A Sentience Article from All-Creatures.org

Criteria for Recognizing Sentience

FROM AnimalEthics.org
April 2022

There are three general criteria for deciding whether a being is sentient. These involve considerations that are behavioral, evolutionary and physiological.


When we experience suffering or enjoyment, we tend to behave in certain ways. We grimace, we cry, we groan… And the same is true of other sentient beings. This applies to both human beings and a large number of nonhuman animals. Behavior of this sort indicates that those who behave in these ways are having positive or negative experiences.1

There are, furthermore, certain types of behavior that may lead us to suppose that a creature might be having such experiences, namely those that demonstrate an understanding of beneficial or harmful aspects of the environment. For instance, we may see that an animal, after being burned for the first time, will stay away from fire in the future. And the same applies to positive experiences, as when an animal finds food at a certain location and later returns to that spot. However, this behavior alone doesn’t provide a reason to believe that these creatures can experience suffering and enjoyment. It is, more generally, a reason to believe that they can have experiences at all and are therefore conscious. Although we should also note that it is perfectly possible that there are beings who are conscious but lack any capacity for learning.

These are examples of specific behaviors exhibited by many nonhuman animals. But these creatures behave in complex ways not only in situations where we may think that they are experiencing suffering or enjoyment. What is most relevant to ascertain whether a being is sentient is not how that being reacts in these specific cases, but how the being behaves in general. The behavior of an animal can lead us to understand that she is sentient, even if she doesn’t exhibit signs of suffering or enjoyment. Here’s the reason.


Please read the ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE.

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