Associate Professor Jonathan Birch has been awarded a European Research Council Starting Grant worth €1.5m for a new research project on the foundations of animal sentience.

In recent years, the issue of whether, and which, animals should be described as sentient has become an active, interdisciplinary research programme. However, the field of animal sentience research is plagued by deep foundational issues regarding both the nature of sentience and the criteria for its attribution.

Philosopher of biology, Jonathan Birch, will help to resolve some of these issues with his new research project, “Foundations of Animal Sentience” (ASENT), which has been awarded a prestigious European Research Council Starting Grant to the value of €1.5m.

ASENT aims to provide a clear conceptual framework for thinking about animal sentience. It will develop an account of the basic functional capacities involved in sentience, and an evaluation of which capacities justify us in regarding an animal as sentient, and it will formulate an overarching conceptual framework for understanding the dimensions along which sentience varies across the animal kingdom. In addition to this foundational work, ASENT will also propose a series of experimental tests for sentience, using bees as a test case, and will provide an assessment of the links between sentience, welfare and the ethical status of animals.

The ERC Starting Grant scheme provides funding for early career researchers with a track record of producing excellent work and the potential to become research leaders. Applications for funding are evaluated by an international panel of academics on the basis of excellence. Each Starting Grant may be awarded up to €1.5m for a period of 5 years.