The five characteristics of lifeforms are organization (a distinct form and appearance), irritability (the ability to respond to external stimuli), metabolism (the ability to convert energy to stay alive), reproduction (the ability to create new lifeforms), and adaptation (the ability to change as their environments change).
A species given the sapient definition is considered able to reason and understand abstract metaphorical concepts and ideas, make and use tools, and communicate with written or spoken language, consciousness, self-motivated activity, and self-awareness. Species that do not reason at all and survive only via their natural instincts, are classified as non-sapient or feral.
The predominant form of sapient life on Kaf are carbon-based lifeforms. However, other forms of life exist, such as metal-based or ectoplasm-based lifeforms.
The study of sapient species
Many institutions focus on the study of sapient species. Those scientists and anthropologists that study sapient species were known as sapientologists.
A Djinn researcher wrote the acclaimed The Essential Guide to Alien Species. He was able to gain unique insights into species by infiltration using his shapeshifting abilities. Rather than a scientific study, it was designed to facilitate first contact with species, providing guidelines as to common cultural interests, goals, fears and drives.
Personhood is the status of being considered a person, which is tied to host of civil responsibilities, liberties and equality. According to most law, only a person or has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability.
The concept of personhood was conceived in various feudal lands to differentiate the beings that should be part of a moral community, to be deserving of our moral consideration, as opposed to monsters which were not considered persons and thus nobody really cared what happened to them.
United Sapient Species Consideration
One of the major philosophical, legal and politically important debates made by the United Sapient Species was what are the requirements to be considered a person. A legal scholar proposed one of the earliest called the Genetic Criterion. This view says that you are a person if you have a sapient species DNA, and you are not a person if you don’t. The virtue of this view is its simplicity, but its implications are so problematic that most philosophers and the USS dismiss it. If all you need to be a person is Homin DNA, then homin mouth cells are persons, and so are corpses. One sapient race could consider itself persons while ignoring another sapient species rights. Also no inorganic forms of life like Anthroids or various spirits could meet the genetic criterion, even though they seem more like persons than individual cells. So, the Genetic Criterion seemed to allow some obvious non-persons into its definition, like, the cells in a city.
Another major consideration was from a female philosopher who offers five more specific criteria that she believed together constitute personhood. Consciousness, reasoning, self-motivated activity, capacity to communicate, and self-awareness, i.e. the same that constitute sapience. These five factors are known as the Cognitive Criterion for personhood and argues that some sapient beings just aren’t persons, either not yet, or not anymore. In this view, if a being is incapable of communicating, isn’t aware of itself as a self, can’t think or move around on its own, or isn’t conscious, then it’s not a being that we can call a person, even if it happens to have sapient being DNA or information. Controversy came because the cognitive criteria not only definitely ruled out fetuses, but it also kind of ruled out young children as kids don’t become self-aware until an early point in their life cycle. So cognitive criteria might have kicked out of the personhood club some beings that, to the populous, are clearly people.
Another idea discussed was the social criterion that says that you’re a person whenever society recognizes you as a person, or whenever someone cares about you. This one seems pretty intuitive. It says that you matter morally when you matter to someone. It allows for society’s understanding of a person to change over time, which seems good when we’re thinking about something like expanding rights to protect primates, for example. However, the USS thought carefully about this view, because it also means that if no one happens to care for a particular being, that being simply isn’t a person. It would mean that fully rational healthy functioning adults might not have personhood just because no one happens to care about them, and they wanted inclusion in the moral community to be something more than a popularity contest.
Another contemporary philosopher says that the key to personhood is sentience, the ability to feel pleasure and pain. This criterion ignores the whole idea of species all together and instead looks at a being’s capacity to suffer. This view says that it’s wrong to cause unnecessary pain to anything that can feel, but if it can’t feel, well, we do no harm by excluding it from the group of beings that matter. So fetuses younger than the development of sensation for a species are not persons, nor in persistent vegetative states but any being with a developed central nervous system is a person.
The USS had to carefully consider all their options since some people think that personhood is a right, a sort of ticket to the moral community that you forfeit when you violate the laws of society in a major way. In this view, you can surrender your own personhood through grossly inhumane actions. This line of reasoning is one way people justify capital punishment. Yes, killing people is wrong, they might say, but if a criminal has surrendered their personhood through their actions, then they’re no longer a person anymore, so we as members of the state would think ourselves justified in killing them. This was even more crucial as scientific evidence about monsters popping up from psychologists and behavioral scientists. Historically monsters were considered to do inhumane actions by default (even if an individual hasn’t done it yet) and thus can justify their punishing them or not caring about their well being or rights. However more evidence was beginning to show that some beings considered “monsters” could have the capacity to be sapient, understand society morals, and potentially become part of the moral community.
Out of these discussions came a nuanced option called the gradient theory of personhood, which says it’s not all or nothing, it’s more like a dimmer switch to attempt to solve the problem. So, personhood comes in degrees, and you can have more or less of it. So in this view, a fetus would grow slowly in personhood throughout pregnancy as cognition develops. So a 26 week old fetus would have less personhood than a 34 week old fetus, which would have less personhood than a newborn baby that would have less personhood than a toddler. And likewise, personhood can be lost as gradually as it can be gained.
A lot of people thought this was a reasonable way to look at the issue, especially with elements of the cognitive and social criteria. For instance, a monster race individual raised in a domestic setting with values to the point where they do not want to mindless hurt or kill other citizens than they are considered more of a person than sapient monsters who may pray on them. And if much more monster individuals are considered to be part of the moral community than those that aren’t, then over time the species as a whole can be considered people. Thus it has become a major tenet of the United Sapient Species organization, all sapient species are people but some are considered more than others.
List of Sapient Races by Creature Type