What Is the Meaning of Sentient Beings?

Written by daniel cobalt
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What Is the Meaning of Sentient Beings?
Plants may be considered sentient by some people. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Daniele Prati)

Merriam-Webster says the English word "sentient," from the Latin word meaning to perceive or feel, dates back to 1632. It means that something is capable of awareness or physical sensations. However, the definition of "sentient beings" is not agreed on, because it is hard to define what constitutes awareness.


The issue of sentient beings is addressed in many religions and is a major component of Eastern religions such as Buddhism. Jainism considers some objects to be partially sentient, such as water. Some religions consider only humans to be truly sentient beings.


The definition of the term "sentient beings" is often debated with regard to foetuses. Some believe that foetuses are sentient at conception while others believe they are not sentient until they have reached some level of brain development.

Animal Rights

The European Union officially recognises animals as sentient in the sense that they are able to feel and suffer. The US has laws that pertain to animal treatment but do not address whether or not animals are sentient.

What Is the Meaning of Sentient Beings?
Animals are defined as sentient in some Eastern religions. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of John Haslam)


Alex Kirby, BBC News Online environment correspondent, interviewed people with differing opinions ranging from one who says animals have moral behaviours to another who calls it nonsense to attribute animals with human-like feelings.


The meaning of "sentient being" has been debated for centuries. Deciding the meaning will depend on your culture, religion and personal views.

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