known as Leakey’s Angels.4 They are three women who were chosen
by anthropologist Louis Le akey to go into the forest and study the
great apes as par ticipants in their own env ironments, rather than a s
specimens in captiv ity. He engaged American Dian Fossey to study gor-
illas, Canadian Biruté Galdikas to study orangutans, and Briton Jane
Goodall (who ultimately became the most prolif‌ic and well k nown) to
study chimpanzees.5
2 Roger Fouts, Next of Kin: Wha t Chimpanzees Have Taught Me About Who We Are
(New York: William Morrow, 1997) at 55; Jane Goodall, “Chi mpanzees — Bridg-
ing the Gap” in Paola Ca valieri & Peter Singer, eds, The Great Ape Project (New
York: St Martin’s Pres s, 1993) at 13.
3 The reference to Sydney Smith i s in Chapter 1, Section B. The great ape s include
chimpan zees, bonobos, gorillas, a nd orangutans. See “The Fift h Ape,” the f‌irst
of a three-par t documentary serie s entitled The Genius of Darwin, w ritten and
narrated b y Richard Dawkins, di stributed by Channel Four Televi sion Corpora-
tion and Richa rd Dawkins Foundation for Reas on and Science (United King-
dom , 200 8).
4 The term “Leake y’s Angels” came from Biruté MF Ga ldikas, Ref‌lections of Ed en:
My Years with the Orangutans of Born eo (Toronto: Little, Brown & Compa ny,
1995 ).
5 A version of the story of Di an Fossey, whose strong defence of the gorill as
she came to know li kely led to her murder in Rwanda in 1985, was told in t he
1988 Hollywood f‌il m, Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey, dire cted
by Michael Apted (Cali fornia: Universal Studio s, 1988). In Farley Mowat’s
biography of Fossey, he suggest s she was likely killed not by gor illa poachers as
some claim, but by more p owerful interests who saw he r as an impediment to
the tourist i ndustry and the f‌inan cial exploitation of the goril las: Farley Mowat,

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