In his 2005 book, Though the Heavens May Fall, Wise examines the 1772 ruling of British Judge Lord Mansfield. It was a ruling that set the precedent for outlawing slavery in the modern Western world. What the Mansfield judgment did for slaves in the eighteenth century, Wise would like to do for animals in his lifetime.
Thanks to scientific research we can no longer believe, as Descartes did, that animals are soulless automatons. Instead, researchers have proven that there are species who are equipped with cognitive capabilities that allow them to have an interior life. Animals such as elephants, orcas, and chimps can distinguish the past from the present and the present from the future. Wise and his peers argue that if certain animals are so biologically and emotionally similar to humans then shouldn’t they also be granted some of our fundamental rights?
As Princeton philosopher Peter Singer puts it:
All the arguments to prove man's superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering the animals are our equals.
Some people see Wise as an eccentric who is toiling his life away in courtrooms with doomed arguments. But could Wise end up being to animals what Martin Luther King, Jr. was to the civil rights movement, or what Mary Wollstonecraft was to women’s rights?
Today Harvard Historian Nancy Koehn joins Jim Braude and Margery Eagan to talk about Steven Wise’s mission. Koehn also explains why he could succeed and why it is that the animal rights movement has gained so much momentum in such a short amount of time.
Do yourself –and the animal kingdom—a favor and listen to Nancy Koehn read from her copy of Darwin’s Descent of Man. Hear her recount how animals and humans use to coexist. And find out how her personal trainer fits into all of this.