In debates about animal sentience, the precautionary principle is often invoked. The idea is that when the evidence of sentience is inconclusive, we should “give the animal the benefit of the doubt” or “err on the side of caution” in formulating animal protection legislation. Yet there remains confusion as to whether it is appropriate to apply the precautionary principle in this context, and, if so, what “applying the precautionary principle” means in practice regarding the burden of proof for (...) animal sentience. Here I construct a version of the precautionary principle tailored to the question of animal sentience together with a practical framework for implementing it. I explain and defend the key features of this framework, argue that it is well-aligned with current practice in animal welfare science, and consider and reject a number of influential counterarguments to the use of precautionary reasoning in this area. (shrink)
A reductionistic, bottom‐up, cellular‐based concept of the origins of sentience and consciousness has been put forward. Because all life is based on cells, any evolutionary theory of the emergence of sentience and consciousness must be grounded in mechanisms that take place in prokaryotes, the simplest unicellular species. It has been posited that subjective awareness is a fundamental property of cellular life. It emerges as an inherent feature of, and contemporaneously with, the very first life‐forms. All other varieties of (...) mentation are the result of evolutionary mechanisms based on this singular event. Therefore, all forms of sentience and consciousness evolve from this original instantiation in prokaryotes. It has also been identified that three cellular structures and mechanisms that likely play critical roles here are excitable membranes, oscillating cytoskeletal polymers, and structurally flexible proteins. Finally, basic biophysical principles are proposed to guide those processes that underly the emergence of supracellular sentience from cellular sentience in multicellular organisms. (shrink)
Timothy Hsiao argues that animals lack moral status because they lack the capacity for the sort of higher-level rationality required for membership in the moral community. Stijn Bruers and László Erdős have already raised a number of objections to this argument, to which Hsiao has replied with some success. But I think a stronger critique can be made. Here I raise further objections to three aspects of Hsiao's view: his conception of the moral community, his idea of root capacities grounded (...) in one's nature, and his explanation of why cruelty is wrong. I also argue that sentience is a more plausible candidate for the morally salient capacity than rationality. (shrink)
The use of nonhuman animals as models in research and drug testing is a key route through which contemporary scientific knowledge is certified. Given ethical concerns, regulation of animal research promotes the use of less “sentient” animals. This paper draws on a documentary analysis of legal documents and qualitative interviews with Named Veterinary Surgeons and others at a commercial laboratory in the UK. Its key claim is that the concept of animal sentience is entangled with a particular imaginary of (...) how the general public or wider society views animals. We call this imaginary societal sentience. Against a backdrop of increasing ethnographic work on care encounters in the laboratory, this concept helps to stress the wider context within which such encounters take place. We conclude that societal sentience has potential purchase beyond the animal research field, in helping to highlight the affective dimension of public imaginaries and their ethical consequences. Researching and critiquing societal sentience, we argue, may ultimately have more impact on the fate of humans and nonhumans in the laboratory than focusing wholly on ethics as situated practice. (shrink)
I sketch briefly some of the more influential theories concerned with the moral status of nonhuman animals, highlighting their biological/physiological aspects. I then survey the most prominent empirical research on the physiological and cognitive capacities of nonhuman animals, focusing primarily on sentience, but looking also at a few other morally relevant capacities such as self-awareness, memory, and mindreading. Lastly, I discuss two examples of current animal welfare policy, namely, animals used in industrialized food production and in scientific research. I (...) argue that even the most progressive current welfare policies lag behind, are ignorant of, or arbitrarily disregard the science on sentience and cognition. (shrink)
Can a person’s degree of wellbeing be affected by things that do not enter her experience? Experientialists deny that it can, extra-experientialists affirm it. The debate between these two positions has focused on an argument against experientialism—the experience machine objection—but few arguments exist for it. I present an argument for experientialism. It builds on the claim that theories of wellbeing should not only state what constitutes wellbeing, but also which entities are welfare subjects. Moreover, the claims it makes about these (...) two issues should have a certain coherence with each other. I argue that if we accept a particular plausible answer to the second question—namely that all and only sentient beings are welfare subjects—extra-experientialist theories face a problem of coherence. While this problem can typically be solved, doing so will involve steps that are unattractive. On experientialist theories, on the other hand, the answer to these questions cohere perfectly. (shrink)
Environmental philosophers are often concerned to show that non-sentient things, such as plants or ecosystems, have interests and therefore are appropriate objects of moral concern. They deny that mentality is a necessary condition for having interests. Yet they also deny that they are committed to recognizing interests in things like machines. I argue that either machines have interests (and hence moral standing) too or mentality is a necessary condition for inclusion within the purview of morality. I go on to argue (...) that the aspect of mentality necessary for having interests is more complicated than mere sentience. (shrink)
We have structured our response according to five questions arising from the commentaries: (i) What is sentience? (ii) Is sentience a necessary or sufficient condition for moral standing? (iii) What methods should guide comparative cognitive research in general, and specifically in studying invertebrates? (iv) How should we balance scientific uncertainty and moral risk? (v) What practical strategies can help reduce biases and morally dismissive attitudes toward invertebrates?
Drawing on the findings of neuroscience, this text proposes and defends the hypothesis that the various modalities of sensation share a generic form that the author, Austen Clark, calls feature-placing.
This article deals with the concept of sentience, and more specifically with the argument from sentience as it is used by utilitarians in the abortion debate and in the advocacy of animal rights. It is argued that sentience is more than feeling pleasure and pain (with empha sis on pain), and that pain is an inborn protection required to fit into the world rather than the substance of evil. S. Afr. J. Philos. Vol.23(3) 2004: 292-301.
We welcome Mikhalevich & Powell’s (2020) (M&P) call for a more “‘inclusive”’ animal ethics, but we think their proposed shift toward a moral framework that privileges false positives over false negatives will require radically revising the paradigm assumption in animal research: that there is a clear line to be drawn between sentient beings that are part of our moral community and nonsentient beings that are not.
We address the moral importance of fish, invertebrates such as crustaceans, snails and insects, and other animals about which there is qualified scientific uncertainty about their sentience. We argue that, on a sentientist basis, one can at least say that how such animals fare make ethically significant claims on our character. It is a requirement of a morally decent person that she at least pays attention to and is cautious regarding the possibly morally relevant aspects of such animals. This (...) involves having a moral stance, in the sense of patterns of perception, such that one notices such animals as being morally relevant in various situations. For the person who does not already consider these animals in this way, this could be a big change in moral psychology, and can be assumed to have behavioural consequences, albeit indeterminate. Character has been largely neglected in the literature, which focuses on act-centred approaches. We see our character-centred approach as complementary to, not superior to, act-centred approaches. Our approach has the advantage of allowing us to make ethically interesting and practically relevant claims about a wider range of cases, but it has the drawback of providing less specific action guidance. (shrink)
In this paper the permissibility of stem cell research on early human embryos is defended. It is argued that, in order to have moral status, an individual must have an interest in its own wellbeing. Sentience is a prerequisite for having an interest in avoiding pain, and personhood is a prerequisite for having an interest in the continuation of one's own existence. Early human embryos are not sentient and therefore they are not recipients of direct moral consideration. Early human (...) embryos do not satisfy the requirements for personhood, but there are arguments to the effect that they should be treated as persons nonetheless. These are the arguments from potentiality, symbolic value and the principle of human dignity. These arguments are challenged in this paper and it is claimed that they offer us no good reason to believe that early human embryos should be treated as persons. (shrink)
The attribution of sentience or consciousness to plants is currently a topic of debate among biologists and philosophers. The claim that plants are conscious is based on three arguments: (i) plants, like all living organisms, are sentient (biopsychism); (ii) there is a strong analogy between the phloem transport system of plants and the nervous system of animals; and (iii) plants are the cognitive equals of sentient animals. On the basis of a model of consciousness that spells out criteria for (...) assigning sentience to a living organism and presents a diagnostic evolutionary marker of consciousness, we argue that these arguments are flawed and discuss some of the ethical issues they raise. (shrink)
The study of plant signaling and behaviour, whose aim is to address the physiological basis for adaptive behaviour in plants, is a growing and thought-provoking field of research. In this review we discuss relevant studies that try to interpret in a neurocognitive fashion cases in which plants seem to behave similarly to animals. By comparing observations and experiments about plants and animals, we propose a framework composed of three axes in which interactions of living organisms with the world can be (...) represented. The first axis refers to adaptiveness, the second to sensitivity, and the third to sentience. This model allows us to interpret the behaviours of living organisms along a continuum capable of giving a smooth transition from simple to complex responses. In light of this, plants show an excellent adaptiveness, a variable level of sensitivity, and a good degree of sentience (restricted to the immediate perception that something is happening to themselves). Only the organisms with a high degree of sentience can have the basis for developing consciousness. However, even though it is necessary for consciousness, sentience is not sufficient, as it must be associated with a complex functional organization of structures that can support a recursive and synchronized processing of information. So far, plants have been found to completely lack this type of organization. Plants appear to be, therefore, sentient but not conscious. (shrink)
Integrated information theory (IIT) is a candidate theory of consciousness that highlights the role of complex interactions between parts of a system as the basis of consciousness – and, due to its general information-theoretic formulation, is capable of making statements about consciousness in neural and non-neural systems alike. Here, we argue that a system radically different to a human brain, host to complex physiological and functional structures capable of integrating information, can be found in the meristems and vascular system of (...) higher plants. Following a pragmatic and ontologically innocent approach, neither taking for granted that plants are conscious nor dismissing the possibility that they are, we argue that the time is ripe to apply analysis tools inspired by IIT to plants, taking advantage of recent developments in both plant imaging and information theory. We introduce and discuss the relevant literature, and pro information and integration in plant behaviour, assessing the plausibility of plant sentience. If successful, these experiments could position plants as the next frontier in consciousness science, and urge us to rethink our perspectives on consciousness, how to measure it, and its prevalence amongst living beings. (shrink)
This book is about bridging the current deeply-held divide between sentience and reason. It focuses on the pragmatic role of sentient experience and its unceasing and inseparable interplay with the exercise of reason. Part I of the book deals first with the need for synthesizing the hitherto separate "truth-finding" knowledge traditions: the third-personal scientific-technological, and the first-personal humanistic-wisdom tradition. A conceptual framework for a mind reality is then proposed. Drawing from the unifying natural laws in current physical and biological (...) sciences, the mind reality is portrayed in terms of one interlocking open dynamic system with both a manifested and a covert aspect. In this entire system, each individual mind constantly "co-creates" and "co-evolves" with other collective or group minds at various levels. It is also presumed that the basic unit of interaction in the mind reality is thought or intent. Supporting evidence from psychology, parapsychology and the ancient perennial philosophies is presented. The second part of the book addresses the pragmatic consequences of the proposed mind reality. At the individual level, it is argued that sentient experience can serve the function of guiding, affirming and fostering an individual's life's work. A selection of existing first-personal accounts is presented to illustrate this point. At the collective level, the current dominant collective thought of "new capitalism" has the unfortunate consequences for humanity's sense of freedom, education and morality. Such consequences pertain to the "exteriorization" and the "deconstruction" of the intrinsic self and intrinsic values. To avoid this to happen, a collective effort at changing consciousness becomes necessary: the core task lies with the closure of the reason and sentience divide. (shrink)
A growing number of states have banned abortion after twenty weeks on the grounds that the fetus at that stage experiences pain. Such laws run contrary to current abortion law, and so are almost certain to be challenged in court. In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court said that the constitutional right to abortion extends until the fetus is viable, between twenty-four and twenty-eight weeks. After viability, states may ban abortion entirely except where continuing the pregnancy would threaten the woman’s (...) life or health. The viability threshold was upheld in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Maternal health should be paramount. Why viability? The Roe court said that this is “the ‘compelling’ point.... (shrink)
Recent arguments in plant biology that claim to be uncovering the scientific basis for sentience in plants are grounded on assumptions that have not been sufficiently scrutinized. This paper focuses on two assumptions in particular – the semantic assumption that psychological predicates are non-rigid and hence can be extended to plants, and the assumption that Darwinian gradualism is inconsistent with consciousness emerging at a specific place on the phylogenetic tree. We interrogate both assumptions, advocating that a careful semantic analysis (...) of psychological predicates does not warrant their extension to plants on the available evidence, and that gradualism and emergentism, properly construed, are not inconsistent. (shrink)
When a human embryo consists of not more than 64 cells, its cells are, like a young dog, able to learn new tricks. If injected into a diseased kidney, they take on many of the properties of ordinary kidney cells, and may help the kidney to perform its normal function. This seems to hold for any organ, even any kind of cell.
Original value -- Value incrementalism -- A normative proposal -- Valuing development -- The many faces of value -- Direct and indirect moral considerability -- Affirming moral theories -- Ethical vegetarianism? -- The possibility of an environmental ethic -- Racism and moral perfectionism -- The bankruptcy of moral relativism.
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