Glossary Entry: Sentient

Quick Definition

A creature (or other entity) is considered sentient if it capable of both understanding its environment and acting upon this understanding. You are sentient, your pet cat is also sentient, other animals are sentient, but your houseplants are not.

In fiction, this term often gets confused with sapient. Sapient entities are effectively equal with humans when it comes to reasoning and intelligence. Anything sapient is basically a "person". To provide an example, humans are the only sapient creatures we know about in real life. In fiction, anything that has a mind of its own and human-level intelligence, such as an advanced AI* or an alien, are sapient too.

Another way to explain the meaning of these words is to ask a simple question and compare the answers. The question is: If you were to wrongfully kill this creature, what would you be charged with?

If you would be charged with animal cruelty or animal abuse, the entity is sentient but not sapient.
If you would be charged with murder, then the entity is both sentient and sapient.
If none of those apply, then the entity is neither sentient or sapient, and it might as well be a plant.


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