Cognitive relatives and moral relations

Abstract
The close kinship between humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans is a central theme among participants in the debate about human treatment of the other apes. Empathy is probably the single most important determinant of actual human moral behavior, including the treatment of nonhuman animals. Given the applied nature of questions about the treatment of captive apes, it is entirely appropriate that the close relationship between us should be highlighted. But the role that relatedness should play in ethical theory is less clear. To the extent that legal and regulatory challenges to keeping apes in captivity are likely to be based on principles of theory, it is important to understand what roles evolutionary theory can play in deriving such principles. The development of ethically correct policies for captivity of animals will depend on taking into account both species-specific and individual differences in the ways that individuals perceive and conceptualize the spaces in which they live, and the choices with which they are presented. A fully evolutionary approach to cognition, a cognitive ethology, that is not just limited to the great apes or to primates is the best hope we have for understanding such perceptions and conceptions.
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