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Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals Paperback – Dec 21 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 362 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Canada / Perseus Books (Dec 21 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738200654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738200651
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 3.3 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 748 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,955,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Steven Wise has spent his legal career in courts across the United States, championing the interests of dogs, cats, dolphins, deer, goats, sheep, African gray parrots, and American bald eagles. In Rattling the Cage, Wise--who teaches "animal rights law" at several academic institutions, including Harvard Law School--presents a thorough survey of the legal, philosophical, and religious origins of humankind's inhumanity toward citizens of the animal kingdom. Wise's devotion for animals is evident as he explains how the bigoted notion that nonhuman creatures possess mere instrumental value rather than intrinsic value has led to their worldwide enslavement for human benefit.

Rattling the Cage offers Wise's argument to secure the blessings of liberty for chimpanzees and bonobos. Despite the cognitive, emotional, social, and sexual sophistication exhibited by both species, Wise acknowledges that advocating the legal personhood of what others might consider hairy little beasts leaves him vulnerable to ridicule and marginalization as a fringe academic. He compares his struggle to that of Galileo, recognizing that anachronistic cultural and religious beliefs may disable modern judges from ruling according to correct principles just as the irrational convictions of Galileo's contemporaries forced them to cling to an Earth-centered universe that no longer existed. "Think of a Fundamentalist Protestant faced with a decision about teaching evolution in the public schools or a Roman Catholic deciding a question of abortion rights," Wise suggests, then turns the rhetoric up a notch: "Is it surprising that Nazi judges dispensed Nazi justice and that racist judges dispensed racist justice?" Wise seems certain, though, that our concept of justice eventually will evolve to the point where no chimp or bonobo will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law--perhaps the best for which any primate can hope, at least until apes preside over courts to administer a justice of their own making. --Tim Hogan

From Publishers Weekly

In a groundbreaking study, Harvard lecturer Wise argues that chimpanzees and bonobos (sometimes called "pygmy chimpanzees") should be granted the status of legal personhood to guarantee the basic protections of bodily integrity and freedom from harm. A lawyer who lectures on animal rights law, Wise has spent 20 years fighting for the interests of nonhuman primates, dolphins, deer, cats, dogs, bald eagles, goats and other species. Documenting the treatment of our close primate cousins, which are routinely kidnapped for biomedical research, slaughtered for their meat and caged in roadside zoos, Wise notes that chimpanzees and bonobos are nearing annihilation. Their DNA structure is a 99% match to humans', and our brain structures are incredibly similar. Furthermore, Wise cites studies of primate social life revealing that chimps exhibit keen sensitivity to others, conflict resolution, reciprocal exchanges and toolmaking abilities; "enculturated" chimps can add numerals and learn abstract symbols. Indeed, an increasing number of biologists insist that chimpanzees and humans should be grouped in the same genus, Homo. Ten years ago this book would have been ridiculed or ignored, but the tide is turning: in 1996, the British government banned the use of great apes in biomedical research, and respected international law commentators now support whales' legal right to life. Although one could argue that overlegislation is not the best way to combat society's maltreatment of animals, Wise's proposal to accord animals fundamental legal rights could some day be adopted (as chimpanzee expert Goodall believes it will be). This impassioned, closely argued brief presents a formidable challenge to the treatment of animals perpetrated by agribusiness, scientific research, the pharmaceutical industry, hunters, live-animal traders and others. It's a clarion call for rethinking the animal-human relationship. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By KarenKay on May 12 2003
Format: Paperback
For as long as anyone can remember animals have been property of humans. Opinions differ as to why, ranging from god given rights of dominion, to levels of moral considerability, but the end result is generally the same, humans can own animals, and use them for any of a variety of purposes; no question. An animal, despite being a sentient being, in our current American legal system has no more rights to protect it from enslavement or bodily harm than say, a toaster, or a rock. Today we are learning more and more about our human place in the world, and in this investigation many are beginning to question our role as caretakers or rulers of other beings. Steven Wise is one such person. He questions the right of humans to deny sentient creatures legal personhood. What is it about humans, other than tradition and precedent, that fosters the continued enslavement and cruel treatment of nonhuman animals? In this book he focuses particularly on chimpanzees and bonobos, who are humans closest genetic relatives. Wise refers to a wide variety of philosophers, scientific findings, and legal precedents to make this book a compelling testament towards the legal personhood of nonhuman animals.
Wise begins this book by telling the story of Jerom, a chimpanzee who lived and died at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center. Jerom was intentionally infected with several strains of HIV over his time at the center. When Jerom was near death another chimpanzee, Nathan, was injected with Jerom's blood, which will likely (if it has not already happened) cause his death as well. Wise dedicated this book to Jerom, writing on the dedication page: For Jerom, a person, not a thing.
He continues on to write about a legal wall that exists in our society.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lisa on Aug. 5 2002
Format: Paperback
The author's main goal is to effectively motivate the importance of establishing the legal "personhood" of chimpanzees and bonobos based on, among other things, their astounding genetic similarity to humans. His arguments are strong and convincing. Early on, the book guides the reader through the basics of modern and ancient legal systems. Later, many cases of chimpanzee and bonobo intelligence are meticulously documented. I learned a lot not only about animal cognition, but also about legal traditions. The possibilities for grand-scale changes are tantalizing. I predict this book will be the first rumble in an earthquake of changes to the way non-human animals are viewed by the law.
A book like this will inevitably generate controversy and harsh criticism. Back when women were considered inferior to men, there were countless opponents to granting all humans the right to vote regardless of gender. Similarly, people who enslaved African Americans spoke out against establishing human rights that would apply to all regardless of race; in fact many threatened or even physically harmed folks who took a view counter to their own. Along the same lines, there will be many cowardly individuals who feel falsely endangered by an argument that paves the way toward the introduction of basic rights for non-humans. But the revolution has begun.
Steven Wise has earned my profound respect. This is an excellent book.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 19 2002
Format: Paperback
The oxymoronically named "Wise" thinks that animal "rights" are linked to "proven intelligence". Proven to whom? To quote Wise, "It boils down to this: If they can desire, can intentionally try to fulfull desire, and possess a sense of self-sufficiency, they deserve rights". Nonsense.
Jefferson wrote that all "men" are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. While the meaning of "men" has been expanded to be more inclusive than it was held to be in 1776, I don't think it can be expanded to include dogs, cats, and rats.
Only humans are potentially moral beings, and therefore can be held morally responsible for their actions. Consequently, only humans can have rights in correlation to their civic responsibilities. A cat may see the object of its desire, let's say a mouse, and possess a sense of intentionality toward the object, i.e. the intent to catch and eat the mouse, and the will to act to carry out it's intent, but the cat possesses no moral sense that would check it's desire. Humans, on the other hand, can make moral distinctions. A human can murder another human, murder being the intentional, wilfull taking of human life by another human without justification or excuse. The human therefore also has the correlative civic right not to be murdered. We don't try cats for "murdering" mice, nor hold them liable for damages for wrongful death...at least, not yet.
Wise, and his ilk, continue to blur the distinction between man and beast that is the inevitable outcome of Rousseau's misguided romanticism.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 24 2002
Format: Paperback
I want my money back! Appealing title and cover reeled me in, I admit it. Only, once I opened the book I found page after page of the author's diatribe agains Christianity. Well, I am a Christian and that faith strengthens, not weakens my resolve to treat all of God's creatures with love and understanding. Too bad the author has a chip on his shoulder and I'm very sorry to see Jane Goodall associating herself with this book, especially since she spoke at my church headquarters in Missouri a couple of years ago as we gave her an award. As for me and my cat, we'd rather cuddle up together in a big chair and read the book of Daniel. (His favorite)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 22 reviews
66 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Rattling the Law Jan. 16 2000
By David Hoch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
RATTLING THE LAW
Just as Peter Singer and Tom Regan dramatically influenced the world of philosophy and environmental ethics by suggesting that nonhuman animals are worthy of moral consideration, this remarkable book by Steven Wise is a major contribution, if not the seminal work, in a developing body of jurisprudential writing that makes a case for the granting of appropriate legal rights to at least some non-human animals.
Rattling the Cage is a comprehensively researched and captivating argument for the extension of legal rights to chimpanzees and bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees). It begins with an historical look at the origins of our pervasive and convenient cultural assumptions about the supposed inferiority of nonhuman beings and how that seemingly insurmountable prejudice is rooted in classical philosophy's concept of a Great Chain of Being that hierarchically places humans just below the Godly realms and all other animals far beneath man, and therefore deservedly subject to every human whim.
Wise argues that the untold suffering of nonhumans at the hands of our species has been dubiously justified through the ages by seemingly infinite variations of this Great Chain of Being theme, and that the time has come, with the assistance of scientific revelations modern technology has afforded us (through such disciplines as psychology, anthropology, physiology, and ethology), to show that some nonhumans are far closer to us in both cognitive capacities and emotional makeup than we have previously believed or allowed ourselves to realize. Wise makes his case by analyzing exhaustive and unfailingly interesting (and sometimes riveting) studies of primate cognition and behavior, as well as anecdotal tales that indelibly etch his argument in our minds, and when one reads stories of such chimps as Lucy, who made tea for internationally renowned primatologist, Roger Fouts, each morning before her lessons in signing, our hearts as well.
But, however thoroughly Wise makes the case for advanced cognition in chimpanzees, and in parts of the book such as his superb chapter on language and consciousness, he makes the case exceedingly well, the fundamental importance of his book lies elsewhere.
As an accomplished attorney with over twenty years experience representing nonhuman beings in court, Wise walks us through the difficulties of finding relief, if not justice, for such a clientele. He explains the difference between legal thinghood and legal personhood, and here begins what this reader considers to be Wise's greatest contribution to the cause of animal rights. He claims that the crucial judicial distinction between the two concepts lies in the capacity for and degree of autonomy the subject or party in question possesses or exhibits, and suddenly his exhaustive presentation of non-human primate cognition takes on newfound meaning. Wise is seriously suggesting that non-human primates deserve to be elevated to the status of legal persons rather than things.
While other highly accomplished attorneys and activists advocate legislation as the most effective route to animal legal rights (and he would surely and warmly welcome such legislation), Wise argues that the common law holds the greatest promise for the recognition of legal personhood and rights in animals.
Conventional wisdom holds that common law judges make rulings solely on the basis of precedent, regardless of the ever-changing contexts in which cases are decided, but Wise shows us with convincing clarity that common law judges act not only in accordance with precedent, but on the bases of policy and principle as well, and that such considerations provide a jurisprudential window through which judges might legitimately elevate chimpanzees to legal personhood and afford them what appropriate rights they deserve. (Anyone who doubts the power of policy and principle to motivate judges need only reflect upon Justice Harlan's historical dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, where he argued that separate but equal was an unacceptable racial divide, and the fact that his reasoning was adopted almost whole cloth half a century later when the Supreme Court discredited that precedent in Brown v. Board of Education.)
By no means does Wise believe that chimpanzees and bonobos are the only nonhumans entitled to legal rights, but feels the case can most readily be made for these creatures because they are "evolutionarily closest" to us. He no doubt understands the words of Harvard's legendary constitutional law professor, Laurence Tribe, who once wrote that "...the very process of recognizing rights in those...with whom we can already empathize could well pave the way for still further extensions as we move upward along the spiral of moral evolution."
Steven Wise has written a profoundly important book that may well present a blueprint for open-minded judges of conscience to grant long-overdue legal rights to our closest genetic cousins. But it is also contains a very well-written and deeply moving message to the educated lay reader, a plea for compassion and justice so emotionally potent that one will laugh and cry while Wise gradually, logically, and powerfully builds his case, a case that, with no small thanks to his provocative book, may someday soon be won.
57 of 64 people found the following review helpful
The case for chimpanzee and bonobo personhood. Jan. 22 2000
By Marjorie Cramer, MD, FACS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Steven Wise, a professor of law at Harvard University presents a compelling case for re-defining the legal status of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees and bonobos (pigmy chimps) from "thinghood" to "personhood". He traces the history of the legal staus of animals from early middle- and near-eastern writings such as the Code of Hammurabi and the Pentateuch, through European and English common law up to the present, using material and precedents derived from the great human rights struggles of the past century. He demonstrates that the materials for such a shift in legal definiton already exist. All that is missing is a great judge who will make a decision that radically restructures already existing precedents while reaffirming fundamental principles. Professor Wise draws on a wide body of knowledge including the legal history of slavery, definitions of consciousness, similarities of chimpanzee and bonobo DNA and brain structure, the work of Jane Goodall and Roger Fouts and childhood developmental stages. This scholarly, excellently researched book (which is also very readable) brings us up to date on the arguments for re-defining creatures, who share with us 97% of DNA, as persons under the law.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Engaging the Issues with an Open Mind Jan. 12 2000
By Paul Waldau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
These words came to mind again and again when I read this groundbreaking book about law, animals, and ethics --- engaging, creative, connecting, disciplined, encompassing, compassionate. Because the book weaves together many different modern concerns, it will challenge any reader's understanding of the nature of law and ethics generally, but especially as they relate to any living being, human or otherwise. And its readable style will force you to grapple with its many descriptive accounts and prescriptive suggestions. If you are of a conservative, traditional bent, you will find that, in one most basic and generic sense, the book can be seen a conservative argument. It honors traditional values such as dignity, liberty, and equality by examining them with an open mind. On the other hand, if you are of a liberal bent, you will resonate with the author's disciplined critique of the inherited paradigms that dominate contemporary American law. This is a book that any informed person should read, and it would make a good gift for those acquaintances who have strong opinions one way or the other about nonhuman animals or the current climate in which humans are re-thinking their relationship to the earth and its creatures.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Everyone should read this book. Feb. 14 2000
By Pamela Dein - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A must read for anyone who has an interest in justice, human and nonhuman animal psychology, jurisprudence, or simply cares about animals. This book intellectualizes what many know in their heart: that the way the law treats nonhuman animals is illogical, anachronistic (not to mention shameful), and ripe for change. Moreover, it does so in an articulate, humorous, and extremely readable way.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Logical, Articulate, Compelling Aug. 5 2002
By Lisa - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The author's main goal is to effectively motivate the importance of establishing the legal "personhood" of chimpanzees and bonobos based on, among other things, their astounding genetic similarity to humans. His arguments are strong and convincing. Early on, the book guides the reader through the basics of modern and ancient legal systems. Later, many cases of chimpanzee and bonobo intelligence are meticulously documented. I learned a lot not only about animal cognition, but also about legal traditions. The possibilities for grand-scale changes are tantalizing. I predict this book will be the first rumble in an earthquake of changes to the way non-human animals are viewed by the law.
A book like this will inevitably generate controversy and harsh criticism. Back when women were considered inferior to men, there were countless opponents to granting all humans the right to vote regardless of gender. Similarly, people who enslaved African Americans spoke out against establishing human rights that would apply to all regardless of race; in fact many threatened or even physically harmed folks who took a view counter to their own. Along the same lines, there will be many cowardly individuals who feel falsely endangered by an argument that paves the way toward the introduction of basic rights for non-humans. But the revolution has begun.
Steven Wise has earned my profound respect. This is an excellent book.


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