A: Considering the interests of all sentient beings means taking into account how our actions might positively or negatively impact the wellbeing of all individuals capable of feeling and perceiving. So far, all sentient beings belong to the animal kingdom, but if this changes in the future (for example, the development of non-organic sentience), considering sentient beings would include these beings as well.
Environmentalism, on the other hand, focuses on the balance or sustainability of ecosystems, species, and the planet as a whole. While environmentalism is concerned with issues like biodiversity loss, pollution, and natural resource depletion, it does not prioritize the interests of individual sentient beings, especially nonhuman animals. Environmentalism would justify actions that harm animals if it benefited some environmental goal like protecting endangered species or habitats.
In short, the key difference comes down to whether one prioritizes the wellbeing of individuals or so-called “ecosystem balance” which usually refers to a certain ecosystem configuration that humans prefer. Consideration of all sentient beings aims to protect both individuals and the resources they rely on, while environmentalism may disregard individuals for the sake of ecological concerns. The difference matters most for wild animals, who may suffer under environmentalist policies but could do well in a framework that considers sentient beings.
A: Ethical holism is the view that wholes, totalities or systems like species or ecosystems have intrinsic moral value apart from (or greater than) the individuals that comprise them. Value is attributed to the whole itself, not the interests or wellbeing of members. Individuals may even be sacrificed for a certain configuration that is considered valuable by environmentalism for example, because it is rarer, more complex, or contains only native flora and fauna, even when it is worse for the sentient beings living there.
A: An ecosystem is a system formed by the interactions of a group of living organisms with each other and with the physical factors of the environment in which they live. It includes the land, water, and air as well as the plants, animals, and microorganisms that inhabit it. Ecosystems are constantly changing. Viewed as a whole, an ecosystem can be damaged, but it is not sentient, so it cannot be harmed.
A: Respect for animals, which stems from an ethics centered on sentience, focuses on how we should act toward nonhuman animals, because our actions and decisions can affect their wellbeing. Ecocentrism places intrinsic value on natural environments, and sees an ecosystem as composed of functional parts. According to ecocentrism, sentient beings are merely components of an ecosystem, having only instrumental value in maintaining the ecosystem. That is, their wellbeing is not considered important in itself.
Living things are simply all biological things. This includes animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms. Among living things, only animals are sentient.
Sentient beings are entities that can have subjective experiences, form interests, and perceive or interact with the world in some way. This includes biological entities like animals and certain biologically-based alien beings we may encounter in the future. These beings have biological mechanisms for experience and sensation that generate interests and preferences.
Sentient beings could someday include advanced artificial systems that have been designed or evolved to have their own virtual experiences, code-based interests and simulated perceptual processes. Rather than biology, their experiences emerge from programming and algorithms.
A: Sentient beings can have subjective experiences that are either good or bad, which means they can suffer or enjoy their experiences. A living being, on the other hand, is simply a biological entity. Examples are animals, trees, plants, and microorganisms. Many animals are sentient, but other living things like plants and microorganisms are not. According to animal ethics, only sentient beings matter in themselves because only they can be harmed. Damaging other living things is bad only to the extent that it affects the wellbeing of sentient beings. For example, destroying plants that animals depend on for food harms those animals.
A: A species is an abstract entity that defines the characteristic of animals who share certain features, genetic makeup and other factors such as the ability to interbreed. A species is not a sentient entity that can be harmed.
Nor is a species the sum of its members, meaning that prioritizing a species does not mean prioritizing the wellbeing of the majority of its members.
Sometimes individual animals are considered merely as exemplars of a species, but this disregards the wellbeing of those animals. Animal ethics puts the focus on sentient individuals instead, because only they can be harmed.
A: Biodiversity is not necessarily good for the wellbeing of individual animals. From the perspective of the wellbeing of sentient individuals, biodiversity is not bad or good. It can be harmful when a more biodiversity results in a greater amount of suffering than would occur with less biodiversity. For example, greater biodiversity might negatively affect the supply of food and shelter, conflicts between animals, and how many animals die when they are very young. Biodiversity might be “good for an ecosystem,” but this does not tell us anything about whether it is good for the sentient individuals who live there.
This means that if our goal is what’s best for sentient beings, then when evaluating their situations, it’s best to rely on factors directly related to their wellbeing, like food and physical safety, rather than on the degree of biodiversity.
A: Sustainability focuses on acting in ways that don’t deplete resources, including environmental resources. Sustainability usually only considers human wellbeing and preferences, but it could include others if we wanted it to. Usually, environmental perspectives focused on sustainability consider nonhuman animals as resources, not as individuals whom we should respect. It is for this reason that there are practices that are sustainable but which cause a great deal of suffering and death to nonhuman animals. This is, for example, the case with fishing and hunting, when they are practiced in a way that does not threaten the stock of resources (in this case, nonhuman animals, which are seen as mere resources).