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Sentience vs. Sapience — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Fiza Rafique — Updated on September 12, 2023
Sentience refers to the capacity to have subjective experiences and sensations. Sapience is the ability for complex thought, judgment, and decision-making.
Sentience vs. Sapience — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Sentience and Sapience


Key Differences

Sentience is a quality that refers to the basic ability to perceive, feel, or experience subjectively. It is often associated with consciousness at its simplest form, like sensing heat or experiencing pain. Sapience, on the other hand, is a higher-level cognitive capacity. It includes abilities like reasoning, problem-solving, and understanding complex ideas.
Sentience is commonly found in many animals; even simple creatures like worms or insects possess a level of sentience as they can perceive their environment and react to it. Sapience is considered a unique trait primarily associated with humans, although debates exist about other animals like dolphins and certain primates also having some form of sapience.
Sentience is often used as a criteria for ethical consideration; if an organism is sentient, it can experience suffering and therefore should be treated ethically. Sapience brings in another layer of ethical complexity, as beings with sapience have an enhanced understanding of concepts like future, morals, and consequences.
Sentience in language and literature often serves to describe the rudimentary experiences of characters or beings, bringing them to life through sensory details. Sapience is portrayed through complex dialogues, moral dilemmas, and intricate thought processes that a character goes through.
Sentience can be thought of as the 'hardware'—the ability to receive and process information at a basic level. Sapience is more like the 'software'—the algorithms and applications that run on the hardware, allowing for complex operations and decisions.

Comparison Chart


Ability to feel and perceive
Ability for complex thought

Ethical Concerns

Focuses on ability to suffer
Includes moral and ethical nuance


Found in many animals
Primarily human

Literary Usage

Depicts basic experiences
Depicts complex cognition



Compare with Definitions


The ability to have sensory experiences.
Plants lack sentience as they cannot feel pain.


The capability for complex reasoning and judgment.
His sapience was evident in his nuanced understanding of philosophy.


Basic awareness of one's environment.
Even a goldfish shows signs of sentience.


Advanced cognitive abilities, including self-awareness.
Sapience distinguishes humans from most other animals.


The capability to feel pain or pleasure.
Animal welfare laws consider the sentience of animals.


Profound understanding of complex concepts.
Some argue that sapience could exist in advanced extraterrestrial life.


The faculty of sensation.
Sentience is a critical component in the ethical debate on AI.


The ability to understand and apply knowledge.
Artificial intelligence lacks true sapience.


Sentience is the capacity to be aware of feelings and sensations. The word was first coined by philosophers in the 1630s for the concept of an ability to feel, derived from Latin sentientem (a feeling), to distinguish it from the ability to think (reason).


The quality of wisdom or discernment.
His sapience was clear in the wise choices he made.


The quality or state of being sentient; consciousness.


Having great wisdom and discernment.


Feeling as distinguished from perception or thought.


The property of being sapient, the property of possessing or being able to possess wisdom.


The state or quality of being sentient; possession of consciousness or sensory awareness.


The quality of being sapient; wisdom; sageness; knowledge.
Woman, if I might sit beside your feet,And glean your scattered sapience.


The quality or state of being sentient; esp., the quality or state of having sensation.
An example of harmonious action between the intelligence and the sentiency of the mind.


Ability to apply knowledge or experience or understanding or common sense and insight


State of elementary or undifferentiated consciousness;
The crash intruded on his awareness


The faculty through which the external world is apprehended;
In the dark he had to depend on touch and on his senses of smell and hearing


The readiness to perceive sensations; elementary or undifferentiated consciousness;
Gave sentience to slugs and newts


The condition of having subjective experiences.
Sentience raises ethical questions in animal testing.

Common Curiosities

What is Sentience?

Sentience is the ability to have sensory experiences and subjective perceptions.

Are all animals sentient?

Most animals have some level of sentience, but the degree can vary.

What is Sapience?

Sapience is the capacity for higher-level cognition, reasoning, and decision-making.

Is sentience a requirement for ethical consideration?

Sentience often serves as a criterion for ethical treatment, as sentient beings can experience suffering.

Do any animals possess sapience?

Primarily humans are considered sapient, though debates exist regarding certain other animals.

Does sapience bring additional ethical responsibilities?

Yes, sapient beings have a higher level of ethical understanding, affecting how they should be treated.

Is sentience only about pain and pleasure?

Sentience is primarily about sensory experiences, which can include but are not limited to pain and pleasure.

Can machines be sapient?

Currently, machines do not possess sapience; they can perform tasks but lack understanding or judgment.

Is sapience equivalent to intelligence?

Sapience includes intelligence but also adds layers of judgment, wisdom, and ethical understanding.

Is sapience the next evolutionary step after sentience?

Sapience is generally considered a higher-level cognitive function that builds upon, but is separate from, sentience.

How is sapience measured?

Sapience is even harder to quantify and is usually assessed through cognitive tests and behavior.

Is sentience unique to organic life?

So far, sentience is considered a characteristic of organic beings, though debates exist in the context of AI.

Can machines be sentient?

As of now, machines lack the capability for sentience, though this is a subject of ongoing research.

How is sentience measured?

Sentience is challenging to measure directly but is often inferred through behavior and physiological responses.

Can one exist without the other?

Sentience can exist without sapience, as in simpler animals, but sapience generally implies some level of sentience.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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