Sentience is one of those fabulous English words that nobody knows the meaning of that is routinely used to translate Pali and Sanskrit words that nobody knows the meanings of.
the online etymology dictionary gives:
1630s, “capable of feeling,” from Latin sentientem (nominative sentiens) “feeling,” present participle of sentire “to feel” (see sense(n.)). Meaning “conscious” (of something) is from 1815.
As far as I can tell it was first coined by philosophers in the 1600’s to distinguish the capacity to experience sensations (sentience) from the capacity to reason (rationality) but is now often used colloquially as a synonym for consciousness which by the way is another word that no one seems able to define to anyones lasting satisfaction.
In this thread I see it brilliantly defined by recursion as whatever the first precept applies to, which is genius in that from a Buddhist perspective it is both incontrovertibly true and also completely uninformative.
Do the suttas actually refer to a “sentient” being? I sort of feel like I have seen both “sentient being” and “living being” are these different things in the suttas?
like the word we are talking about is sattā right, or satto? and it means a “being” but saying sentient being is a gloss, it’s not actually there in the word is it?
Te online etymology dictionary has:
“truth” (in Hindu philosophy), from Sanskrit sattvah “truth,” literally “being,” cognate with Gothic sunjis, Old English soð “true” (see sooth)
Old English soð “truth, justice, righteousness, rectitude; reality, certainty,” noun use of soð (adj.) “true, genuine, real; just, righteous,” originally *sonð-, from Proto-Germanic *santhaz (source also of Old Norse sannr, Old Saxon soth, Old High German sand “true,” Gothic sunja “truth”).
The group is related to Old English synn “sin” and Latin sontis “guilty” (truth is related to guilt via “being the one;” see sin), from PIE *hes-ont- “being, existence,” thus “real, true” (from present participle of root *es- “to be”, also preserved in Latin sunt “they are” and German sind.
Archaic in English, it is the root of modern words for “true” in Swedish (sann) and Danish (sand). In common use until mid-17c., then obsolete until revived as an archaism early 19c. by Scott, etc. Used for Latin pro- in translating compounds into Old English, such as soðtacen “prodigy,” soðfylgan “prosequi.”
- Satta, 2 (cp, Vedic sattva living being, satvan “strong man, warrior, ” fr. sant) 1. (m.) a living being, creature, a sentient & rational beiṅg, a person D. I, 17, 34, 53, 82; II, 68; A. I, 35 sq. , 55 sq.; S. I, 135; V, 41; Vin. I, 5; Miln. 273; Vism. 310 (definition: “rūp’ādisu khandhesu chandarāgena sattā visattā ti sattā, ” thus=satta1); Nett 161; DA. I, 51, 161; VbhA. 144.—naraka° a being in purgatory (cp. niraya°) Vism. 500.—2. (nt.) soul (=jīvita or viññāṇa) Pv. I, 81 (gata°=vigata-jīvita PvA. 40). ‹-› 3. (nt.) substance Vin. I, 287. nissatta non-substantial, phenomenal DhsA. 38.
but it seems a stretch to equate the european philosophical notion of “sentience” in any direct and interchangeable way with the indic notion of “satta” on that basis doesn’t it?
the law will:
The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act will lead to the formation of an Animal Sentience Committee, which will be able to scrutinize government policies that affect animal welfare and publish reports on its findings. The minister responsible for that policy area will then be obliged to present a written response before Parliament within three months.
The scope of the legislation includes all vertebrates and some invertebrates, such as octopuses and lobsters.
So even the legislation does not seem to be actually relying on any technical definition of “sentience”, it is just covering all the different animals that might be subject to welfare concerns and saying “they are sentient, just like humans”
in as much as animals appear to behave in ways that demonstrate motivation and goal directed behavior this seems manifestly true, but I am not sure I need the concept of “sentience” to feel like compassion for animals is a desirable thing, and I am not sure that there is any sense in the EBT’s where the term is used in a way that makes it neccessary, say in relations to a philosophy of perseption etc, it just seems like its added as a gloss to satta meaning being or “one who exists”. why is it neccessary to translate one five letter pali word into 2 philosophically loaded english ones?
And in fact the PTS has sentient AND rational, which might considerably narrow the implied scope, why is one of the terms kept and the other discarded?
and in fact “sentient” cannot be the meaning anyway as at AN9.24 we have;
There are sentient beings that are non-percipient and do not experience anything, such as the gods who are non-percipient beings.
Santi, bhikkhave, sattā asaññino appaṭisaṁvedino, seyyathāpi devā asaññasattā. This is the fifth abode of sentient beings. Ayaṁ pañcamo sattāvāso.
so in this context the beings being described are non-sentient by definition!