Description: What does sentient mean? Its dictionary definition typical says something like responsive to and conscious of sense impressions; aware; conscious. We (us humans) are sentient, though there was a time when we believe that infant humans were not (we DO think they ARE sentient now). A huge part of how we manage or are expected to manage our interactions with other people is grounded in their being sentient. Many ethical considerations or issues. Now, what else is sentient? Let’s leave AI out of this for now. Is your dog or cat sentient? I am pretty sure you think so or act like it is so. Are you sensing a sort of ethical dimension here? If we and our pets are up at one end what is at the other end? How about lobsters and crabs? Typically, we prepare them for our dinner tables by tossing them live into boiling water. Would that be an ethical way to treat a sentient being, even if we were going to eat it? What about things that are between us and lobsters and crabs? What about octopuses? If we are using sentience to guide our drawing of ethical treatment lines where do we draw those lines? If you are a me, my friends and relatives, and my pets only line drawer maybe find and watch the film My Octopus Teacher for some things to think about. Once you have though a bit about how and where you would acknowledge sentience and draw ethical lines have a rad through the article linked below for a considered discussion of these questions.
Source: Do octopuses, squid and crabs have emotions? ScienceDaily.
Date: March 24, 2022
So, is your ethical world now in chaos? There have been efforts to have “higher” species, such as chimpanzees and gorillas viewed as persons in terms of law and ethics (yes, I know, more chaos). What about other species? If they can be shown to have emotions, or curiosity, or individual preferences how might we have to re-work our ethical word views. As the author of the linked article suggest in closing, “It may be time to look at our world differently.”
Questions for Discussion:
- What is sentience?
- How do you see sentience playing into issues and thoughts about ethics (or do you)?
- How might we look at the world differently if we start to lean towards acknowledging sentience in other species (like octopuses)?
References (Read Further):
Frans B. M. de Waal and Kristin Andrews. The question of animal emotions. Science, 2022 Abstract Link
Kittilsen, S. (2013). Functional aspects of emotions in fish. Behavioural processes, 100, 153-159. Link
Kret, M. E., Massen, J. J., & de Waal, F. (2022). My Fear Is Not, and Never Will Be, Your Fear: On Emotions and Feelings in Animals. Affective Science, 3(1), 182-189. Link
Engelen, T., & Mennella, R. (2020). What Is It Like to Be an Emotion Researcher?. PsyArXiv. September, 8. Link
Hutton, J. (2022) Animals Feel What’s Right and Wrong, Too. Nautilus. Link
Andrews, K., Comstock, G., Crozier, G. K. D., Donaldson, S., Fenton, A., John, T. M., … & Sebo, J. (2018). Chimpanzee rights: The philosophers’ brief. Routledge. Link
Mazor, M., Demertzi, A., Fahrenfort, J., Faivre, N., Francken, J., Lamy, D., … & Lubianker, N. (2021). The scientific study of consciousness cannot, and should not, be morally neutral. Link