Defining Sentience with Jonathan Balcombe – ASI’s Defining Human-Animal Studies 22


[Music] hi i’m jonathan Balcom I’m an ethologist
I’m an author of books such as pleasurable Kingdom and what the fish
knows I’m also an associate editor with the online journal animal sentience and
I teach a course in animal sentience for the viridis Graduate Institute my word
today as you may have guessed by now is sentience the capacity to feel to have
experiences defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as simply able to
feel things it’s English usage dates to the early 17th century and it comes from
the Latin word of the very same spelling sentient and meaning feeling it’s a very
basic concept and yet the word sentience has rather languished in obscurity in
usage in English it’s beginning to emerge but it still remains a fairly
kind of academic term it really deserves common usage and universal awareness by
people sentences almost universally agreed to require some level of
consciousness if you have no conscious awareness how can you be able to have
any experience of feelings so consciousness is very closely linked to
sentience the most often cited quotation relating to sentience is comes from the
17th century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham who in a discussion of our moral
duties to animals famously asked or said the question is not can they reason or
can they talk but can they suffer suffering being the key element here
which is very closely tied to sentience but it’s important that in our thinking
about sentience we include the spectrum of emotional and physical experiences
that a sentient being can have so it’s not just about pain and suffering it’s
also about pleasure and the most probably the most successful and
dominant moral philosophy of our age utilitarianism
very much includes pleasure in the whole moral calculus of how we should behave
towards others who are sentient it’s not just about minimizing pain and suffering
but it’s also about maximizing pleasures just wanted to say a few words about
this journal I mentioned earlier animal sentience I think it’s indicative of the
rise of sentence that we now have a journal and academic journal dedicated
to the subject of animal sentience there’s never really been much
discussion or rather I should say much question about sentience in humans but
when it comes to other non-human animals the challenge of the privacy of
experience that we cannot share the experiences of another being including
another human has worked against animals unfortunately not their fault but um
it’s it’s patently obvious to those who are empathic that animals are sentient
but it’s easy to be scientists and philosophers have made arguments
beginning with Rene Descartes that animals are not sentient and that’s been
a thorn in the side of animal rights advocates for a long time that’s
changing now as the evidence continues to mount that animals are clearly
sentient but anyway this journal animal sentience it’s an interdisciplinary open
access journal so it’s a anyone with an internet connection can read the
contents of that journal it’s a very active journal started in 2016 so far
has published 22 articles and 179 commentaries and responses so it’s a
very good place to for people to air their views about these issues some of
the subjects that have been so far covered includes fish pain subjective
experiences in insects animal grief animal suicide and jealousy in dogs so
really in my view sentience forms the bedrock of ethics it’s at the foundation
of our sense of morals and as for when it comes to moral questions about how we
should treat animals sentience is a central concept [Music]