July 17, 2023

Invertebrate Sentience: Do Invertebrate Experiences Deserve Welfare Protection?


To be sentient is to have positive or negative experiences, such as experiences of pain, pleasure, comfort, warmth, hunger, anxiety or joy. Humans are sentient, but are we alone? In the UK, a new law requires all policymakers to have due regard for animal sentience. This law has given new urgency to the question: which other animals are sentient? Might some invertebrates, such as octopuses, crabs, snails, or even insects, have experiences that deserve respect and welfare protection? Dr Jonathan Birch played a key role in amending the new legislation to include octopuses, crabs and lobsters. Here he talks about the evidence for invertebrate sentience.


Dr Jonathan Birch is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the LSE and Principal Investigator (PI) on the Foundations of Animal Sentience project. In 2021, he led a "Review of the Evidence of Sentience in Cephalopod Molluscs and Decapod Crustaceans" that led to invertebrate animals including octopuses, crabs and lobsters being included in the UK government's Sentience Bill. In addition to his interest in animal sentience, cognition and welfare, he also has a longstanding interest in the evolution of altruism and social behaviour.