Sentientist Language

Language plays a powerful role in how we think and act. To help us move towards a more sentientist world, we might want to start using more sentientist language. In particular, that includes language that doesn’t trap us into thinking in anthropocentric or speciesist ways that narrow our moral circle to focus on humans.

This page sets out some suggestions about the sort of sentientist language we might want to adopt. I’d love to know what you think – new terms, better terms… Please comment below or join the discussion in one of our online communities.

Animals and Media has some great guidance about how we can help better represent the interests of non-human sentient animals in our media and daily language.

Default LanguageSentientist Language
Describing non-human sentient beings as objects: e.g. “it”.Describing sentient beings as subjects: e.g. “they” or “them”.
Using the term “animal” or the names of species (e.g. pig, cow) in a pejorative way.Not doing this.
Using terms or phrases that imply harming or killing sentient beings is morally acceptable.Not doing this.
Describing “humans” as being distinct from “animals”.Not doing this. For example, by referring to “non-human animals” and making it clear that humans are animals too.
Human (adjective) – being related to or belonging to a human.Sentient (adjective) – the capacity to have experiences, for example suffering or flourishing.
Human (noun) – a member of the species homo sapiens.Sentient (noun) – a sentient being.
Humanity / humankind – humans in general.Sentientity / Sentientkind – sentients in general.
Humane – showing kindness, care and sympathy towards others. Implies these are uniquely human characteristics when they are widely prevalent in other sentients. Often used to describe actions that are not “humane”, for example “humane slaughter”.Compassionate – actions and intentions that demonstrate compassion. Compassion is a feeling of sympathy and sadness, in one sentient, for the suffering of another along with a desire to alleviate that suffering. Arguably extensible to identifying with and wishing for positive experiences in other sentients, not just the alleviation of suffering.
Humanitarian – improving human lives and reducing human suffering.Sentientarian – improving sentient lives and reducing sentient suffering.
Homicide – intentional killing of a human.Senticide – intentional killing of a sentient.
Dehumanise – to deny the full humanness of a human or to make someone think of some humans (including themselves) as less valuable than humans.Desentientise – denying, ignoring or devaluing the sentience of a sentient being, for example by assigning them to a category where their sentience is deemed irrelevant (e.g. farmed animal). (Thanks @JosephDavidHill for the suggestion)
Other alternatives include objectify, de-subjectivise, dementalize.
Humanism – Naturalistic worldview that grants moral consideration to all humans and (sometimes) has a concern for “other sentient animals”.Sentientism – Naturalistic worldview that grants moral consideration to all sentients.
Substratism – Negatively discriminating against a sentient being because of its substrate. In this context a substrate is the material the being’s sentience “runs on”. The sentient beings we’re aware of today have biological substrates, but many believe other substrates (silicon-based, other biologies) might be possible.
Casual GreetingsSent / Sents – A shortened version of “sentient” used as a casual form of address, as in “Hi sent!” or “How’s it going, sents?”
Suggested semi-seriously by Sentientist AJ Jacobs. This hasn’t quite worked its way into popular usage… yet.

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