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Using monkeys as workers on an industrial scale - ethical questions

  1. Jun 16, 2005 #1
    Hello, I'm writing a bit of an absurd business plan, and I'm faced with ethical considerations. I'd like your advice.

    The plan consists of using certain species of monkeys as laborers, on a massive scale. The monkeys will be bred, trained and employed to carry out specific tasks, which can't be mechanized and would otherwise demand mass human labor. These tasks are playfull for the monkeys, but they constitute a serious reduction in costs for the business operation.
    The monkeys will be fed excellent diets, they will enjoy professional health care, and they will live in a spacious environment, which mimicks their original habitat. When they are old, they will enjoy retirement in a more spacious home.

    As we all know, humans have used animals for economic purposes, for ages. They have been used in such diverse sectors as hunting, medical experiments, traction, war, comfort (pets), entertainment, or simply as food.

    Now my question is simple: do animals have rights, and if so, what kinds of rights? And would it be ethical simply to raise animals to use them productively? Is the logic of capitalism ethical when it consists of an individual using nature to make a personal profit - or should a more social logic be used?

    Your input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 16, 2005 #2


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    There isn't any ethics in capitalism other than getting the most profit out of your ventures; this will normally entail that you'll keep yourself on the right side of prevailing law (for example, the moment slavery would be legalized, most business executives around the world would see if they could increase their profit by employing slaves).

    As to your question, I don't see why there should be any difference in the defense or objection to employing monkeys than cows or horses in the industry.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2005
  4. Jun 16, 2005 #3
    Only if the rights are given to them. On your own you don't need a right to anything because everything belongs to you. Rights just mean what someone else says they won't take away (which they decide). In nature there are no intrinsic rights, everything must fight for their right. The lioness runs hard for almost a minute and a half at 30 m.p.h. and busts her butt in a strenuous persuit. Finally she clamps down on the antelope and takes him down. Not a hearty meal like a wildabeast, but a lucky one during the drought. Yummy, dig in, she's very hungry! Just then the male struts up. Outta the way, I'm eating first. Maybe I'll save you and the cubs a few scraps when I'm done. But after gnawing off only a pound (barely a taste compared to human portions) a bunch of Hyenas run up and steal the carcass from him. He's pretty mad, he knows he got ripped off, and he'll be really upset if he starves to death from it. Fortunatly he's murdured instead by another younger, stronger male who wants his alpha throne. Anyway the moral of the story is who's rights are violated? The answer is there are no rights. Humans create rights. Certain people may even consider them "self-evident". But they're all arbitrary concepts.

    Feel free to use the monkeys though, but if you use monkeys they're likely to revolt.
  5. Jun 16, 2005 #4
    I take it you are referring to prof Van de Waal's recent study in Nature, which shows that monkeys will strike if you don't treat them in a fair way.

    Monkeys clearly have a sense of "justice" and "solidarity" (you need to reward them in a reasonable way; they'll compare their reward with that of other monkeys; and they'll collectively stop working if both think you don't treat them well). But this also means they'd be "willing" to work for you, if you comply with their demands.

    (Article:http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/09/18/MONKEYS.TMP&type=science [Broken] ).

    The task in question is a bit like that of the monkeys who pick coconuts, you know, you've seen them on TV. It's not too demanding, but very acrobatic, and humans are very bad at it.

    Still, I'm faced with the question of whether it is ethical to breed animals who are so close to us, in order to "exploit" them in a "fair" way?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  6. Jun 17, 2005 #5
    you mean like horses?
  7. Jun 17, 2005 #6
    Mmm, it's a matter of "distance" and relatedness. Humans have a deep sense of emotional and social connectedness to higher apes. We can read their faces better, so to speak. This is less the case with horses and donkeys.

    Of course, this is a matter of gradation.
  8. Jun 17, 2005 #7
    These are your values as you've placed them, and there is nothing wrong with that. Humans can identify with our primate cousins better as we share more in common. We can definatly identify with our own species even more so. That's why it's not illegal to shoot a turkey. It's similar to if a loved one dies, you are very sad, but someone on the news who died well you don't really care. But that's everyones own values, which vary, but not some pre-existing code or intrinsic natural protocol. So using a monkey isn't ethically different than using a horse or using another human being as slave labor unless you believe so or the society as a whole that you are a part of believes so.
  9. Jun 18, 2005 #8
    So no universals here? I remember reading Marshall Sahlins' famous cross-cultural study about food. He found that food habits are extremely "relative" qua substance (what is eaten), but that there is a universal mechanism of gradation, based on perceived "distance" between the species (e.g. Europeans see horses as being low on the ladder, hence they have no trouble eating them; Chinese see dogs as low on the ladder, so no trouble eating them; Americans see cows low on the ladder, so they're addicted to beef, etc...).

    For monkeys and primates, Sahlins found that, universally, they're highest on the ladder and hence they're eaten nowhere, and in case they are, their consumption is embedded in dense rituals.

    So I'm not sure whether these values are totally relative or that there are certain universals.
  10. Jun 18, 2005 #9
    The value of monkeys may be close to universal, since they are more "like us" as you say, so a higher percentage will come to identify with them. But people do eat monkey brains. Just like murder is almost universally condemned, you do get some people who love the idea. These anomolies in what is otherwise common belief show how none of these concepts are "universal" at all.
  11. Jun 23, 2005 #10
    Some animals show signs of being sentient. Chimpanzees are one of them, however their neo cortex is still miniscule compared to ours and if it is necessary to exploit them to remove the burdens of those who are sentient, then it is moral. Purposely torturing them to satisfy you sadism and such things.. would be immoral.
  12. Jun 23, 2005 #11
    I can't think of an animal that isn't sentient. You're right. Sadistically torturing them for fun is immoral.
  13. Jun 27, 2005 #12
    Ahh, then there's your answer monkey boy, you need to invest in some monkey propoganda research to keep them in line.
  14. Aug 2, 2005 #13
    The comedy potential in this thread is immense, but I'm controlling myself.

    Animals have whatever rights you wish to assign them.

    In the Judeo-Christian ethos, they are subordinate to the will of man but man
    has a duty not to harm them. It is ethical in this view to use animals as beasts
    of burden. But they carry a certain existential status as fellow creatures of God
    that demands they be cared for and treated humanely when employed this way.

    In other cultures it runs the gamut from them being worshipped as Gods to
    being afforded no humane consideration.
  15. Aug 20, 2005 #14
    Humans use many different species as "laborers". We raise bees to pollinate our food crops, dogs to fight crime, bacteria to decay our organic fecal waste in sewage treatment plants, white mice to find cures for cancer, camels, cows to produce dairy products, etc. Logically, since humans place great value on these services provided by other species, it follows that all of these species would have a high standard of living in relation to the Darwinistic survival probabilities they would face in nature. Thus, I logically can find no moral reason not to use primates as laborers in a capitalistic endeavor, as long as laws on fair use of animals are attended to. However, I would request that you devote a percentage of your profits to help support protection and conservation of the ever decreasing worldwide native habitat for primates--it is the proper selfish thing to do. Now if you wanted to use other humans in this way, we would have a moral issue.
  16. Aug 21, 2005 #15
    Life extension for employed primates

    If you employ modern life extension techniques, the retirement period can be brief — so brief that planning for it would require little consideration.
  17. Oct 14, 2005 #16
    We need to leave most all other animal species out of our greedy ideations.

    Primates do not read or heed biblical rationalization for their enslavement. As far as I am concerned we have no "rights" over animals, neither does our sentience give us a higher value. Yes we do all kinds of things with and to animals, and it is important that we raise the standards of humane treatment to all animals, including ourselves.

    Shall we then decide that humans with an IQ beneath a certain number shall be slaves? We already enslave animals that could be of greater sentience than we. We have used dolphins for decades.

    If we were of a mind to afford proper human rights, and build healthy societies, then it wouldn't even be a consideration to enslave anyone, or any primate. Everything would be a matter of free will in a democratic society. The very idea of using primates for work, is reprehensible to me. What kind of twisted mind, goes to the forest, or to the zoo, and sees a potential labor pool? This kind of ideation represents a severe lapse in ethical education.
  18. Oct 14, 2005 #17
    Good one!

    Besides, what about robotics?

  19. Oct 14, 2005 #18


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    I have to believe much of this has already been addressed by various organizations in government. Animals can be broken up into various catagories including:
    1. Pets
    2. Working animals (ex: drug/bomb sniffing dogs, seeing eye dogs, etc...)
    3. Domestic animals used for food, chickens, cows, pigs...
    4. Domestic animals used on farms that are not used for food, but a product comes from them such as milk or eggs
    5. Animals used for medical research and drug testing

    Any other catagories?

    Don't each of these catagories have various laws which cover ethical treatment of animals? I'd think if one were to answer the original question regarding monkeys you'd start with what has already been written.
  20. Oct 21, 2005 #19
    I find it interesting how your different classes correspond with the intelligence of animals.

    I think that humans definitely have a greater connection with animals that exhibit intelligence, but moreso with animals that are similar to us. Most people find mammals to be cuddly and adorable, unless they'd had a scarring(physically and emotionally) experience with one. Birds, also warm-blooded, tend to be liked, while reptiles, insects, and anything else tend to bring up emotions of disgust.

    Intelligence also plays a role. Cows, considered dumb(except in South Park), are regularly sent to the slaughter house, along with other 'stupid' animals. Not to say that they aren't smart animals, but they are percieved of as stupid.

    So I think that currently it's a mixture of intelligence and genetic similarity that explains the degree of ethical treatment an animal recieves.

    In a purely Darwinistic sense, we are the evolutionary supreme, and as such we can do what we will with the other species of Earth.
    However, I tend to believe that with our greater intelligence should come a caring responsibility for our fellow animals. If we were to employ monkeys, it would only be fair to give them wages, housing, and recreation of an appropriate form, as well as the ability to quit(run away). That would be an ethical treatment to me.
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