The basis of animal rights is the recognition that animals are sentient beings.
This means they are capable of being aware of sensations and emotions, of feeling pain and suffering, and of experiencing a state of well being. ARAs believe that our own behaviour towards animals should be guided by this recognition of their sentience.
Most of us use animal products every day, but how much do we know about the animals' needs and wants, or about their emotional lives?
What is Animal Sentience ' and why does it matter?
But how much do we know about how these animals experience the world ' what they feel, why they behave in the ways they do, how they understand their environment, how and what they communicate?
Increase in scientific knowledge
Scientific studies of Animal Sentience
But many of the animals we interact with turn out to have more complex mental and emotional lives than people have understood in the past, and new scientific research is constantly revealing new evidence of animals' cognitive abilities and their emotions.
Sentient animals have preferences and intentions
All these abilities listed above have been documented in scientific research. Of course these abilities vary between different species. And of course we cannot assume that if an animal behaves in ways that look familiar to us, the animal has the same mental experiences as a human would have in similar circumstances. In the current state of knowledge it is impossible to prove beyond doubt what an animal is feeling, or perhaps thinking. But it is equally important not to underestimate animals' feelings and the sophistication of their mental processes, because this may well affect how we behave towards animals.
Importantly, several of the abilities that have in past been thought to be uniquely human ' for example, the use of tools, the ability to plan ahead, the ability to empathise with another or to deceive another, the transmission of skills in ways that can be classified as 'culture', behaviour that can be classified as 'morality' ' are now known to exist to some extent among non-human animals too. From the point of view of evolutionary biology, it makes sense that humans should share many of our emotional and cognitive abilities with some of the other animal species.
Implications of Animal Sentience
Today there is increasing concern about the welfare of animals, whether these are wild animals or those used by people for food, work, companionship, entertainment, sport or scientific research.
From Darwin to Dawkins: The science and implications of Animal Sentience
Updates on current scientific research on animal sentience, based on findings in disciplines ranging from animal behaviour to neurobiology
Reviews of particular areas of animal sentience research
Stories relevant to animal sentience in the media
Updates on how animal welfare science is progressing animal welfare at a practical level across the world
Guest articles on science, ethics and law relating to animal sentience
A special section for younger students
Further reading - selected suggestions
Applied Animal Behaviour Science 100:1-2, Oct 2006. Special issue: sentience in animals. - Selection of scientific papers from Compassion in World Farming's conference, From Darwin to Dawkins: The science and implications of animal sentience, March 2005.
J D'Silva and J Turner (eds), 2006. Animals, ethics and trade. Earthscan. Further papers from Compassion in World Farming's conference, From Darwin to Dawkins: The science and implications of animal sentience, March 2005. Foremost international experts examine the philosophical, legal, policy and practical implications of our current knowledge of animal sentience.
M Bekoff (ed), Jun 2007. Encyclopedia of human-animal relationships. Greenwood Press
F D McMillan, 2005 (ed). Mental health and well-being in animals. Blackwell Publishing
J Webster, 2005. Animal welfare: limping towards Eden. Blackwell Publishing
T Grandin and C Johnson, 2005. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Scribner
M Bekoff (ed), 2004. Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior. Greenwood Press
N G Gregory, 2004. Physiology and behaviour of animal suffering. Blackwell Science
F B M de Waal and P L Tyack, 2003. Animal social complexity: intelligence, culture, and individualized societies. Harvard University Press
S M Wise, 2002/3. Drawing the line: science and the case for animal rights. Perseus Publishing
D R Griffin, 2001. Animal minds: beyond cognition to consciousness. University of Chicago Press
L J Keeling and H W Gonyou (eds), 2001. Social behaviour in farm animals. CABI Publishing
M Hauser, 2000. Wild minds: what animals really think. Henry Holt and Company
C Moss, 2000. Elephant memories: thirteen years in the life of an elephant family. University of Chicago Press.
M S Dawkins, 1998. Through our eyes only? The search for animal consciousness. Oxford University Press
A Manning and M S Dawkins, 1998. An introduction to animal behaviour. Cambridge University Press
F Fraser and D M Broom, 1997. Farm animal behaviour and welfare. CABI Publishing