Animal Sentience

Commentary Type

Invited Commentary


David M. Peña-Guzmán, Can nonhuman animals commit suicide?


Whether a person committed suicide is often difficult to determine, and intent particularly so. If it’s difficult for humans, how much more so for nonhuman animals? A nonhuman observer would remark that humans usually avoid self-harm, but sometimes engage in self-injurious behavior. If instead of speculating about suicide we focus on self-injurious behavior that is sometimes lethal, we recognize continuity of species and can also understand and possibly remedy self-injurious behavior. To be kind and compassionate toward them, there is no need to impute doubtful capacities to animals. Kindness and compassion toward humans and other animals benefit the one who practices them.

Author Biography

William M. Baum, behavior analyst, studied primarily with R. J. Herrnstein and secondarily with B. F. Skinner. He wrote Understanding Behaviorism: Behavior, Culture, and Evolution. His experimental research concerns choice and the provenance of behavior.