In Rattling the Cage, Steven M. Wise argues that common law should treat
chimpanzees and possibly other animal species not as property but as persons.  As persons they would enjoy the
same rights as young human children or profoundly retarded adult humans, i.e.,
rights not to be caged or made the subjects of medical research.
Reviewers and commentators on the dozens of radio interviews undertaken by
Wise have been most concerned about the consequences of his proposal. For singer
Paul Simon, whose recent release includes a satire about pigs preying on sheep,
those consequences would be comic; for several lawyer-commentators, the consequences
to the judicial system would be catastrophic  . If chimpanzees and members of several other species
were to be considered persons, courts would have to entertain not just the case
ofÂ “Chimp v. Primate Research Center X,” but also of “Chimp X v. Chimp Y,”
and try to determine what the animals would wish if they were capable of speaking
for themselves. They would have to rule when, if ever, humans could restrict
animals’ movements for animals’ own good and when, if ever, the rights of human
beings might override those of nonhumans.
There is no need for another such rejoinder to Wise. In this essay, I would
like to critique the premise of his argument: that chimpanzees are conscious
as humans are conscious, so close to humans in cognitive abilities that
the legal distinction between them as non-persons and humans as persons is meaningless.
According to Wise, “entitlement to legal rights rests upon the existence of
conscious states.” 
The important question raised by Wise is “What makes an individual to be a
person?” If it is consciousness and cognitive abilities of a certain level,
then many animals of several species should enjoy rights, and not a few humans
would have to be considered without rights. But, courts have not linked personhood
and rights to the results of intelligence tests.
 Instead, they have ruled to protect the human dignity of children,
the mentally impaired and the senile. They have followed what animal rightists
label a “speciesist” line of reasoning: individuals are considered persons with
rights if they are members of the human species.
If speciesism is the charge, then we can dismiss Wise’s
argument outright by noting that it is marred by the same fault. Since he doesn’t
advocate qualifying tests for individuals, but argues on behalf of chimpanzees
in general, it is evident that membership in a species counts. He attempts to
prove that the conscious and cognitive abilities of most of those that belong
to one class — chimpanzees — are on part with at least some of those who belong
to another kind — humans. For that reason, members of the human and chimpanzee
species ought to enjoy the same status
Be that as it may, we can proceed to the substance of
Wise’s case by asking if being a person is a matter of having human parents,
or of possessing the human genome, or of belonging to a species in which it
is normal to have special capacities of consciousness and knowledge? Probably
because the courts have not wanted to wade into deep philosophical waters, they
have not provided an answer. Wise believes they should. Moreover, he knows what
their answer should be. Rights, he asserts, must rest on something objective,
and that something is autonomy or the capacity of giving responsible direction
to one’s life. Individuals emerge as autonomous in varying degrees by virtue
of their consciousness and their acts of knowing. That being so, Wise deploys
arguments from many sources — genetics, evolution, history, neurology, but especially
from behavioral studies — in order to prove that the difference between the
consciousness and cognitive skills of chimpanzees and humans is not a matter
of kind, but of simply of degree.
So it is that in three chapters, accompanied by 638 footnotes, Wise besieges
us with story after story of the emerging intelligence of chimpanzees, often
comparing their development to that of his young daughter, Siena. With every
account, it seems, he hopes that just this one more story will be the straw
that breaks the back of our resistance to the notion that chimps “think” enough
like us to be considered autonomous. He presents evidence that chimps know where
parts of their bodies are, have mental representations, carry around cognitive
maps of food stores, locate hidden objects, sort and classify objects, count,
make and use tools, appear to know that other minds exist and engage in symbolic
communication. If we were to plot autonomy so that its absence, at the birth
of a chimp or of Siena, were represented by sea level and its highest presence
in certain gifted human beings were represented by the Himalayas, chimps like
the storied Kanzi and Washoe and Panbanisha would stand on Alpine peaks.
 They would stand there alongside children, retarded adults and
the senile, all of whom are recognized in the law as persons with rights.
Perhaps, however, chimpanzees and other animal species,
although very much conscious, are not conscious as humans are conscious.
Perhaps they know, but not as humans know. Better than plotting consciousness
and cognition in a continuous, ascending line might be plotting them as related
layers, such as are found in the differing brains of various species, or of
related orbits, such as those of microcosmic particles and macrocosmic bodies.
The difference between chimpanzees and humans in autonomy may be more than a
matter of degree; it may have to do with a special type of consciousness and
cognition. If so, no newly discovered feat of intelligence will bring them within
the circle of autonomy and require us to recognize chimps as persons. For that
to happen, a qualitatively different consciousness and qualitatively different
activities of knowing would be required. We must, therefore, seek clarity about
human consciousness and cognition.
Human consciousness and cognition
The eminent philosopher of consciousness, Daniel Dennett, advises us to “first
devis[e] a theory that concentrate[s] exclusively on human consciousness
. . . and then look and see which features of that account apply to which
animals, and why.” 
Following that advice, Wise first throws everything he has read about levels
of consciousness into the pot. Then he boils down what Western philosophers
and scientists say about the nature of consciousness into ten top theories.
Before presenting this distillation, he gives some counsel of his own — take
three aspirin and read on.  “Had enough?” he asks at the end,
evidently hoping that academic confusion about the definition of consciousness
will incline us to be sympathetic to the claim that animals are conscious as
humans are conscious. If, after all, philosophers and neuroscientists can’t
agree on what human consciousness is, how can we deny its existence in other
There is no need, however, to surrender the challenge of understanding human
consciousness. We don’t need to know where consciousness comes from or how it
arises from neurological events in order to have a working understanding of
what it is. All we have to do is take stock of our own consciousness. A good
guide in this task is the philosopher/theologian Bernard J.F. Lonergan.  Lonergan presented himself as no more than a guide
because he was rightly convinced that all of us can verify the data of consciousness
through our own activities of introspection.
Lonergan advised that we begin with certain operations.
A suggestive though not exhaustive list includes seeing, hearing, touching,
feeling, smelling, imagining, thinking, conceiving, reflecting, testing ideas,
marshaling evidence, affirming and denying propositions, taking stock of feelings,
considering alternative actions, making decisions. Unless in a dreamless sleep
or coma, we are involved in these operations.
Each of these operations make objects present to us, or as Wise puts it, they
have an “aboutness” about them.
 I don’t think in general, but think about particular images.
Because they make an object present, whether that object be an external stimulus
or an internal impression, Lonergan calls them intentional operations.
Simultaneously, in all these activities I am aware of
myself. Objects can be present to me only if I am present to myself. These operations,
unlike vital processes such as the growth of my beard, make the subject present.
Because they involve presence-to-self, these activities are not only intentional
but also conscious operations. Consciousness, then, is what Augustine termed
sibi-presentia and what Lonergan calls self-awareness.
Conscious operations occur on four distinct levels: sensing,
understanding, judging and deliberating. I am conscious in sensing the
rain on my face, in understanding how some new software works, in judging
the worth of a political candidate and in deliberating the rights and
wrongs of animal research. These levels are not imposed in some arbitrary housekeeping,
but reflect the very structure of the mind, or, to be more precise, the spontaneous,
self-assembling process in which we move from activities of sensing to those
of understanding, then those of judging and finally those of deliberating.
Looked at in slow motion, that dynamic process begins
with operations of feeling and sensing. Immediately, however, these operations
are transformed by the activity of asking questions. Because of our native wonder
and inquisitiveness, the flow of feelings and smells and sights and sounds occurs
as questionable. Wondering what might be causing this nip in the air or queasy
feeling in the stomach or those data about the shrinking of the polar ice cap,
I am propelled to the level on which active intelligence seeks understanding.
In wonder, I ask “What if . . .?” or say “Let’s suppose . . .” Questioning and
its strategy of supposing push me beyond feelings and images and data and involve
me in attempts at explanation. At some point, the activity of asking questions
and making suppositions generates a set of explanatory relationships that can’t
be found in the presentations of sensory experience. “Aha, that’s it!” I exclaim.
Insight has occurred.
The same restless questioning next impels us to check insights to be sure that
they are correct. IÂ ask, “Is this really so?” I marshal evidence for the concepts
or hypotheses that formulate my insight before I judge that something is true
or not. At some point, another insight occurs when I realize that I have fulfilled
all my conditions for whether or not something may be said to be true. I am
satisfied that I am neither rash nor indecisive. I am prepared to take responsibility
for the truth of the matter.
Finally, persistent questioning turns into deliberation.
It opens a gap between what I have affirmed to be and what I may decide ought
to be. It takes stock of feelings about what is, seeks to understand those feelings,
and assesses how they might best guide decisions and actions about what should
be. I know, for example, that I am hungry, but before acting on this feeling
I ask if my hunger is more a fancy to be forgotten than a need to be met. As
it attempts to guide decision-making, questioning propels me from the domain
of fact into the uneasy realm of values where consciousness becomes conscience.
It should be clear how important is the activity of asking
questions. It is evidence of what Lonergan calls the unstructured “Why?” at
the heart of human intelligence. Whether we name it intellectual curiosity,
the spirit of inquiry, the drive to know, or the eros of the mind, the
capacity for questioning makes human consciousness and cognition a dynamic,
self-assembling process on successive levels of understanding, judgment and
Strangely enough, Wise overlooks entirely the persistent human activity of
asking questions. Some two or three million years ago, an ancestor of the human
species passed “a wondering hand across his heavy brow;”
 sometime in infancy, human children begin pestering their parents
with the incessant “Why?”; and, in some moments of release from the struggle
to survive, all of us ask “What if?”, play with images and sounds and representations
that explore the unknown, wrestle with the difference between the real and the
apparent, ponder good and evil, retrieve what we think to be the past and construct
what we believe ought to be the future. And yet, no account of all this is found
in Wise’s otherwise encyclopedic book.
The omission is critical. Because he doesn’t advert to the activity of asking
questions, Wise fails to exploit the significance of something that he acknowledges
but doesn’t analyze: that consciousness and cognition occur on various levels.
To see just how important is the difference between existing only as a sentient
subject of a life, on the one hand, and, because of questioning, as a sentient,
understanding, rational and responsible subject of a life on the other, Lonergan
charts several currents of what William James aptly termed the stream of consciousness.
The deepest current — the biological — consists of sights, smells, sounds, memories
and emotions that converge on bodily movements in the activities of eating,
reproduction, and self-preservation. In this current, very real knowing definitely
takes place, an elementary and spontaneous knowing in which individuals discern
patterns in space (here, there, up, down, over) and time (before and after).
In this current, various objects appear as means to such ends as sustenance,
sex and survival.Â Â
Elementary knowing consists of grasping patterns that
we may formulate as “If A, then B”, or, simply, “if/then.” It connects individuals
to an environment and allows them to function successfully there. By virtue
of this knowing we get around and survive in a taken-for-granted world, or what
Lonergan called the “already out there now real” world — “already” referring
to the fact that this environment is simply given in sense experience and remains
unquestioned; “out” meaning that it is seen, naively but correctly, as distinct
from the knower; “there” and “now” indicating that it is grasped in patterns
of space and time; and “real” meaning that it is known in its relevance to our
needs, as is a pint of beer but not the image of beer on a TV commercial.
What we don’t do in this elementary knowing is wonder
or ask questions about the data of sense presentations. Wonder and the performance
of asking questions generate the additional cognitive operations yield full
human knowing. Full human knowing, like elementary knowing, begins in the sense
operations of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and feeling, but,
unlike elementary knowing, doesn’t end there. Wonder summons forth one set of
operations after another until questions about what a thing is, whether it is
so and whether it ought to be so have been satisfied. Its insights, affirmations,
and decisions are all creations of what is not seen, heard or felt. Whereas
the unquestioned “already out there now real” environment is solid and predictable,
the world constructed by full human knowing and deciding is filled with invention
and risk — emerging insights, revisable judgments and changing values.
Wise’s failure to pay attention to questioning also leads him to neglect the
realm of moral consciousness that is distinctive of humans and the foundation
of law. Entrance into that realm is made possible by the wonder that makes our
very selves questionable. We turn persistent questioning upon ourselves, making
our emotional and mental lives into objects of thought. We are, in short,
not just conscious, but self-conscious. Wise, who warns us against confusing
consciousness and self-consciousness
 , knows the distinction but not its significance. Perhaps because
he wants to be credible, he claims only consciousness for chimpanzees and never
adverts to how self-consciousness, brought about in the activity of questioning,
is the key to human autonomy, personhood and the moral/legal life of obligations
Because it can be turned to focus on the flow of feelings and thoughts, questioning,
then, ushers us into an inner and lonely world. It involves us in having to
take responsibility for the truth of what we affirm or deny. It turns “before”
into that fragile construct of what really happened and why that we call the
past. It turns “after” into that equally tentative work-in-progress that we
call the future, which emerges from our efforts to make both ourselves and the
world in which we want to live. Questioning turns desires into values as we
take stock, seek to understand and choose to follow or reverse the momentum
of our feelings in decisions about what is truly worthwhile. Constantly wondering
about the right thing to do, we discover that we are free. We also discover
ourselves, as Wise remarks, banished from the present, regretting the past,
anxious about the future and dreading death.  And yet, from the self‑knowledge that questioning
generates comes the possibility of creating worlds of meaning — love, art, music,
literature, poetry, philosophy, science, morality and law.
Having described human consciousness, we may, as Dennett
enjoins, look and see which features of consciousness apply to which animals,
Lonergan’s understanding that conscious operations constitute
a manifold meets the common sense expectation that consciousness is not simply
present or absent, but is found in a specific form. A conscious subject might
be a sentient subject in the biological current of consciousness; or a sentient
and understanding subject; or a sentient, understanding and judging subject;
or a sentient, understanding, judging and deliberating subject.
On the basis of Lonergan’s clarifications of the nature
of consciousness, we can affirm with certainty that animals of many species
are conscious knowers, aware of themselves in cognitional activities. In addition
to undergoing programmed processes such as the formation and nutrition of skeletal
and muscular structures, they have emotions as well as experiences of tactile,
visual, audial and olfactory stimulants in their environment. They may not reflect
on their feelings, and their knowing may be elementary, but anyone who has walked
a dog, appreciates the vigor of those feelings and the astonishing feats of
that knowledge. Especially in quickness and accuracy, the cognitional activity
of my Lhasa Apso, FatiguÃ©, as he negotiates curbs and navigates puddles in an
ever-changing environment surpasses his master’s operations, which are undertaken
rather clumsily with all the resources of full human knowing.
At the same time, Lonergan’s analysis reveals and explains the chasm between
consciousness in what he calls the biological current and consciousness characterized
by understanding, judgment and decision-making; between “if/then”or elementary
knowing on the one hand and “what if?” or full human knowing and deciding on
the other. That difference lies in the activity of asking questions. Questioning
sweeps humans from a habitat, which is known in patterns or associations of
means and ends— B follows A —Â Â into a world, which is understood
in terms of causes — B is caused by A — and which is constructed
by responsible agency. Because it makes introspection possible and ushers us
into the inner world, it is the key to autonomy, personhood and rights.Â
What is difficult, of course, is to ascertain whether
chimpanzees and other animals ever ask questions. Through personal introspection
and communal language, we can verify the “Why?” at the heart of our own human
intelligence. But how would we know if a chimpanzee does or does not ask questions?
All we can do is draw inferences from behavior, and behavior is not easily interpreted.
What bedevils interaction between philosophers and behaviorists are their different
methodologies: introspection or looking within, and observation, or observing
external behavior. We constantly risk anthropomorphizing, or explaining what
we observe in animal behavior by what we have discovered in ourselves through
Lest they fall into anthropomorphizing, many behaviorists follow the principle
of parsimony, often called Occam’s razor, that restricts inferences to the simplest
adequate explanation of any particular animal behavior. Wise urges us to let
ourselves be guided, instead, by deWaal’s rule of thumb, which tells us to assume
that behavior resembling human behavior comes from cognitive operations similar
to ours, unless it can be proven otherwise.  Perhaps we should try both,
beginning by determining if cognitional behaviors frequently discussed in the
chimpanzee literature can be explained as operations in the biological current
of consciousness. After that, we can ask if there is any reason not to assume,
according to de Waal’s rule, that these behaviors have a similar explanation
in both humans and animals, existence in the current of full human knowing.
For any particular behavior, at least one, often two and sometime all of three
explanations are possible. First, the behavior may be programmed by genes selected
for survival value by thousands of years evolution. Weeds mimic plants, viruses
trick the immune system, birds build nests and predators stalk — all engaging
in strategies so successful that they look, but cannot possibly be, intentional.
Marian Stamp Dawkins writes about ostriches that kidnap the chicks of other
ostriches, thereby lowering the probability that predators will eliminate all
of those in their own brood.
 If we could ask them about how they devise this strategy, they
would have to answer, “We wish we could say that we had thought of that!”
Second, even though a capacity underlying the behavior
results from blind evolution, the behavior itself may also reflect associative
learning. We train dogs by taking advantage of their ability to connect a particular
behavior with a certain consequence. Moreover, as astute observers, animals
train themselves, so that FatiguÃ© stands ready at the door, wagging his tail,
when he hears my car in the driveway. This Pavlovian behavior appears to us
as an instance of understanding only because the connection of event A to consequence
B is based on what we know as causality. But FatiguÃ© is not aware of the causation,
only the association. Stephen Budiansky comments:
“The intelligence of learned associations of this sort lies in part outside
the animal’s brain. It is not what is inside the head, but what the head
is inside of — to use William Mace’s felicitous phrase — . . .the rationality
of the world . . .” 
Third, a particular behavior, still based on a capacity selected in evolution,
may reflect not just associative learning, but also wonder and the insights,
judgments and values that are the products of questioning. With that marvel
of evolution that is the human brain, we develop theories; understand causation;
reshape experiences in music, painting, sculpture and drama; think about thoughts
and emotions, formulate values and act to bring about our vision of utopia.Â
Using Occam’s razor, we can ask if any of Wise’s many
examples and stories of chimpanzee cunning require the insight, judgment and
responsible decision-making that characterize Lonergan’s full human knowing.
It would seem that the answer is no: these examples and stories are all evidence
of the elementary knowing that Lonergan posits for individuals operating in
the biological current of consciousness. In that current of consciousness, it
would be expected that chimpanzees would:
- know where the parts of their bodies are. Consciousness is self-awareness,
which has to include awareness of where one’s body begins and ends, where
one itches, where one feels pain. Not just chimpanzees, but animals of most
species for which insight would not be claimed, don’t bump into things. 
- be capable of matching means to ends in space and time to create tools.
Even mice use their waste to plug vents carrying toxic cigarette smoke into
their cages, probably acting on a learned association that we would express
as “If this (feces here), then this (no smoke).” 
- have cognitive maps (spatial patterns) of where food has been stored. Even
marsh tits and chickadees store and retrieve food from hundreds of caches. 
- count. Rats, trained through associative learning and evidently relying
on a skill something like counting, consistently look for food behind a third
door, where food had been found previously, as if they were saying “not this,
not this, but this” It is doubtful, however, that they wonder about repetition
(1+1+1+1+1) and grasp the notion of number or the relationships between numbers
that is mathematics. 
All these instances of associative or “if/then” thinking allow chimpanzees
and all other animals, in the words of Lonergan, “to deal rapidly, effectively
and economically with the external situations in which sustenance is to be won
and into which offspring are to be born.
 Because it would not be necessary for chimpanzees to engage
in questioning as they perform these feats, it is highly doubtful that in any
such behavior they break out of the current of biological consciousness.
A much more controversial question is whether chimpanzees
attribute to others a mental life like their own. Do they predict and attempt
to change others’ behaviors on the basis of an understanding that minds and
intentions underlie those behaviors? This is a critical question because chimpanzees
would be able to explicitly attribute a mental life to others only if they were
to know (not just be aware of) a mental life in themselves, and they could know
a mental life in themselves only by dint of the introspection opened up by questioning.
The issue of whether chimpanzees possess what many call a “theory of mind”
is far from settled. Perhaps the most thorough and careful analysis of the anecdotal
and experimental evidence is provided by field researchers Dorothy Cheney and
Robert Seyfarth in How Monkeys See the World.  Although this work is not mentioned in
Wise’s copious footnotes, he seems to be aware of it, promising only to demonstrate
that “apes have an implicit, and perhaps explicit, theory of mind. . .”  Â Nevertheless, his enthusiastic
and relentless introduction of evidence, as well as the whole direction of his
book, give the impression that he over-reaches Cheney and Seyfarth’s conclusions.
For lack of space in this article, we can only summarize those conclusions in
A theory of mind is acquired very gradually by human
infants. The activities that reveal its possession in an individual, as Wise
lists them, are making oneself an object of attention, gazing in joint attention,
pointing, imitating, deceiving, teaching, empathizing and communicating with
symbols and language.
Wise makes much of the steady stream of studies that record the reactions of
animals to their images in mirrors. It seems that animals of most species do
not recognize themselves; that monkeys can use mirrors to perform certain tasks
with otherwise hidden limbs; but that only chimpanzees will touch and rub a
mark daubed on their foreheads, as if acknowledging its novelty as part of their
self-image. Interpretations of these studies vary. Gordon Gallup, who spawned
this line of research, claims that the studies prove the ability of chimpanzees
to reflect on themselves.
 Cheney and Seyfarth are more cautious. “There is ample evidence
from studies of children . . . that many aspects of self-recognition do not
require self-reflection.  Because of that fact, Cheney and Seyfarth distinguish
self-recognition from self-awareness, much as Lonergan, using a different set
of terms, distinguished self-awareness from self-consciousness. When chimpanzees
pass a hand across a daubed brow, it may not be the wondering hand of our human
ancestors. Chimpanzees certainly recognize themselves, but it is not clear that
they reflect on themselves.
It is true that chimpanzees follow others’ gazes and
occasionally point, but, neither activity requires that they believe others
have mental lives. They may be observing behaviors rather than reading minds,
like horses that respond to clues (the perking of ears, for example) and follow
the gaze of other horses. They may point in a direction, not because they are
trying to change another’s mind about where to go, but because they have learned
that such a behavior is rewarded with permission to go in that direction. According
to Cheney and Seyfarth, there is scant good evidence that chimps purposefully
imitate and thus rapidly spread a new behavior among their numbers.
Most telling is that there is very little evidence that chimpanzees recognize
discrepancies between their own states of mind and the states of mind of others.
For that reason, they probably don’t deceive. A chimp that retreats behind a
large rock to mate may not be thinking about what goes on in the minds of others
in the troop, but only acting in a way that we would express as, “If we take
cover behind this rock, then we will be left alone.” After analyzing the anecdotal
literature about chimpanzee deceitfulness, Cheney and Seyfarth, note that “We
still lack examples [of deceitful behavior] that cannot be explained except
in terms of a theory of mind.” 
Also owing to their evident inability to know that others’ beliefs may be different
than their own, chimpanzees never explicitly teach. They teach only as cheetahs,
house cats and many raptors teach when they employ and evokeÂ “if/then” thinking
in their attempts to change the hunting behaviors — not the minds — of their
offspring. Again for lack of an ability to perceive discrepancy between their
own and others’ minds, chimpanzees, who have been observed grieving, have seldom
been seen showing compassion and have never been seen empathizing with others.
In brief, Cheney and Seyfarth conclude that although
chimpanzees occasionally act as if they recognize that other individuals have
beliefs, even the most compelling examples can usually be explained in terms
of their keen observation of behaviors and their ability to follow “if/then”
rules to change those behaviors. Ever tentative, the two scientists leave open
the possibility that chimpanzees have a very limited theory of mind, aware that
beliefs underlie others’ actions but not knowing that those beliefs can differ
from their own. They may have what Wise calls an implicit theory of mind, something
that comes about through intersubjectivity in which individuals feel a reality
in another. But they don’t seem to have an explicit theory of mind, which would
require that they hold and compare two different states of mind, one’s own and
that of another. The ability to do that would seem to require, in turn, the
introspection and active wonder of fully human knowing.
A dispute about whether or not chimpanzees go beyond the expected repertoire
of vocalizations to both use and understand language has spilled over from academic
journals to newsstand weeklies featuring cover stories on “Can apes speak?”
It would seem that human language is possible only because we can introspect
and we possess a theory of mind. According to Wise, language “comprehension.
. . demands some theory of mind, for a language comprehender must assume the
perspective of a language producer in order to understand what he is telling
Use and understanding — contrasting these two words may
help us make sense of the dispute. To use a language is to employ hand signs
or picture-symbols of words in order to fulfill a demand, obtain a reward or
achieve a desired end; to use and understand language is to employ a verbal,
gestural or pictorial symbol not just as a means to some end, but also to refer
to concepts. Computers can use language, but they can’t use and understand words.
Ape-language proponents, Roger and Debbie Fouts and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, along
with their advocate Wise, maintain that chimpanzees both use and understand
language. They admit that chimpanzees produce very little communication other
than signs that are memorized as means of obtaining food or fulfilling human
commands. They believe, however, that comprehension of what others are saying
— linking a sound to sign and a sign to an object — is the best evidence of
language ability. Chimpanzees, Wise notes, have demonstrated the comprehension
of as many as 3,000 words.
As extraordinary as the coaxed and learned feats of chimpanzee symbol use may
be, ape-language skeptics, Herbert Terrace and Steven Pinker, along with their
champion, Stephen Budiansky, are convinced that our next of kin fall far short
of the astonishing communication abilities of human children. Children progress
without formal instruction beyond the mere use of symbols to an understanding
of thousands of words and the rules for joining them in an infinite number of
novel combinations that express ideas.
 Understanding, of course, is a product of wonder and questioning,
the same activity that allows us to introspect and to attribute mental lives
to those speaking to us. It is doubtful that ape language reflects more than
Lonergan’s elementary knowing in the biological current of consciousness.
Using Occam’s razor, we may conclude that it is not necessary
to posit a theory of mind in order to explain how chimpanzees make themselves
recognize themselves in mirrors, gaze in joint attention, point, imitate, deceive,
teach, or communicate with symbols and language. We could, however, follow de
Waal’s rule and give chimpanzees the benefit of the doubt, assuming, until proven
otherwise, that at least certain chimpanzee behaviors result from cognitional
activities similar to human acts of knowing. Why not assume that chimps trysting
behind a rock or arranging nuts for their infants to crack are acting on beliefs
that others have minds just as much as are humans who engage in the same acts
of deceit and instruction? To answer we have to consider human volitional activities
on the level of what Lonergan calls responsible consciousness.
No one, not even Wise, claims that chimpanzees are capable of responsible behavior.Â
While Wise frequently refers to the studies of the Swiss educator, Jean Piaget,
to compare the cognitional development of chimpanzees to that of his daughter,
Siena, he fails to mentions the work of Lawrence Kohlberg, who extended Piaget’s
analysis to the development of moral reasoning in children.
 Children develop a theory of mind and a theory of what makes
for right and wrong through successive levels of questioning and introspection.
Just as chimpanzees appear to be more skillful in observing and influencing
others’ behaviors than in reading and acting to change their minds, so they
remain at the level of learned associations, acting to obtain rewards and avoid
punishments, rather than progressing to the level of acting on the basis of
what they understand to be right or wrong. Their consciousness never becomes
conscience. Even Darwin, the most famous spokesman for the point of view that
the difference between human and animal consciousness is only a matter of degree,
called attention to the enormous practical difference between humans and animals
with respect to moral reasoning. Humans, he said, are the only “utopian animals.” 
Because he avoids entirely the realm of responsible behavior
that is most relevant to morality and law, Wise never adverts to the activity
that ushers us into that realm, the activity of asking questions. That activity,
because it is the same, single restless engine generating successive levels
of consciousness, makes human behavior both responsible and cognitionally distinct.
If chimpanzees are incapable of moral behavior, then more than likely their
cognitional feats, however much they outwardly resemble human knowing, are qualitatively
different than ours: they don’t come from wonder.
Researcher Daniel Povinelli puts it this way: chimpanzees
don’t have an ambition to explain the world. Povinelli
expounds on his views by telling a riddle, in which he speculates what would
happen if he asked both a 3-year-old child and a chimpanzee why the chicken
crossed the road. For the 3-year-old, the question is an opportunity to attribute
feelings to the chicken and to make up a story. The chicken must have missed
its mommy and spotted her on the other side of the road. The chimpanzee has
a much simpler answer: Yes. ”
Until chimpanzees reveal themselves as creatures of wonder,
it would be simply gratuitous to claim that the intelligence underlying their
behavior is similar enough to that of humans to consider them persons.
Conclusion and concluding notes
While much human knowing is elementary and spontaneous,
the studies and stories presented by Wise suggest that all chimpanzee knowing
is. Chimpanzee knowing doesn’t require the postulate of close similarity to
full human knowing, as required by parsimony; nor should the postulate be assumed,
as demanded by the de Waal rule. In fact, between humans and chimpanzees a link
is missing. That link, which is the activity of asking questions, is essential
to the autonomy that is the foundation for personhood and legal rights.
Three notes help us situate this conclusion. First, to
claim that there is a link missing between the explanations for human and chimpanzee
behavior is not to say that we know what chimpanzees experience when knowing.
Because it is impossible for us to isolate our own experience in the biological
current of the stream of consciousness, we can only guess what it might be like
to perceive “if/then” patterns but not ask “what if?”; to know a “before” and
“after” but not a past and a future; to have beliefs and desires, but not insights,
judgments and values; to pursue a living but not make a life. Ultimately, what
it would feel like to be a chimpanzee remains mysterious.
Second, Lonergan’s phrase “spontaneous and elementary knowing,”
which is strikingly similar to Dennett’s “non-thinking intelligence,” doesn’t
denigrate the cognitive skills of chimpanzees or any other animals.
 Â Its usefulness is simple: it indicates that the very considerable
cognitive skills of nonhuman species are quite different than ours. One of the
strangest aspects of some animal rights thinking, as Budiansky has pointed out,
is that it values animals only insofar as they approximate humans.  We try desperately
to discover chimpanzees knowing as humans know so that we can recognize them
as persons. Perhaps we should acknowledge that what is so wonderful and even
magical about them is that they are different.
Finally, the point of this essay is most certainly not
to argue that chimpanzees should be subjected to painful experiments or dreary
confinement. Rather, it is to suggest that Wise’s remedy for such treatment
of our closest kin — recognizing in them some autonomy and personhood — is philosophically
incoherent and thus legally unwise. The human race has made progress in treating
animals humanely not by considering them persons but by holding ourselves accountable
for eliminating their pain and harm and securing their well being. We should
stay that course.
 Wise, Steven
M. Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals. Cambridge, MA:
Perseus Books, 2000.
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and Wolves.” On the album You’re the One. For reviews, see Banks, Roger
Bryant. Animal Dogma. Spintech, May 12, 2000, <“>http://www.spintechmag.com/005/rb0500.htm>.
Cohen, Henry. Treating Animals as Persons. The Federal Lawyer, 47 (3),
49. Sunstein, Cass R. The Chimps’ Day in Court. The New York Times,
February 20, 2000,Â <“>http://partners.nytimes.com/books/00/02/20reviews/000220.20sunstet.html>.
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 In self-consciousness,
entered through introspection, we know that we are conscious. While introspecting,
we remain conscious subjects. Thus, I play the piano best when I pay
attention to the score and its meaning; if I reflect on my fingers, I become
“self-conscious” and make mistakes. Whether I pay attention to the music or
to my fingers, I remain aware of myself. If I weren’t so aware, I would be
unconscious and not playing at all.
the Cage, 129.
Â  Budiansky, Stephen.
If A Lion Could Talk. New York: The Free Press, 1998, 27-28.
A Lion Could Talk, 165.
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