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Maybe this a philosophy question. But this is also an English question.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Usually, this refers to living things--even hypothetical, alien life forms. Depending on usage, it may or may not include plants.

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I agree with Jay, but would also add that in the realm of philosophy, something has "being" if it exists. Of course, this opens an existential can of worms.

"Being" could be seen as the gerund form for the verb "to be", which means "to exist".

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A sentient life form, capable of planning. Homo sapiens. Aliens, if they exist and can plan their lives.

This excludes all animals and everything further down the food chain.

Just to clarify, I don't consider a gorilla to be a 'being', even if it appears to communicate with sign language.

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Adding sentient qualifies being in the way you describe, but without sentient, I believe it most often includes "animals and everything further down the food chain." – Jay Jan 24 '11 at 12:05
@jay My gorilla plans things? A rat plans things? A snail plans things? Where do you draw the line? – smirkingman Jan 24 '11 at 15:10
Again, you're talking about sentient beings, which is a small class among all beings. – Jay Jan 24 '11 at 15:15
@jay Perhaps I wasn't clear. If we remove sentient, we're left with "life form, capable of planning". What I was trying to say is that you'd have to remove "planning" as well, which leaves us with "life form". A snail is a life form, so a snail is a being? – smirkingman Jan 24 '11 at 15:21
I say "yes" to the snail; planning is not required. Here is a reference that I think supports this: "a living thing that has (or can develop) the ability to act or function independently" (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=being). – Jay Jan 24 '11 at 15:35

There seem to be quite a number of humans who are not “beings” – they can’t think or plan – more like parasites, and also quite a number of animals which have more “being” than some humans: they can think and figure things out. Intelligence makes the being; ”awareness” makes the being; an “aha” moment makes a being, in my personal opinion.

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