In “The Murky Ethics of Making Monkeys Pick Our Coconuts,” Justin Wm. Moyer asks: “If a creature is smart enough to pick coconuts, is it fair to make him? This is the question at the heart of a controversy over pigtailed macaques in Thailand that excel at picking coconuts loved by Western consumers — but do so on leashes.”
Some activists for animal rights “reject any compromises with welfare-oriented groups that aim to secure incremental improvements — such as larger cages — for animals raised and slaughtered in horrific circumstances.” They think that working for more humane treatment of animals in an unjust institution like factory farming violates their moral principle that it’s wrong to use animals for food in the first place. Bob Fischer and James McWilliams question whether it makes sense to put moral principle ahead of preventing suffering.
In an interview with George Yancy, Peter Singer discuss the origins and nature of racism and speciesism: “I don’t see any problem in opposing both racism and speciesism, indeed, to me the greater intellectual difficulty lies in trying to reject one form of prejudice and oppression while accepting and even practicing the other. And here we should again mention another of these deeply rooted, widespread forms of prejudice and oppression, sexism. If we think that simply being a member of the species Homo sapiens justifies us in giving more weight to the interests of members of our own species than we give to members of other species, what are we to say to the racists or sexists who make the same claim on behalf of their race or sex? … The more perceptive social critics recognize that these are all aspects of the same phenomenon. The African-American comedian Dick Gregory, who worked with Martin Luther King as a civil rights activist, has written that when he looks at circus animals, he thinks of slavery: “Animals in circuses represent the domination and oppression we have fought against for so long. They wear the same chains and shackles.”
A New York state court heard arguments that chimpanzees can be considered persons with some legal rights. In connection with that case, the philosopher Peter Singer argues that there is no good reason to keep chimpanzees and apes in prison: “The ethical basis for extending basic rights to chimpanzees and the other nonhuman great apes is simple: chimpanzees are comparable to three-year-old humans in their capacity for self-awareness, for problem-solving, and in the richness and complexity of their emotional lives, so how can we assign rights to all children and not to them?” And if chimpanzees have any kind of rights, can chimpanzees who were research subjects in developing vaccines that save human lives be left to die on an island when no longer needed for research?