Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights


Are we ready for parrots and dolphins to be treated as persons before the law? In this unprecedented exploration of animal cognition along the evolutionary spectrum-from infants and children to other intelligent primates, from dolphins, parrots, elephants, and dogs to colonies of honeybees-Steve Wise finds answers to the big question in animal rights today: Where do we draw the line? Readers will be enthralled as they follow Wise's firsthand account of the world's most famous animal experts at work: Cynthia Moss ...

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Are we ready for parrots and dolphins to be treated as persons before the law? In this unprecedented exploration of animal cognition along the evolutionary spectrum-from infants and children to other intelligent primates, from dolphins, parrots, elephants, and dogs to colonies of honeybees-Steve Wise finds answers to the big question in animal rights today: Where do we draw the line? Readers will be enthralled as they follow Wise's firsthand account of the world's most famous animal experts at work: Cynthia Moss and the touchingly affectionate families of Amboseli; Irene Pepperberg and her amazing and witty African Grey parrot, Alex; and Penny Paterson with the formidable gorilla Koko. In many cases, Wise was able to sustain an extended conversation with these extraordinary creatures. No one with even a shred of curiosity about animal intelligence or justice will want to miss this book.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In his book Rattling the Cage, Stephen Wise, former president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, proposed a legal justification for animal rights that was powerful, provocative, and controversial. Drawing the Line is an attempt to further bolster his argument that "at least some nonhuman animals are entitled to recognition as legal persons." It recounts some amazing research into behavior and learning among the nonhuman species generally touted as the "most intelligent": orangutans, gorillas, dolphins, and parrots. But there is also a fascinating excursion into the world of honeybees, who demonstrate an impressive capacity for communication. And Wise, a practicing lawyer, contextualizes his cross-species explorations by observantly chronicling the early development of his son, Christopher, and the behavioral patterns of his dog, Marbury.

Wise wants to use a "human yardstick" in proving his case for the rights of animals, arguing that it's not enough to extend them purely from an acknowledgement of suffering. That would represent a magnanimous act of species compassion, but not a recognition of what these remarkable stories of animal thought and emotion tell us. He believes that "when mental abilities add up to 'practical autonomy,' they are sufficient to entitle any being to basic legal rights." It's an argument that potentially challenges our religious, philosophical, and legal foundations, pushing us to reconsider what it means to be human, and whether it's the unique quality we think it is. Dolphin and primate intelligence may just take different forms -- and our first ventures into interspecies communication might be cracking open a window into an uncharted world. (Jonathan Cook)

San Diego Union Tribune
People should read this book... scientists,anybody who owns an animal,anybody who cares about the future of biological research.
Federal Lawyer
A welcome addition to Rattling the Cage...[It] will make even the most skeptical reader think twice.
Provocative and disturbing...compelling and cogent...An important book.
New York Law Journal
User-friendly and enjoyable to read...serves to expand traditional notions of justice and equity.
Christian Science Monitor
Few have devoted as much time and energy as Wise to advocating animal rights.
Animals Magazine
A carefully researched book.
From The Critics
An unusual blending of entertaining anecdotes with closely reasoned and heavily footnoted arguments. A strong contribution.
Rain Taxi Fall
Drawing the Line answers the most essential question posed to animal advocates.
Wise's accounts of animals' mental abilities are fascinating and thought-provoking.
Wilson Quarterly
[Wise has] the skill and seriousness the subject deserves.
Publishers Weekly
Whether or not one accepts Wise's premise that certain animal species meet the law's criteria for personhood, his book is a fascinating examination of animal behavior and intelligence. Crammed with data, case studies and reports from the field, it engages the reader in a thoughtful debate about the place of animals in a world dominated by humans. Not only does Wise (Rattling the Cage) know how to build a logical argument for legal rights for some animals, he also knows how to tell a good story. From early morning forays in Ugandan mountain forests, where he observes the complex behavior and social structure of chimpanzees, to the MIT Media Lab, where he chronicles the astounding mental agility of its resident parrot-scholar, Alex, Wise strengthens his case and intrigues the reader with his tales. The narrative includes creatures both exotic (the loving family groups of elephants in Kenya) and common (our beloved companion dogs) and there's even the occasional animal celebrity (Wise visits Koko the gorilla and her teacher, Penny Patterson, and has a somewhat stilted but still very incredible conversation with the primate). Readers who have in the past dismissed the arguments for animal rights as trivial or foolish may not be persuaded to the opposite view, but they will find some of their assumptions strongly challenged. For those who already champion animal rights, this book will further convince them of their just cause. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Wise is a lawyer who has specialized in animal protection law for 20 years and is also the author of Rattling the Cage. In this book, he asks the title question: what makes humans and animals so different that we are willing to treat all non-humans as though they belong to us and have no rights of their own? He first explores the standards by which humans and animals are distinguished: acquisition of language, for example, and then delves into the intelligence and abilities of different animals, starting with his own four-year-old son and ranging from honeybees to orangutans. He assigns each animal an "autonomy value" and asks which value is the cut-off point for treating animals as non-intelligent beings, unworthy of rights. The book is fascinating because of his reporting on the extensive research done on different individual animals, like Alex the parrot; Echo the elephant; Marbury, his family's pet; Phoenix and Ake, bottle-nose dolphins; and Chantek the orangutan. The reader does not have to be an animal rights activist to be persuaded that these animals have a high level of intelligence and communication and social skills that show their similarity to humans, and his arguments for more humane treatment of animals are compelling. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Perseus, 321p. notes. index., Ages 15 to adult.
— Nola Theiss
Library Journal
A pioneer in the field of animal rights law and author of Rattling the Cage, Wise has written yet another groundbreaking book a page-turner for anyone even remotely interested in the legal status of nonhuman animals. He has devised a taxonomy that allows him (and us) to consider whether an animal possesses self-awareness and has mental abilities, desires, and intentions that resemble those of humans. Using this tool, Wise studies various species, including African Grey parrots, dogs, chimpanzees, dolphins, and even human children to determine whether they are entitled to recognition as legal persons with rights and dignity. His conclusions are based on observation, experiments, and the thinking of such well-known ethologists and neuroscientists as Roger Fouts, Irene Pepperberg, Donald Griffin, and Antonio Damasio. The result is a provocative and solidly grounded book. Essential for all libraries. Peggie Partello, Keene State Coll. Lib., NH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Prominent animal-rights activist and lawyer Wise (Rattling the Cage, 2000) makes a case for animal rights based on "practical autonomy." He begins with the now-familiar analogy between animals and slaves. His discussion adds nothing new to the parallel, nor does it address the contention that the argument insultingly patronizes slaves, distorting their status as responsible agents both before and after liberation. Wise also compares animals to the mentally deficient and to children. While he mentions the objections to his arguments posed by primatologist Franz de Waals, who insists that rights are tied to responsibilities it would be absurd to enforce on other species and that rights talk debases animals (apes, de Waals has said, aren't "retarded people in fur coats"), he never really ponders these objections. Instead, Wise seeks to back up his argument by showing that animals can be assigned "autonomy values" based on a scale deriving from developmental psychology. This makes an implicit reference to Kant's notion of autonomy, or the fundamental and incorrigible freedom of the subject, while adding to it the very un-Kantian features of Piaget's developmental psychology. In this way, Wise contextualizes the freedom of the subject as a result of a psychological process with certain supposedly extra-species features. He then adduces seven cases (honeybees, African gray parrots, elephants, dolphins, gorillas, orangutans, and dogs) in which he gives reasons to assign autonomy values. Except for the chapters on bees and elephants, he concentrates less on ethological studies than on human-to-animal communications studies, such as that conducted on African gray parrots at MIT. From the animal ascommunicator, Wise goes through other developmental tests, like "mirror self recognition." Unfortunately, his extrapolation of practical autonomy gradients seems dubious on ethological grounds, as well as displaying a contradiction in the animal-rights position: far from combating anthropocentrism, this procedure universalizes it. Preaches to the converted, but will leave others unconvinced.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738208107
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/25/2003
  • Series: A Merloyd Lawrence Book Series
  • Pages: 340
  • Sales rank: 1,417,310
  • Product dimensions: 12.88 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven M. Wise, J.D., has practiced animal law for over twenty years and has taught at the Harvard, Vermont, and John Marshall law schools. He is President of the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights, which he founded in 1995. The author of Rattling the Cage, praised by Cass Sunstein as "an impassioned, fascinating, and in many ways startling book" (New York Times Book Review), and Drawing the Line, which Nature called "provocative and disturbing," he has been profiled nationally by such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time magazine.

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Table of Contents

1 In a Ugandan Rain Forest 1
2 One Step at a Time 9
3 Who Gets Liberty Rights? 35
4 Christopher 49
5 Honeybees 73
6 Alex 87
7 Marbury 113
8 Phoenix and Ake 131
9 Echo 159
10 Chantek 179
11 Koko 207
12 Legal Rights for Nonhuman Animals 231
Notes 243
Index 307
About the Author 322
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2002

    An engrossing, anthropological study

    Drawing the Line by Stephen M. Wise is a deep and compassionate understanding of the evolution of mankind from the primitive creatures such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans who came before the Cromagnon and Neanderthal precursors of homo sapiens. Professor Wise, an attorney for animal rights, describes such animals¿ autonomy and the visual memory that enables them to find and often to deplete food in the wild. The author sketches their ability to learn to mimic people and even to pronounce words, which leads to a kind of dialogue with their caretakers in zoos. I am reminded of a baby girl I recently watched on a beach who had just celebrated her first birthday and who was learning to walk barefoot and to keep her balance on the sand. As she fell and rose many times, she saw a little boy of about three and one-half years who was shoveling sand into a purple pail. She immediately left her grandparents and walked about fifty feet to the little boy and sat down across from him and took the pail and tried valiantly to fill it with sand. Then she picked up the pail and carried it to her grandmother, who returned it to the boy. The girl then sat down again near the boy, and he helped her fill the pail. She was so intrigued and happy to have made a new young friend! Each time she felt the need for the security of her grandparents, she went back to touch home plate, then again returned to her new-found buddy. Her autonomy, familiarity, and contentment with him were observed by many, who praised her successful follow-through with a potential playmate. As I watched her, Professor Wise¿s story of the animals, with their developing human habits, humor, and playful signals, became more and more relevant to me, especially the passage in which the author finally meets Koko, a gorilla who uses red crayon as lipstick and practices deception and humor and is even sophisticated enough to use a toilet. It has been a very wonderful experience to read this book, which brings back memories of my anthropology course many years ago at the University of Cincinnati.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2002

    Yes, Virginia, your puppy does have a soul!

    In Drawing The Line, animal-rights attorney and law professor Steven M. Wise reprises and extends the arguments he presented in his highly successful first book, Rattling The Cage, on behalf of the legal personhood of chimpanzees and bonobos to that of gorillas, orangutans, dolphins, parrots, elephants, dogs, and honeybees, comparing their abilities to think, reason, remember, deceive, and play-act with those of his precocious four year-old son, Christopher. His goal is simply and modestly stated: 'Shifts occur only after people come to believe that something is possible. Making the argument that at least some nonhuman animals should have basic legal rights and be recognized as legal persons is the first step toward informing policymakers, judges, and the public about what is known, and, therefore, attaining the goal.' In the process, Professor Wise both confirms with scholarly and scientific citations what the reader intuitively expects - namely, that primates are more intelligent than other forms of animal life - and avoids such excesses as advocating vegetarianism which have too often vitiated the polemics of activists in the field. Like Rattling The Cage, Drawing The Line is highly readable, informative, educative, and entertaining. As Milton said, 'A good book is the life blood of a master spirit,' a classification to which the learned Professor Wise himself clearly belongs.

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