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The relevance of sentience

The section on animal sentience presents several compelling arguments all of which conclude that many nonhuman animals are sentient. In addition, Animal interests shows why the interests of sentient nonhuman animals cannot be considered to have less weight than humans’ interests. Implicit in both conclusions is the further conclusion that being sentient is morally important. The posts in this section clarify this.

 

The argument from relevance

This text explains why being sentient is what matters when deciding who to respect. The argument from relevance is an important argument against the speciesist view that we should only fully respect human beings. Having special relationships with other humans or certain intellectual capacities beyond sentience are not relevant to whether we can harm someone or benefit them. Those for whom we should show moral concern are those that can be harmed or benefited, that is, those beings who are sentient.

 

Why we should give moral consideration to sentient beings, rather than all living beings

Biocentrism is an environmentalist view that claims we should give moral consideration to all living things, including plants and other non-sentient beings. This text explains why sentience, rather than being merely alive, is what ultimately matters. It also explains why, in reality, the biocentrist view is a speciesist view, as it makes exceptions for instances of harm to humans but not for instances of harm to animals.

 

Why we should give moral consideration to sentient beings rather than ecosystems

Another environmentalist view claims that we should give moral consideration to entire ecosystems rather than to sentient animals. This  text explains why we should care about individuals, rather than systems or other entities, either concrete ones (such as ecosystems) or abstract ones (such as species), because they are not sentient beings. It also explains why, as with biocentrism, the moral primacy of ecosystems is not consistently maintained when human beings are subjected to harm, yet is defended when nonhuman animals are harmed, which makes it inconsistent and biased.

 

Why we should give moral consideration to individuals, rather than species

Another position which is widespread among environmentalists is the view that animals and plants matter as long as they are “exemplars”, that is, members of certain species, whether they are sentient or not. According to this view a living thing should be conserved if their species has scarce numbers, but not otherwise. Confining and killing animals are considered justified methods to achieve this, even when it means killing animals to preserve a plant species. This text explains how this view fails to consider that which is morally relevant – sentience. What is important is the interests of sentient individuals, and not the number of individuals in a group.

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