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In the Harry Potter books, are we to assume the Mandrakes are sentient? They are portrayed as behaving much like human beings, such as going through adolescence, et cetera. However, if this is the case, chopping them up for spells seems more than a little harsh.

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Are the pieces of Wizard Chess sentient? –  b_jonas Mar 26 at 10:00

2 Answers 2

Yes, Mandrakes are sentient in their own way.

First, Mandrakes are described as "babies" in Chamber of Secrets -- Harry is surprised when Professor Sprout pulls the first Mandrake out of its pot and it looks humanesque. The Mandrake also apparently has a gender.

Harry let out a gasp of surprise that no one could hear.

Instead of roots, a small, muddy and extremely ugly baby popped out of the earth. The leaves were growing right out of his head. He had pale green, mottled skin, and was clearly bawling at the top of his lungs.

Chamber of Secrets - pages 72-73 - Bloomsbury - chapter six, Gilderoy Lockhart

The Mandrakes dislike being repotted and attempt to avoid being put into a new pot. This demonstrates they possess preferences.

Professor Sprout has to fit the Mandrakes with scarves in the winter which goes back to preference -- they are not immune to temperature preferences. They prefer being warm.

The sun had now begun to shine weakly on Hogwarts again. Inside the castle, the mood had grown more hopeful. There had been no more attacks since those on Justin and Nearly Headless Nick, and Madam Pomfrey was pleased to report that the Mandrakes were becoming moody and secretive, meaning that they were fast leaving childhood.

Chamber of Secrets - page 175 - Bloomsbury - chapter thirteen, The Very Secret Diary

"Moody" is a state of mind. A being cannot be moody without having a state of mind, i.e. sentience.

In March of Harry's second year, the Mandrakes throw a party in Greenhouse Three. This implies social interaction and a desire to have a shared experience with peers.

Many objects, creatures, and plants show sentience in Potterverse, where they would not in the Muggle world.

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I don't think any of this proof of actual sentience... just general indications of having some sort of brain. Note we often say "X plant prefers acidic soil" without meaning the plant is sentient. Also the scarves could simply be there to keep them alive/healthy--no evidence of preference, just biology. Also, people often anthropomorphize things like these--"My tomatoes were unhappy in their new pot". –  ValekHalfHeart Mar 26 at 3:23
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I upvoted this because it does a good job answering my question as I asked it. However, I'm really more interested in the in-world ethics of slaughtering the Mandrakes for spells --I probably should have made that more clear. –  Chris Sunami Mar 26 at 3:24
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@Valek Well, they did throw a party in greenhouse three. –  doppelgreener Mar 26 at 4:59
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Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive, or to experience subjectivity (from Wikipedia). In sci-fi it's often used to mean self-awareness (humans being the only sentient species on earth, looking for "other sentient species", etc.) Most of the above could be applied to a dog or cat, which have personalities but not sentience. (The exception would be the throwing a party part.) The scarves part is the least convincing of all as it might be that they would die of cold without them - it doesn't necessarily indicate a preference. –  starsplusplus Mar 26 at 10:51
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Also: the bit on gender isn't useful. Real-world gametophyte-stage plants can be male or female (or both). –  Brian S Mar 26 at 15:00

I think the question you are trying to ask is really if they are Sapient...

Many animals and plants are sentient but not sapient.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentience

Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive, or to experience subjectivity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapience#Sapience

Sapience is often defined as wisdom, or the ability of an organism or entity to act with appropriate judgement, a mental faculty which is a component of intelligence or alternatively may be considered an additional faculty, apart from intelligence, with its own properties.

As the previous person shows proof that they have forms of sentience, but I think you were trying to compare them to humans which would mean that you are wondering if they are human like aka Sapient, which they are not.

Just to clarify there is no proof in the books that the Mandrakes show forms of wisdom or judgement. This means that they are sentient but not sapient. If they were able to perform complex thought processes then yes they would be sapient but as I stated they do not show this in the book.

I also wanted to point out that Science Fiction in general tends to blur the lines between sentience / sapience. As the wiki states :

The words "sapience", "self-awareness", and "consciousness" are used in similar ways in science fiction

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Sentient is often used in Sci-Fi to distinguish between "animals" and "people" though. I've never seen a definition outside the genre that supports this but the David Brin's Uplift saga is a good example of the word used in the sense that the OP implies. Anyway, how do you conclude they're not sapient? I can't decide from the information in the books. –  terdon Mar 26 at 5:12
    
Sapience would mean that they have some form of wisdom or higher form of intelligence than other species of plants / monster races in Harry Potter. –  DoctorWho22 Mar 26 at 12:53
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Many of the "monster races" clearly have near-human or higher intelligence (giants, merpeople, gobblins etc) but yes, I understand what sapience would mean. What I don't know is how you conclude that mandrakes don't possess it. Your answer basically consists of a discussion of what sapience and sentience mean, the only part of your answer that actually attempts to answer the OP is the bold statement of: which they are not. You offer no arguments and no evidence to support that claim so, how do you conclude that is true? –  terdon Mar 26 at 15:02
    
Because the mandrakes in the book only react to stuff like not trying to be planted back into their pots. Nothing in the book shows them as being any more intelligent than let's say a dog who doesn't want to go back inside the house? I stated that yes they show sentience as the person before showed how they were "moody", but in no way is there any proof that they are sapient. Although you can most likely argue just because there is lack a proof it doesn't disqualify as being sapient. –  DoctorWho22 Mar 26 at 15:11
    
Agreed, but nothing in book shows them as not being more intelligent either. And you don't mention anything from the book in your answer, that's my main point. You just make a claim, with no argumentation, and the rest is a discussion of semantics. To decide one way or the other, you need to defend your claim somehow. –  terdon Mar 26 at 15:13

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