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io9: Prominent scientists sign declaration that animals have conscious awareness

“While it might not sound like much for scientists to declare that many nonhuman animals possess conscious states, it’s the open acknowledgement that’s the big news here. ”

Also: the declaration states that while most animals have been found to be conscious in similar ways to us, there are also some creatures that achieve consciousness, but in a profoundly different way. I’m not sure which of those two findings intrigues me more.

Of course, this declaration doesn’t give rise to any legal rights per se. In the debate about rights, the concept of agency is usually key: namely, in order to have rights and be able to exercise them, one must, to some degree or another, have agency over oneself. This involves not just consciousness, but also the ability to understand a situation and the ways one can act as a result said situation. This in turn generally means that a so-called “free agent” must have some inkling of the possible consequences of a given action, and is able to make a choice based on that combination of factors.

Animals, by this combination of criteria, do not have agency–and as a result, they do not have rights at law. The law generally censures abuse of animals, but the reasons for this are not rights-based, and instead generally tie into more amorphous notions of ethics and morality–of compassion and the idea of not abusing positions of power over the vulnerable, etc.

Still, the arguments about lack of agency can be made in the case of babies, or of brain dead adults who are in a comatose state. These two examples are generally treated differently from each other at law, an argument that babies or comatose adults have no legal rights isn’t one that would gain much traction–though arguably, the latter might have less consciousness than animals, if this article is to be believed.

So what will that mean for animal rights? No doubt, the animal rights activists are delighted by the declaration–and perhaps they should be. In many ways, it’s a significant concession. But in truth is this something that we didn’t know before the scientists signed this document? Ultimately, it simply reinforces, and adds the weight of scientific language around “homologies” and “correlatives of consciousness” to what we’ve already strongly suspected. Animals have some kind of consciousness, and in many cases, it’s similar to our own.

Similar–but still different enough that we don’t see them as one of us. I don’t know that those animal rights will be forthcoming any time soon (particularly given that we haven’t even settled the question of basic human rights for the most part).

http://io9.com/5937356/prominent-scientists-sign-declaration-that-animals-have-conscious-awareness-just-like-us

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This entry was posted on August 23, 2012 by in Rights and tagged , , .

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