Are dogs people?

Boston Review asks the most pressing question:

 “Do dogs have some concept of humans as something more than food dispensers?” he asks.

Simply knowing that human feelings toward dogs are reciprocated in some way, even if only partially, changes everything. It would mean that dog-human relationships belong on the same plane as human-human relationships.

The stakes are clear: his brain scans show that dogs think and therefore are sentient persons. Consequently they should be granted rights of personhood…But since no animal welfare act has yet “elevated the rights of dogs to the same level as those of our human subjects,” Berns’s goal is understandable. To say that dogs are persons is to attribute to them the kind of conscious intentionality that defines subjectivity as we understand it.

…[W]hat if we summoned instead a kind of remote and uncertain reservoir on which all creatures might draw but from which most humans have learned to cut themselves off completely? Instead of opposing humans to dogs, we need to question the boundaries of humanity.

I work with tiny nematodes with 302 neurons. These guys, quite clearly, think. If you spend any time watching them you will see their nose flick to the left, then to the right, then slowly move back to the left as if considering before they run off in that direction. Yet I will unequivocally state that they are not people.

But where is the boundary between humanity and other animals? Now that’s a much more interesting question.

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