AS620 Animal Sentience

Course Description

As the bedrock of ethics and moral systems, sentience is at the very core of arguments to ascribe basic rights to animals. This course surveys the current scientific evidence for sentience in all the major vertebrate groups (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes), plus emerging evidence for sentience in some invertebrate groups. Sentience is chiefly defined as the capacity to experience forms of pain and pleasure, but other relevant capacities such as consciousness, awareness and emotionality will be explored. Students will also examine the scientifically- and politically-charged controversies regarding animal sentience, and will complete the course with a better understanding of “where to draw the line” on animal sentience. 3 credits

Course Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Outline and evaluate evidence for sentience in a range of animal groups.
  • Explore and summarize the relationship between sentience and ethics.
  • Evaluate and appraise specific research studies and methods used to assess sentience in animals.
  • Explain and defend where you might draw the line on animal sentience.
  • Identify the most compelling evidence and arguments that animals are keenly sentient.
  • Critique arguments for or against granting personhood status to certain animals
  • Understand and articulate the important ethical implications of animal sentience.

Course Topics

(Subject to Change)

  • Defining animal sentience
  • Methods to investigate sentience in different animal groups
  • Key published studies on animal sentience
  • Applying animal sentience to social change
  • The question of animal personhood

Course Materials

(Subject to Change)

  • Braithwaite V. 2010. Do Fish Feel Pain? Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wise SM. 2002. Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books.