Debating whether other beings are conscious can sometimes feel like an unimportant academic exercise. But it’s not. The conclusion we reach determines how we treat animals—our livestock, our research subjects, and our neighbors in cities and other places we live.
For many, consciousness is an important if not necessary quality that a living thing must have to grant it any moral concern at all. In the original preface to his 1975 now-classic text, Animal Liberation, the moral philosopher Peter Singer wrote that the book “is not about pets” or for “animal lovers” but rather for people interested in something nobler—“ending oppression and exploitation wherever they occur, and in seeing that the basic moral principle of equal consideration of interests is not arbitrarily restricted to members of our own species.”