Are Animals Conscious?

I recognize that I have consciousness and am aware of who and where I am. But what about animals? Are they conscious?

The relationship between humans and other animals is complicated, to say the least.

Some animals we fear. Sometimes, that fear is obvious: sharp claws or piercing teeth are things to avoid. Others may be an evolutionary development, like fear of snakes or rats.

At the other end of the spectrum are animals we love. Ones we keep as pets, in particular dogs and cats, can become emotionally bonded to us. They might cuddle with us or attempt to please us in some way.

Still others we treat as food sources. Cows, pigs, and chickens are raised alongside many human cultures, providing milk or eggs, as well as meat.

Still other animals may not fit neatly into any of these categories. However, we can recognize their innate grace or beauty, and also see them as an important part of our ecosystem.

Regardless of the relationship, we can ask the question: Are animals conscious? We recognize the consciousness of ourselves and our fellow humans, even if we disagree with them or fight with them. But what about other animals?

If an animal is thirsty and then finds someplace to get a drink, is that an awareness of itself and its surroundings? Or is that simply instinct and not true awareness? What role does intelligence play?

And whatever answer you give, what are the ramifications of that answer? If you think that animals are indeed conscious, does that change the way we should treat them? Conversely, if you believe they are not self aware or aware of their environment, what conclusions can you draw?

Related questions: Do animals have rights? How are humans like other animals? How are they different? What is your favorite animal?

Do Animals Have Rights?

The concept of inherent rights is well established for humans. Do any of those rights extend to animals?

Humans are born (at least in the United States) with certain “unalienable” rights, which include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights enumerate additional rights. Other countries may differ in exact language, but in most places it is assumed that humans have some rights from birth.

Other animals are not human, however, and human laws and ideas do not automatically extend to them. But what are the differences between humans and other animals, and do those differences really matter?

One difference, of course, is that other animals don’t have laws, or form governments. Why should human laws and rights apply to non-humans?

While it is true that no animal other than humans have written a constitution, it is not clear that a written document is needed. A colony of bees has a well-defined hierarchy, for instance. You could almost consider a hive to be the equivalent of a (human) country.

What about the argument that humans are sentient, and they are the only such animal? That argument relies on the definition of sentience, and there does not seem to be a way to know for certain if other animals are, in fact, sentient.

Human laws are often written for the benefit of those people who do not have any political power. They allow for people with little or no power to avoid being taken advantage of by those who do. That would certainly seem to describe animals, who quite literally have no voice.

And yet, there are some rights which cannot and should not apply to animals. No taxation without representation? That doesn’t make any sense at all — animals don’t pay taxes, and it would seem impossible to give (direct) representation to, say, a bear.

So what rights, if any, should (non-human) animals have?

Related questions: Does nature have rights? How are humans like other animals? How are they different? Personal rights or public safety? What are our responsibilities to others?

Climate Change: How Would You Act If Your House Was On Fire?

For decades humans have known that we are driving climate change.  And for most of that time, it’s been clear that unless we change our ways, the planet may become largely, if not wholly, inhospitable to humans as well as many other plants and animals.

The experts tell us that we’ve reached a tipping point.  We cannot reverse climate change any longer.  The best we can hope for is to stop the progress and mitigate the damages we’ve already wrought — the impacts we see now as well as those that are already in motion due to current actions.

Concretely, the United Nations warns us that we will experience hotter temperatures, more severe storms, increased droughts, rising ocean levels, loss of species, not enough food, increased health risks, and increased poverty and displacement.


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss the related question: ‘What are you willing to sacrifice?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘What do you believe?’


Our house is on fire.

It’s been burning for quite some time.  But the fire, until fairly recently, progressed slowly.  Not so any longer.  The pace of climate change has been increasing.  And every year, it seems we need to recalculate the rate of change to faster still.   To stop the progress and mitigate the damages will require immediate changes to the world, national, and local economies; more sustainable agriculture practices; assistance to struggling regions of the world already seeing life-threatening impacts; sustainable technologies (old and new), and dramatic changes to our personal lives.

While some advocate for the necessary immediate changes, the dominant view appears to be kicking the can down the road. We convince ourselves that new technologies will save us or that younger generations will take this seriously and enact needed changes. So, we’re either pinning ourselves to shallow hope or acknowledging that the pains of change are not ones we will initiate.

We should expect more of ourselves.  How would you act if your house was on fire?  Because it is.

Related questions: How is climate change impacting you? What is keeping us from sustaining the planet? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?