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Are humans unique or are we 'just another ape'?

Birmingham Salon - Wednesday 8 December 6.30pm The Studio, Cannon Street, Birmingham B2 5EP

Birmingham Salon welcomes Helene Guldberg, author 'Just Another Ape?' and Jeremy Taylor, author 'Not a Chimp' to discuss the notion of human uniqueness, rights for apes, and the role of language in human development. 

Today, the belief that human beings are special is distinctly out of
fashion. Almost everyday we are presented with new revelations about how animals are so much more like us than we ever imagined. The argument is at its most powerful when it comes to our closest living relatives - the great apes.

Should we extend the concept of "rights" to apes and, perhaps, other primates? The philosopher Peter Singer argued from a strictly utilitarian perspective that any animal for which there was proof they could feel pain should have the right not to endure cruelty and torture, nor be the subject of animal experimentation. More recently allied activist groups have campaigned in Austria, New Zealand and Spain for rights for chimpanzees to be enshrined in law and for chimpanzees to be acknowledged as "nearly human" - in direct comparison with young children, the mentally frail, or the criminally insane.

Jeremy will argue that the latest reports from the cognitive science front-line suggest we humans are cognitively unique after all - a dirty thought in many circles these past decades. That, because rights only make sense if you understand them as a concept, understand that they have to be fought for and often forcibly extracted from those who hold the reins of power, that they need to be protected and are part of a social contract that comes with rules and obligations, they are a uniquely human social construct - as flawed as it may be - and we should put aside such distractions as "ape rights" in search of other forms of adequate protection for the host of plant and animal species now at risk on the planet.

Helene argues that whatever first impressions might tell us, apes are really not 'just like us'. Science has provided strong evidence that the boundaries between us and other species are vast.

Unless we hold on to the belief in our exceptional abilities we will
never be able to envision or build a better future - in which case we might as well all be monkeys.

Helene will focus on her chapter on 'Language and Communication' where she argues that ape communications have been wrongly elevated to the status of human language.

All welcome


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