Re: talking apes

Glenn Morton (
Mon, 06 May 1996 21:23:00

Paul Arveson writes:

>That is, in order for there to be morality, there have to be laws or
> commands defining what is sinful (e.g. Thou shalt not eat from such and
such a tree). The existence of laws presupposes that the recipient
understands the meaning of the behavior that is condemned, *without
having yet experienced it*.
>For this reason, sin is meaningless for animals, and meaningful for all
> humans who have the ability to communicate and understand. For this
reason, the law is relaxed somewhat in the case of insanity.
>So the advent of language -- that is, communication that is complex
> enough to describe a hypothetical event, and be understood as such --
seems to be what is occurring in the story of Adam and Eve.
>Any comments?

I ran into this account a couple of years ago. It is an interesting
example of what you are talking about. In the following, is Paul
unethical or "sinful"?

"Forming alliances is only the beginning. If it takes smarts for
a baboon or monkey to keep track of all the facts in his social
relationships, imagine how much intelligence is required when he
and his companions begin to lie."
"Take Paul, for instance, a young juvenile chacma baboon
observed in Ethiopia by Richard Bryne and Andrew Whiten of the
University of St. Andrews in Scotland. One day they noticed Paul
watching an adult female named Mel dig in the ground for a large
grass root. He looked around. There were no other baboons
nearby, though the troop was within earshot. Suddenly and with
no visible provocation, Paul let out a yell. In an instant his
mother appeared, and in a flurry chased the astonished Mel out of
sight. Meanwhile, Paul walked over and ate the grass root she
left behind."~Donald Johanson and James Shreeve, Lucy's Child,
(New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1989), p. 274

My little sister used to do this to me all the time. And I used to do it
to my older brother. The difference is that our parents told us not to do
it, the baboon parents can't tell their kids that this is wrong.

Foundation,Fall and Flood