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I am looking for a word that is similar in nature to humankind, but not doesn't focus specifically on humans.

The need arose from a discussion about the meaning of life, where a possible answer is "The betterment of humankind" (what ever that means, doesn't matter).

I am however looking for a word to replace 'humankind' that is more inclusive term, encompassing all kinds of intelligence/forms of consciousness (e.g. other animals, artificial intelligence, aliens).

I preferably looking for a layman term (if possible) that is viable in a non-fiction context.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Misti, Jim, tchrist, Chenmunka Jul 17 '15 at 14:42

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migrated from philosophy.stackexchange.com Jul 14 '15 at 15:45

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  • 1
    First off, welcome to philosophy.se. We don't really do these sorts of dictionary definition question here. This seems to be a good question for English.se or ELL.se. If you'd like I can migrate it for you. – virmaior Jul 14 '15 at 14:07
  • Thank you @virmaior . Wasn't sure where to post it. If you could migrate it I would appreciate it (to English.se I think) – Toke Faurby Jul 14 '15 at 15:44

Conceivably you're looking for the word sentience here. So in noun form, sentient beings, sentient life forms or rarely sentients.

The only pitfall is that the definition of sentience its self is much disputed, so it's up to you to then defend your definition of what would qualify. I expect this would be a related problem to your statement no matter what term you use though, so you might as well join the fray with this one.

For reference, here's the wikipedia entry on sentience. There's actually a mention in there of how the term differs from "sapience" which implies a higher degree of thought, reason and learning than sentience, and from which we get "homo sapiens". I suspect from your ask though, that anything that is or appears to be self aware, including animals, should be included in your statement.

  • "Sentience" is used a lot in science fiction to refer to species capable of forming and advancing a civilization, in particular to differentiate such beings from those which are certainly alive but not "intelligent" enough to form civilization. Because this is a very popular use of the term, I'd avoid it for the asker's purposes (which include the "primitive" life forms, i.e. animals). I'd focus instead on simply life forms, beings, or entities. – talrnu Jul 14 '15 at 17:53
  • @Talmu: I believe that that distinction must be the exception rather than the rule. In particular I'd point to arguably the most famous/influential SF book about the definition of sentience, H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. One major topic of discussion is the prevailing rule of thumb in the story's setting "talk and build a fire" -- the plot hinges on the fact that the Fuzzies can do one but not the other, and the disproof of their sentience is worth billions of dollars to a large corporation. In other words, the bar is lower than actual civilization. – Paul Drye Jul 14 '15 at 19:00
  • Something like 'aware entities', or 'self-aware entities' might be more inclusive. – hatchet Jul 14 '15 at 21:50
  • @talrnu, I don't think science fiction informs this context much. If we were to include such considerations, then the use of entities in engineering would disqualify it. In any case, not all life is thinking or feeling at all, and so I would think that eliminates anything like life form without further qualification. – Chris Subagio Jul 15 '15 at 0:36

Sophont is a specialized term used primarily in science fiction, as evidenced by the SF Citations for OED database:

Definition: an intelligent being, including humans as well as intelligent aliens.

1966 P. Anderson Trouble Twisters (1969) 57 Likewise with the psychology of intelligent species. Most sophonts indeed possess basic instincts which diverge more or less from man's. With those of radically alien motivations we have little contact.

  • "sophont".... sounds weird. It doesn't have the "cromulent" and "embiggen" feel to it. – Pacerier Oct 4 '15 at 21:04

While I believe sentience is perhaps the most widely understood term for what you want to convey, there is another term that is often used in science fiction work to convey a similar notion: sapience.

In fantasy fiction and science fiction, sapience often describes an essential property that bestows "personhood" onto a non-human. It indicates that a computer, alien, mythical creature or other similar will be treated as a being with capabilities and desires as any human character, often eligible to full civil rights. The words "sentience," "self-awareness," and "consciousness" are used in similar ways in science fiction.

  • Irrespective of its use in fantastic narratives, sapience does indeed indicate a being capable of rational thought. Hence homo sapiens, right? The problem is that definition is too high with regards to the OP's ask; he specifically includes animals, which on the whole are not considered sapient. The SF corpus regularly conflates sentience with sapience, which is both not the original intentions of the words, and robs us of the useful distinction. This is a colloquial usage worth fighting back against! – Chris Subagio Jul 15 '15 at 0:37
  • @ChrisSubagio Homo sapiens sapiens, even :P – talrnu Jul 15 '15 at 1:43
  • @ChrisSubagio: I believe the OP is arguing that the jury is still out on the question of animal sapience. – jxh Jul 15 '15 at 1:59

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