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From:Ed Heil <edheil@...>
Date:Wednesday, December 22, 1999, 2:06
"Sentient" can, according to its Latin roots, mean "having feelings"
or "having opinions." (cf. two words derived from the same root:
"sentiment" and "sentence.")

It's also used by science fiction types to mean "having minds like
humans'," but given the ambiguity of its etymology I am not sure it is
the best word for that purpose.

I think "sapient" would be somewhat better, as it brings to mind the
species name of humans.  Presumably, biologically, sapience is the
quality which differentiates Homo sapiens from previous Homines, which
would then be at best partly sapient.  (I'm not familiar enough with
paleontology to know whether this is accurate -- to know whether the
increase in brain volume that allows culture and language and all
those goodies actually occurred at the border between _sapiens_ and
his predecessors, though.)

I've heard "sophont" used too, which is nothing but the Greek
equivalent of "sapient," and which sounds pretty cool.

I'm not sure we can get around speciesism in these matters.  We just
can't step outside our human selves and see what an "abstract"
intelligence would be, and then look for it in places besides humans
and say "there it is," or "there it isn't."

Of one thing I am sure, though...  To the degree that there has been
a perceptible moral growth and maturation among humans (and it's
arguable whether there has been any, but assuming there has), it seems
to have involved the extension of empathy beyond boundaries; the
ability to consider as "one of us" those who were once considered
irredemably "other."

I see no reason why this should in principle stop at species
boundaries any more than it should stop at family, ethnic/racial, or
national boundaries.