People often use this as a reason for the killing and consuming of animals. Sentience seems to be defined as an awareness or consciousness of the surroundings. It seems to be based around the ability to feel emotions and things like pain and happiness. A big part of animal rights is the reduction of suffering, so being able to prove and show that animals are sentient and feel pain (whether emotional or physical) is important.
We know that many animals have very similar brains to us, as well as central nervous systems and other various things that we use to sense the world around us, form bonds with those around us, use languages to communicate and more. These indicate that other animals (nonhumans) may be just as sentient as we are. Many of them even experience the world in different ways that we are not able to fully comprehend or understand at the moment.
Think about the animals you have had in your life; about the puppy who yelped when you accidentally stepped on her; the cat who purred when you gave him attention and pats; the cow who ran up to the gate when she saw you, hoping for some pats; the old cat who knew how to open every door; the dog who would cry when you were late coming home. Animals in our care ask us for food (think, meowing) and get excited about play time (think about tails wagging). They also look to us to take care of them when they are not feeling well. These are very much indicative of emotions, awareness and sentience.
I'm sure that you don't want to just use these few cases in your personal life to prove an entire theory correct.
Don't worry, I've taken the time to put together a list of studies that have proven the emotional capacity, intelligence and/or sentience of various animals. Just a warning, some of the techniques used to find these things out were cruel and, I would argue, unnecessary. I apologise for not having many 'scholarly' links, but I am no longer able to access the university library as I have graduated (and I don't have the money for copious subscriptions).
I am certain that there are plenty more that I was unable to find. If you know of one or many, feel free to let me know about them and I'll add it/them to the list.
As you can see, many of the traits and behaviours that we think belong only to humans are seen in many other animal species. We're not as special as we like to think we are. Not only that, but many of these animals experience things in ways that we don't.
Non-human animals are sentient; they feel emotions and pain, they are capable of many of the same things as you or I. They can suffer, and I think that we should do what we can to make sure that they do not suffer and that they get to live out their lives. Even where there isn't a study done yet, I personally feel it is safer and better to assume sentience and eat plants rather than assume non-sentience and potentially harm a sentient being.
A big thank you to my friends for proof-reading my posts.
© Keira Edwards-Huolohan 2013 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Keira Edwards-Huolohan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.