Benz-Schwarzburg J & Knight A. Cognitive relatives yet moral strangers? J Anim Ethics 2011; 1(1): 9-36.
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This article was shortlisted for a 2011 Voiceless Media Prize. Voiceless is an independent non-profit think tank dedicated to alleviating the suffering of animals in Australia. It has awarded over AUD 1.2 million to Australian animal protection projects since 2004. Voiceless media prizes ‘recognise the most accurate and influential print, online or broadcast features relating to animal protection and ethics.’
This article provides an empirically based, interdisciplinary approach to the following two questions: Do animals possess behavioral and cognitive characteristics such as culture, language, and a theory of mind? And if so, what are the implications, when long-standing criteria used to justify differences in moral consideration between humans and animals are no longer considered indisputable? One basic implication is that the psychological needs of captive animals should be adequately catered for. However, for species such as great apes and dolphins with whom we share major characteristics of personhood, welfare considerations alone may not suffice, and consideration of basic rights may be morally warranted—as for humans. Although characteristics supporting the status of personhood are present to differing degrees among the diverse array of animal species, this is a barrier to moral consideration only if anthropocentric, exclusive, and monolithic viewpoints about the necessary prerequisites for personhood are applied. We examine the flaws inherent within such positions and argue for inalienable species-appropriate rights.