The Great Ape Debate

In his History of European Morals, published in 1869, the Irish historian and philosopher W.E.H. Lecky wrote:

At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world...

The expansion of the moral circle could be about to take a significant step forwards. Francisco Garrido, a bioethicist and member of Spain’s parliament, has moved a resolution exhorting the government “to declare its adhesion to the Great Ape Project and to take any necessary measures in international forums and organizations for the protection of great apes from maltreatment, slavery, torture, death, and extinction.” The resolution would not have the force of law, but its approval would mark the first time that a national legislature has recognized the special status of great apes and the need to protect them, not only from extinction, but also from individual abuse.

I founded the Great Ape Project together with Paola Cavalieri, an Italian philosopher and animal advocate, in 1993. Our aim was to grant some basic rights to the nonhuman great apes: life, liberty, and the prohibition of torture.