In reply to: Plants are sentient and have feelings too
This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.
- 1 Context
- 2 Talking Points
- 2.1 Plants differ from animals in ethically significant ways.
- 2.2 Eating animals kills more plants than eating plants.
- 2.3 There is no reason plants would experience pain.
- 2.4 Some plants depend on being eaten for the survival of their species.
- 2.5 Visceral reactions differ with plants and animals.
- 2.6 Plants are sentient and intelligent only by the very broadest definitions.
- 3 See Also
- 4 Footnotes
- 5 Meta
This objection to animal rights and veganism is usually not from a concern for the well-being of plants but to illuminate a perceived inconsistency. If both plants and animals are sentient and have feelings, and if we abstain from eating animals for ethical reasons, then we must also abstain from eating plants.
Claims of plant sentience and intelligence make for provocative titles and seductive clickbait, but a closer consideration of the evidence renders these claims vacuous.
Plants differ from animals in ethically significant ways.
Plants cannot feel pain . Because plants lack a brain, a central nervous system, and pain receptors, they cannot feel pain. Plants may sense they are being eaten through mechanoreceptors, but they don't care.
Plants cannot experience emotions. Emotions are processed in the hippocampus and amygdala regions of the brain—neither of which are present in a plant.
Plants have no self-awareness or sense of the future. Thinking requires a brain, and without thought, there can be no self-awareness or sense of the future.
Plants do not have desires, preferences, or interests . There is no evidence that plants have the cognitive ability to have these traits.
Eating animals kills more plants than eating plants.
If you actually believe plants are sentient and feel pain, then you will cause less plant pain by eating plants rather than animals. While this may seem counterintuitive, it is true, because animals are very inefficient at converting plant calories to animal calories. This inefficiency is in part because of the calories expended for metabolism as well as the calories and food that go into producing nonedible parts, such as bones, cartilage, feathers, fur, fins, skin, and organs.
As indicated by feed-conversion ratios, it takes twenty-five pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef, nine pounds of feed to produce one pound of pork, and five pounds of feed to produce one pound of chicken. The total amount of plants consumed is far greater when you eat the animals that eat plants than when you eat plants directly.
There is no reason plants would experience pain.
Because pain is a response to avoid tissue damage by withdrawing or fleeing, and since plants have limited ability to withdraw or flee, there is no reason they would have evolved to feel pain.
Leonardo da Vinci realized this. In one of his notebooks, he said, "Though nature has given sensibility to pain to such living organisms as have the power of movement—in order thereby to preserve the members which in this movement are liable to diminish and be destroyed—the living organisms which have no power of movement do not have to encounter opposing objects, and plants consequently do not need to have a sensibility to pain, and so it comes about that if you break them they do not feel anguish in their members as do the animals.”
Some plants depend on being eaten for the survival of their species.
Some plants depend on being eaten to enhance the chances that their species will survive. The indigestible seeds of the plants will be spread over a wide geographical area as the plants are eaten by animals and then deposited in the animals' excrement.
Visceral reactions differ with plants and animals.
At a less cerebral and more visceral level, I think we all sense the difference between pulling up a dandelion and slitting the throat of a chicken. Watching someone mow the lawn doesn't evoke the same reaction as watching someone kick a dog.
Plants are sentient and intelligent only by the very broadest definitions.
Plants are sentient and intelligent only in a way similar to how bacteria and other single-cell organisms are sentient or intelligent. That is to say, plants generate and respond to chemical and electrical signals.
- “We Asked a Biologist If Plants Can Feel Pain.” Vice. Accessed July 26, 2017. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xd74nd/we-asked-a-botanist-how-sure-science-is-that-plants-cant-feel-pain-302
- Rand S. Swenson, M.D., Ph.D., “Review of Clinical and Functional Neuroscience.” Dartmouth Medical School, 2006. https://www.dartmouth.edu/~rswenson/NeuroSci/chapter_9.html
- Professor Smil Vaclav. “Eating Meat: Evolution, Patterns, and Consequences.” Population and Development Review 28, no. 4 (2002): 599–639. http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~vsmil/pdf_pubs/PDR2003.pdf
- da Vinci, Leonardo. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Note-Books: Arranged and Rendered into English with Introductions. Empire State Book Company, 1908, 130
This article was originally authored by Greg Fuller and copyedited by Isaac Nickerson. The contents may have been edited since that time by others.