Category Archives: Basic Concepts

Glossary of common terms used in animal ethics and animal rights

Note about glossary definitions:

Many of the terms in this glossary are defined differently in different contexts. The definitions given here are the ones that are used in ethics and/or in animal rights.


the attitude that human interests are more important than those of other sentient beings


based on a characteristic or relationship that is not relevant to (does not affect) the matter at hand

A reason or decision that is arbitrary is one that is based on a random circumstance or a decision that is whimsical, biased, or unjust


a position or assertion that can be backed up with arguments


having experiences; the state of being aware of what is happening to oneself

The term conscious is often used interchangeably with sentience. Sentience refers to the capacity to have experiences.  For most practical purposes, they are synonymous.


treating (or wanting to treat) someone worse than others for a reason that is unjustified

Discrimination refers not only to treating others in a way that harms them. It includes helping some more than others for unfair reasons.


When an individual has a right, they are sometimes said to enjoy that right. The word enjoy is being used here in the sense of “to benefit from” rather than “to get pleasure from.”


what is beneficial for someone, or what promotes what is good for anyone whose life can go well or ill

moral consideration

taking into account how someone will be affected by our actions and decisions


being related to an issue in an important and significant way


the capacity to have positive and negative experiences, such as feeling pleasure and pain

Humans and many other animals are sentient. Things like rocks and rivers are not sentient. Neither are abstract ideas, or entities that are merely classifications or groupings, such as species. Sentience is a very basic capacity, which appears when a being possesses any kind of experience. Whether or not a being is sentient is not related to how intelligent they are. Beings with greater intelligence may be able to feel more forms of suffering, such as psychological suffering, but complex intelligence is not required for sentience. Psychological experiences are more complex, but not necessarily more intense than physical ones.


discrimination against those who don’t belong to a particular species