A Fond Remembrance Of A Canine Friend

My brother’s family lost their pet dog yesterday. ‘G’ was a dachshund, brought home a little over twelve years ago. I have never owned a pet and probably never will; I simply do not have the emotional wherewithal for the caretaking required. I have thus never developed a particularly close relationship with domestic animals; my interactions with most pets is always a fairly tentative, bounded one. Not so with ‘G’. This was because on those occasions when I was visiting my brother and his family, I spent extended time in his company. In the course of that period, I was able to experience at least one moment that gave me some insight into the kinds of relationships pets are able to develop with the families who take care of them.

During the winter of 2006/7, while on vacation, I came down with a mysterious stomach bug–a fever, the chills, the shakes, a spectacularly upset stomach, the works. The bug advanced during an evening as a fever took hold of my body, and then it struck hard at night. On waking up in the morning, I informed everyone–my brother and his family, and my wife–I would not be joining them for the New Year’s Eve partying later that night. Then, I staggered back to bed and collapsed. I sought warmth and comfort in my blanket and my supine pose. A short while later, ‘G’ pushed open the door to my room–with his nose, I think–walked over to my bed, found himself a spot next to my feet, burrowed in, partially covering himself with my blanket, and settled down.

And there he stayed. For the entire day, well into the evening, in that darkened room. I drifted in and out of sleep, my body exhausted after the frequent interruptions–the trips to the toilet bowl–during the previous night. My head spun, my stomach churned, shivers ran up and down the length of my frame. And down by my feet, ‘G”s presence provided unexpected comfort and reassurance. His body was warm, solid, furry; I could feel him pressing against my legs through the blanket. It was a desperately needed anchoring in a bodily and mental state that felt desperately adrift.

I did not lack for human company that day. My family stopped in at intervals to bring me water and the little food I could keep down. As evening approached and as the night came on, I slowly regained some strength, enough to try to consume a bowl of watery soup. On seeing me sit up in bed, ‘G’, sensing the worst was over, roused himself, shook himself once or twice, and then left the room. He had done his bit.

From that time on, whenever I hear a pet owner speak about their pets in a language rich with intentionality and affect, I know exactly what they are talking about. I too, sensed an animal draw near and take care.

Thanks ‘G’, rest in peace; we all loved you.

The Personhood Beyond the Human Conference

This weekend (Dec 7-8) I am attending the Personhood Beyond the Human conference at Yale University. Here is a description of the conference’s agenda:

The event will focus on personhood for nonhuman animals, including great apes, cetaceans, and elephants, and will explore the evolving notions of personhood by analyzing them through the frameworks of neuroscience, behavioral science, philosophy, ethics, and law….Special consideration will be given to discussions of nonhuman animal personhood, both in terms of understanding the history, science, and philosophy behind personhood, and ways to protect animal interests through the establishment of legal precedents and by increasing public awareness.

I will be speaking on Sunday afternoon. Here is an abstract for my talk:

Personhood for Artificial Agents: What it teaches us about animals’ rights

For the past few years, I have presented arguments based on my book, A Legal Theory for Autonomous Artificial Agents, which suggest that legal and perhaps even moral and metaphysical personhood for artificial agents is not a conceptual impossibility. In some cases, a form of dependent legal personality might even be possible in today’s legal frameworks for such entities. As I have presented these arguments, I have encountered many objections to them.In this talk, I will examine some of these objections as they have taught me a great deal about how personhood for artificial agents is relevant to the question of human beings’ relationships with animals. I will conclude with the claims that a) advocating personhood for artificial agents should not be viewed as an anti-humanistic perspective and b) rather, it should allow us to assess the question of animals’ rights more sympathetically. Bio

Steven Wise, the  most prominent animal rights lawyer in the US, will be speaking today and sharing some rather interesting news about some very important lawsuits filed by his organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project, on behalf of great apes’, arguing for their legal personhood. (Some information can  be found here, and there is heaps more at the website obviously.)

If you are in the area, do stop on by.