Home Definition Sentient Being (Legal Definition: All You Need To Know)

Sentient Being (Legal Definition: All You Need To Know)

What is a Sentient Being?

How do you legally define it?

What are the essential elements you should know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our legal definitions!

Are you ready?

Let’s get started!

Sentient Beings

The notion of sentient beings can have a different meaning to a different person depending on the angle that you view it.

You can consider this notion from a legal perspective (what is sentient being in law), from a scientific perspective, from a philosophical perspective, or even a religious one.

In this article, we are interested in the sentient beings definition from a legal point of view.

In law, a sentient being is a creature or being with the faculty of feeling emotions, feeling pain, or has consciousness.

In some jurisdictions, the laws have evolved to include dogs as sentient animals.

The impact is significant as previously dogs were considered as an “object” or “property” whereas when the law declares dogs to be sentient, the manner they are treated can have a legal consequence on the dog owner or individuals in general.

Sentience Definition

To better appreciate the legal definition of a sentient being, it’s important to understand the term “sentience”.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “sentient” means:

“Responsive to or conscious of sense impressions” or “finely sensitive in perception or feeling”

As you can see from this English definition of the term sentient, it’s a faculty to “feel”, “perceive” or have a form of consciousness.

Here is a short description to define sentient beings:

  • Able to experience feelings
  • Has a sense of impression
  • Has physical feelings
  • Has emotional feelings 
  • Has a conscious 

Sentience In Philosophy 

Philosophers have been interested in things like “consciousness”, “feelings”, “sentiment”, “pain”, “joy”, “happiness”, “suffering”, for centuries.

The term “sentience” comes from the Latin term “sentientem” meaning a feeling.

The “feeling” is different from “reason” or the ability to think.

Philosophers have coined the term sentience to that of the awareness of feeling and sensation as early as the 1630s.

Legal Definition

What is the legal definition of a sentient being?

Legally speaking, a sentient being is a being having the faculty or capability to think, reason, feel pain, and have emotions.

From a more scientific perspective, sentient beings could be viewed as a being capable of feeling physical and psychological suffering.

As such, humans, being part of the animal kingdom, are evidently sentient beings.

However, not all animals have this faculty and all beings are sentient beings.

The actual legal definition of a sentient being will come down to each state to define.

For instance, certain statutes have qualified a specific animal in certain jurisdictions as a sentient being (such as dogs).

Other jurisdictions may adopt a broader definition that may fall under the legal definition of a sentient one and provide for the legal ramifications of such qualification.

Treaty of Lisbon

The notion of sentient beings is present in the Treaty of Lisbon.

In fact, when the Treaty of Lisbon came into force in 2009, it introduced the notion of sentient animals by recognizing that animals are sentient creatures.

Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty states that since animals are sentient beings, the Member States when formulating policies, statutes, and regulations must pay attention to animal welfare and respect any legislative or administrative provisions as it relates to religious rites, cultural traditions, and heritage.

Artificial Intelligence

In law, what’s of interest is the notion of sentient beings as it relates to artificial intelligence.

It is widely accepted that robots, artificial intelligence, or other AI “creatures” do not fall within the definition of a sentient being.

It is recognized that sentient beings are earth or biological beings where some animals are considered sentient along with all human beings.

Animal Law

In the context of animal laws, the concept of “sentient being” remains a debated issue.

What is challenging is to draw the line and legally qualify which animal is sentient and which is not.

The first challenge is to define what are the legal characteristics of a sentient being, do you need feelings, emotions, physical feelings, psychological feelings etc?

Once you’ve determined the elements, we must then qualify the animal as being sentient or not.

Is a horse sentient?

What about fish?

As you explore the animal kingdom, you may find it may be easier to qualify dogs, monkeys, and horses as being sentient but it can be quite challenging for other creatures.

Property Law

A possible ramification of the qualification of an animal as a sentient being may have consequences on how the animal is treated or even owned.

Historically, animals were considered (and are still) considered as “property”.

It’s like owning an object or a thing.

However, with the animal welfare movements and the evolution in how we consider certain animals, legislators may need to review and assess if a sentient animal can be “owned” just like you will acquire and own an object.

Clearly, you do not own a human.

What about the property laws with regards to animals?

Again, these are questions that each country, state, region, or jurisdiction will need to define within their sphere of competence.


What are Sentient Beings?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings (what does sentient being mean).

Sentient Being Define

  • There are different definitions possible for a sentient being rooted in law, science, philosophy, or religion
  • The legal definition of sentient beings will be largely driven by the legislative qualification of the term
  • The Treaty of Lisbon recognizes that “animals” are sentient beings and requires that the Member States adopt statutes, regulations, and policies in light of that along with the religious freedoms or other cultural heritage of their people 
  • What is a sentient being is a challenging question when viewed from the animal law perspective and it is widely debated 
Animal law
Civil law
International law 
Legal concept

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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