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Bonobo Mirror Project

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I undertook “The Bonobo Mirror Project” within the context of a graduate level course entitled Primate Behavior and Conservation that was jointly sponsored by Miami University of Ohio, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, and Project Dragonfly. The goal of such “Zoo Expedition” courses is to promote inquiry-based learning, community involvement, and conservation. I found it both challenging and rewarding to combine my philosophical training with this very empirically based scientific method of inquiry. The empirical question that “The Bonobo Mirror Project” attempts to answer is: How does the ratio of positive to negative comments made by visitors to the indoor bonobo exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo about the bonobos compare to the same ratio of positive to negative comments made directly to the bonobos? I interpret the results of my inquiry, and their moral significance, through the more subjective lens of Jean-Paul Sartre’s solution to the traditional philosophical problem of the existence of other minds. Our beliefs about the existence of animal minds and their varying levels of complexity inform our moral judgments on the appropriate treatment and handling of these animals.