Harnad, Stevan (2016) Animal sentience: The other-minds problem. Animal Sentience. 1(1)
The only feelings we can feel are our own. When it comes to the feelings of others, we can only infer them, based on their behavior — unless they tell us. This is the “other-minds problem.” Within our own species, thanks to language, this problem arises only for states in which people cannot speak (infancy, aphasia, sleep, anaesthesia, coma). Our species also has a uniquely powerful empathic or “mind-reading” capacity: We can (sometimes) perceive from the behavior of others when they are in states like our own. Our inferences have also been systematized and operationalized in biobehavioral science and supplemented by cognitive neuroimagery. Together, these make the other-minds problem within our own species a relatively minor one. But we cohabit the planet with other species, most of them very different from our own, and none of them able to talk. Inferring whether and what they feel is important not only for scientific but also for ethical reasons, because where feelings are felt, they can also be hurt. As animals are at long last beginning to be accorded legal status and protection as sentient beings, our new journal Animal Sentience, will be devoted to exploring in depth what, how and why organisms feel. Individual “target articles” (and sometimes précis of books) addressing different species’ sentient and cognitive capacities will each be accorded “open peer commentary,” consisting of multiple shorter articles, both invited and freely submitted ones, by specialists from many disciplines, each elaborating, applying, supplementing or criticizing the content of the target article, along with responses from the target author(s). The members of the nonhuman species under discussion will not be able to join in the conversation, but their spokesmen and advocates, the specialists who know them best, will. The inaugural issue launches with the all-important question (for fish) of whether fish can feel pain.
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