Sentience: Animal Ethics

‘Sentient’ means having the power of perception; consciousness. Sentient beings display emotions, be that fear, love or reactions to their surroundings, and the ability to feel emotion, recognise pain, or sensation. It’s derived from the Latin root word ‘sentire’ which along with ‘sentientem’ means sense, or feeling. In Buddhism ‘Skandas’ are the ‘five aggregates of clinging’ and they’re essential in forming a mental being; sentient.

• The First Skandha: Form (Rupa)

• The Second Skandha: Sensation (Vedana)

• The Third Skandha: Perception (Samjna)

• The Fourth Skandha: Mental Formation (Samskara)

• The Fifth Skandha: Consciousness (Vijnana)

In philosophy and psychology sentience is often described as ‘Qualia‘, which involve sensations like pleasure, or pain; emotions like anger, happiness or fear; moods like happiness or anxiety or depression. Despite the levels of intelligence varying over species, the majority of animals are capable of perceiving the world around them and turning it into an emotion, although sometimes instinct can play a major role in an action. Take fear, and the animal’s self preservation of life, if they feel endangered their natural instinct will be to flee. Humans are capable of more complex thinking processes, like reasoning and using logic, although there are plenty of people who choose not to; theists I’m pointing at you. Even though animals aren’t able to explain their emotions, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t experiencing them, and because of this it’s humanities’ responsibility to maximise well-being and minimise suffering.

Cognitive dissonance‘ is common in humans, especially when religion is involved. Many Christians claim to be pro-life, but will happily take their rifle into the woods and murder an innocent defenceless animal for sport. Because the Bible, which is allegedly God’s word, says that it’s perfectly okay to take a life, so long as it’s not human. So why did God create sentient beings, who can experience fear, and pain, if they are just here to feed us?

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I gave you everything” – Genesis 9:3

“Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. – Genesis 1: 29-30

In Islam, and written in the Qur’an, is ‘Halalحلال‘ which is translated into English as ‘permissible‘, and it’s in contrast to ‘Haram‘ ‘حَرَام‘ which means ‘forbidden’, and regarding food, pork is forbidden in the Qur’an. The ritual of ‘dhabīḥah‘ ‘ذَبِيحَة‘, that’s the ritual slaughter of permissible animals involves cutting of the throat without damaging the nervous system so the animal doesn’t die until it’s bled dry ‘exsanguination‘, and animal rights activists vehemently argue that the animal experiences tremendous suffering.

In Judaism, and written in the Torah, is ‘kashér‘ ‘כָּשֵׁר‘, which is part of Halakha law, and ‘Kashrut‘ ‘כַּשְׁרוּת‘ is a list of dietary laws. ‘shechita‘ ‘שחיטה‘ is the method of slaughter, and just like Halal slaughter, is come under fire from animal rights groups who say that the barbaric, restrained, unstunned slaughter causes significant distress and pain, and it can take several minutes for the animal to lose consciousness, after the incision to the throat.

“We’re opposed to the slaughter of any animal without first ensuring it is rendered insensible to pain and distress. We therefore believe that all animals should be stunned prior to slaughter. Evidence clearly indicates that slaughter without pre-stunning can cause unnecessary suffering. In the UK, Jewish and Muslim communities are exempt from legal requirements to stun animals before slaughter. All Shechita (Jewish) and some Halal (Muslim) slaughter involves cutting the animal’s throat without stunning the animal first (pre-stunning).” – RSPCA

This is a suitable argument for lack of morality and ethics, and it’s a disgrace that religions are exempt from laws to protect animals from cruelty. Every sentient animal deserves respect and compassion, and who are we to put humanity as superior importance over cattle and poultry?

“Under Section 9 of the Act, those responsible for animals have a duty to ensure their welfare. A person commits an offence under Section 9 if he does not take reasonable steps to meet the needs of an animal, which include: 

• A suitable environment 

• A suitable diet 

• To be able to exhibit normal behavioural patterns  

• To be housed with, or apart from, other animals 

• To be protected from pain, suffering, injury or disease” – Animal Welfare Act 2006

And the Bible even claims that people who choose not to eat meat are weak.

“One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.” – Romans 14:2

I’m a vegetarian, and I’m not one to preach about it. It’s personal choice that I made a few years ago after staying on a working farm. I don’t consider myself weak for having compassion and a conscience, and this is just another in a long line of reasons to despise religion. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t eat meat, as I used to and just because I changed my mind doesn’t mean that everyone else has to, but I sincerely stand by my opinion that animals shouldn’t be just viewed as your next meal, or as pets.

“I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I have four dogs, a cat, a gerbil and a guinea pig living with me, and I consider them as part of my family. Each one has a unique personality and character, and I know for a fact that the dogs and the cat have emotions, and react other than through instinct. The Lisbon Treaty recognises that animals are sentient beings, but sadly respecting religious rites.

“In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the EU countries relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage” – The Lisbon Treaty

One of the greatest examples of sentient life are elephants, who are gentle giants and are very family orientated. They are very intelligent animals that leave people in awe when they encounter them, and they are renowned for working together as a team when a problem needs solving, like in the below video. It saddens me that such a beautiful and majestic life gets hunted and murdered by poachers so that the rich can have ivory jewellery, or ornaments.