Does one have to be a Homo sapiens to be a person? This South African professor of both philosophy and economics argues no, not necessarily. In fact, in this fascinating look at the social and intellectual lives of elephants, he argues that elephants may have what it takes to be persons.
"When you’re with a herd of elephants, you’re not alone at all; you’re in a highly charged atmosphere, shimmering with presence and feeling. To an outside observer, elephants appear to have highly responsive minds, with their own autonomous perspectives that yield only to careful, respectful interaction. ... A database of elephant recordings is now starting to accumulate in the research community. It attempts to capture acoustic, visual and tactile signals, matched to behavioural observations. But the problem of interpreting these data is vastly more formidable than decoding encrypted human text or vocal messages. If elephant communication has syntax, and if this syntax relies on cross-channel modulation, we shouldn’t expect the rules of elephant grammar to map on to the syntactic categories of any human language. Elephants inhabit deeply different lifeworlds from humans, have different hierarchies of motivation, and make different perceptual discriminations. And, except in the crudest terms, we don’t know much about what elephants might want to say to one another. New machine-learning techniques, which can identify otherwise hidden patterns in data, could yield breakthroughs. ... If our deep-learning algorithms can crack the elephant communication code, and enable us to engage in conversation with them, perhaps we could create this means of storage [of elephant "records"].... This potential, if real, would be important for much more than satisfying our curiosity about what elephants prefer and believe. ... We morally distinguish between killing persons and killing nonpersons: the first, but not the second, is murder."
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