Sentientism: Evidence, reason and compassion

FAQ YouTubePodcastCommunity Updates!

Welcome! – thank you for visiting and, hopefully, for being curious about Sentientism: “Evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings.”

Sentientism is a philosophy or worldview – a way of thinking about what’s real and what matters.

Sentientists use evidence and reason to work out what to believe in, so don’t hold supernatural beliefs.

Sentientists also have compassion for every sentient being – any being capable of experiencing, particularly experiencing suffering or flourishing. Roughly speaking, that’s human and non-human animals, but other types of being could conceivably be sentient too.

“Evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings” sounds fairly obvious, but it has some radical implications and most people on the planet disagree with it – so far…

This site has video, audio and writing about Sentientism and we have a YouTube channel for your eyes and a podcast for your ears. This FAQ answers some common questions. We post updates here!

For a more personal touch, you might like to read some of the messages people are leaving on our “Wall of Sentientists”. See if you can spot the “celebrities” on the wall or on our Suspected Sentientists page. You can even add yourself if the philosophy fits personally.

There’s a global movement starting to grow up around Sentientism. Anyone interested is welcome to join our forums – Sentientist or not.

The commitment to evidence and reason means that Sentientism, like secular humanism, doesn’t hold to any supernatural beliefs. Having compassion for all sentient beings means sentientists see causing harm or death to a sentient as morally negative.

Beings that have sentience (or sentients), are those that can experience – both suffering and flourishing.  Sentient beings today include humans and non-human animals – the clear priorities. However, sentient beings could potentially include artificial and alien intelligences should we create or encounter them.

If Sentientism sounds interesting, come and join our friendly, global community here. Anyone interested is welcome, whether or not you count yourself as a sentientist. We have people from around 80 countries involved to date – a mix of academics, activists, writers, policy people and interested lay people like me.

If you’d like to find out more you can read our Sentientism FAQ and some magazine articles on Sentientism here , watch video here and listen to some the podcasts about Sentientism here. Please let me know what you think – in comments below or on one of our community groups.

Once you’ve learned about Sentientism, you might consider yourself a sentientist. If you do, visit our “I’m a Sentientist!” page and add yourself to our wall. No detail needed – you can just leave your first name or add some thoughts depending on what you’re comfortable with.

Sentientism might feel like a fairly niche idea, but it has far reaching implications. This piece sets out some ideas about what might disappear in a sentientist world. and our “How?” section has ideas about how you might be able to make the world a little more rational and compassionate.

Here’s another piece that compares sentientism to some related philosophies and movements.  Hopefully this helps to clarify why I think it is distinctive and valuable. The following slides show some of those comparisons and set out where Sentientism came from.

This is a short read covering my thoughts re: “Is Humanism good enough” and pointing out where sentientism is an improvement.

This piece argues we should integrate animal, human and even artificial or alien intelligence rights into sentient rights. Here, I’ve set out what a Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights might look like.

To date, there’s little mention of sentientism outside of philosophical circles. Given its importance — I feel that’s odd. If you’re interested in talking about the topics raised or finding out more, we run a range of online forums you can find here. Anyone interested is welcome, you don’t need to consider yourself a sentientist.

If you think sentientism is important and would like to help raise awareness of the idea, I’ve written some ideas about how you could help here.

There’s a Sentientism Wikipedia page, a Simple English Wikipedia page and an Animawiki one – feel free to help improve them.

12 Comments

  1. (Some sections removed by administrator)

    Hi to whom this may concern,

    My name is Constantine Stambolitis. I don’t like speciesism. What can we do to stop speciesism because we allow people to post on mainstream websites like Reddit of not liking “dirty animals” like dogs… Look at this speciesist Reddit… https://www.reddit.com/r/dogfree/about You can go lie about how dogs have no feelings and then turn around and say I know they feel, I just dislike them and say otherwise. It makes no sense because “dirty animals” are naturally occurring creatures and some of these people go as far as saying we should exterminate them… They act like they were created to be killed by humans or if not on the belief of doing that, just hate them because they are dirty and for their creation by nature. And then they have the nerve to say in response to scientific articles that say animals feel, including the “dirty animals” I know I’m lying, I am expressing hate and I need to lie, that’s the difference. I would not believe someone the minute they admit to lying and come up with excuses for us to believe them… It is sickening a person can right in BBC.com I dislike dogs… They are not using the hate colloquially most of the time, it’s literal, literal like hating a murderer who killed a love one in your face… If you have allergies or mental health issues that cause it, that’s excused to a degree. If not, you are a speciesist. These people need to be censored.

    Best,

    Constantine

  2. Whilst I agree that animals and all sentient beings have feelings and that Humans have a great deal to learn about increasing compassion, I see no solid reason why our efforts should be centred on anything but Humanism. Animals have no means of organising and effecting any change in the desirable directions. Humans have so much put down other humans that the correction of humans must take priority. As an example of how to correct things I have no objection to animals being chosen for exemplar demonstrations . I.e. If you cannot show kindness and reap the benefits of compassion to a cat then it is unlikely that you will be fully successful with Humans

    • Thanks David. Sentientism is less about expecting non-human sentient animals to organise and drive change. It’s more about “correcting humans” as you put it – including encouraging humans to seriously extend our moral consideration to all sentient beings. Some Humanist organisations and many Humanists are already open to that. But sadly, most of the humanist movement remains exclusively focused on humans and more specifically on resisting religious privilege. Those are important causes, but, while we work on them, there’s no reason to continue needlessly causing suffering & death to the non-human sentients we share the planet with. You might find this short piece interesting Is Humanism Good Enough?

  3. The cetaceans (whales and dolphins) evolved before humans did. Their brains are larger than ours and as they have no hands they do not need to waste any brain power in motor control of these limbs. Nor do they need to spend so much brainpower on the consideration of all things material. They do not have that human intellectual “hand” icap, which must surely be our greatest obstacle in comparison. For example, pure mathematics, therefore, is more likely to be of interest to them than applied mathematics. However, I wonder if they apply their maths to aspects of navigation, and the understanding of space, especially living outdoors as they do all night long and every night, under the stars. Those stars must be far closer to their minds than they are to human minds.
    Scientists have discovered there are areas of the cetacean brain for which they have no explanation and which humans lack. They also have more of the special fibres that are associated with compassion. What might they use these mysterious zones for? I do wonder.

    As a fiction author it is my job to explore that and I have come up with some suggestions in my work. However, I am unfortunately only human and therefore limited. But possibly things we think of as fictional, like astral travel and telepathy. In fact I have experienced what felt uncannily like dolphin telepathy when I was kayaking among dolphins once. I videoed the experience here:
    https://youtu.be/Pb9z1YNDF10

  4. This was very interesting to come across! I’m a transition/newbie vegan. I also might lack empathy, lack remorse and I also have violent/antisocial urges and desires due to my mental condition. I am what people would (and have) describe as a ‘sociopath’

    It is kinda hard transitioning and trying to advocate for all sentient things but I am trying.. I feel like I can’t be a sentientist right now but I like the fact that this ideology or whatever it is focuses on evidence and reason! I see myself as either logical or just not caring and acting according to my own rules. That definitely brings me more into sentientism! I will check this out 🥰

    • Congrats on the vegan transition – hope it’s going well. So many are making the same change now. So many reasons and it’s getting easier all the time.

      Thanks for your perspective re: your mental condition. For some, there’s a strong emotional drive to their compassion – a feeling of empathy/connection/seeing from the perspective of another. For others, it is a more “logical” thing e.g. “I don’t like suffering, I’m pretty sure other sentient beings don’t either so I’m just choosing not to cause them to suffer…”. For most it’s a mix. Hopefully the naturalistic angle to Sentientism feels helpful re: driving your compassion even if you don’t feel an emotional empathy.

  5. Sentientism is utmost necessary to understand in order cover the whole of sentient beings on the planet from the 70 billion plus animals we use & torture & kill to the extermination of unwanted animals by the so-called different types of environmentalists. Veganism is a moral imperative, no argument from me. On that I am fully on board. I find abhorrent to the extreme the idea of excluding more than 90% of life on this planet out of moral concern including trees & forests–forests which are a community & cannot be picked apart by its members: sentient, not sentient & everything in between, trees, species–forests that by themselves command our respect. How about the ancient redwoods? Do they get ignored while we give moral concern to a piece of “sentient” metal? Trees are not sentient but a piece of programmed machinery is sentient? It is disgusting beyond my ability to morally digest the idea of mechanical “sentience” like robots receiving moral concern as we chop down live trees that have existed for thousands of years, but rights people say we have no duty toward them. Abhorrent doesn’t even come close to describing what I see as absolute moral wrong. Sentiencism is right & just & necessary but still it is a stark limitation to justice–to extending our human moral concern beyond the inadequate. Instead of teaching how to expand our moral concern, we are learning how to restrict it. I am so heartbroken & disgusted that I must say that it is so absolutely wrong to consider a machine (sentient machine!) over a thousand year old living tree. Trees are not sentient so rights people cry out, but machines are sentient & deserve our moral concern? How terribly unjust. In this sense I greatly applaud the essay “Respect for Life: Counting what Singer Finds of no Account” by Holmes Rolston II while at the same time I am equally horrified at his suggestion that killing the “wrong” species is the right thing to do while it was human created all along, but no suggestion to kill people (which would be equally wrong) who created this mess to begin with. There’s no hope here for human evolution. I adore Gary Francione & think he’s what this world needed except when he suggests we owe nothing to non sentient beings. We are so far behind our evolution. In the meantime, several countries have granted legal personhood to forests, rivers, lakes, etc. They are way ahead of us. What is missing in all of these efforts are the whole gamut of sentient beings never mentioned. There are black holes in both positions. And it’s all very very wrong. I suggest reading the article I suggested along with some insight from Paul W. Taylor Respect for Nature–not totally on target but lots of insight & wisdom. We are on the cusp of self destruction & still people want to exclude precious life forms & now we should welcome machines into moral concern? What an injustice mess!

    • Thanks for your reply! Personally I care deeply about trees, rocks, rivers and our wider ecosystem – because they are so important to the experiences of the trillions of sentient beings we share this planet with. We don’t need to grant non-sentient entities intrinsic moral consideration to care about them. Sadly, as you say, many seem to care more about rocks and rivers than about beings that can clearly suffer. For me, the artificial/robot sentience question is a purely philosophical one at this point. I don’t think any sentient AI/robots exist today. At the same time, if we were to create one – or our AI friends were to create one… if it could suffer then I think it should matter morally.

  6. I never mentioned rocks. Rocks are not alive–they are inanimate objects and attempting to make a point toward sentientism, it is not necessary to degrade life trees, plant life & all those in-between sentient & non sentient beings on the side of inanimate objects. I absolutely & categorically reject that immoral comparison, especially now that we are destroying the last forests on earth within a short time–and all that the forests mean to all the life forms in it–all the life in it indeed counting the baby bears who lose their dens etc. And including the trees who indeed deserve moral standing and legal standing. So please do not blur majestic life entities such as trees together with inanimate objects such as stones or other nonsense items as Gary does. This is *exactly* what I was talking about: the shallow attitudes, shallow moral vision & poverty of moral spirit that is so profoundly sad. What a tragic movement on both sides if one side simply cannot understand individual sentient beings exactly like ourselves in every relevant way and profoundly tragic the other side who wants to group life trees or plants together with inanimate objects, and instead of having a higher moral vision to be more inclusive toward life, we continue to exclude, but anticipate into the moral community a supposed moral worth of technology? I gasp. “Ghastly” doesn’t even come close to describing the truth I so clearly see. Sophia the artificial robot has gained citizenship while animals remain in cages & vivisected fully awake. We have lost 95% of Redwoods because no one wants to value them. This is morally sickening. We are 2000 years behind valuing our forests and trees & valuing forests as seamless communities. Yet we anticipate moral value to technology & artificial “suffering?”–It’s just a nauseating game humans play in order to value only those who are just like us–and if not, you’re out of the game. Both sides are profoundly wrong.

    “Borneo’s magnificent rain forest is being decimated to make way for oil palm plantations. Consumers of the countless products made with palm oil, from toothpaste to chocolate bars, hold the key to protecting the most ancient forest on earth” Dr. Richard Oppenlander rightly says the rainforest commands respect for the reasons he states in Comfortably Unaware. And we continue to put trees & stones & inanimate objects all in one category. I am beyond words.

    Gary writes an essay on sentient lettuce that is more for the spiritual evolution of a 3rd grader than serious moral thinking. I understand going beyond the sentience dividing line can be seen as a philosophical dilemma, but nevertheless, it is also an ethical & heart connection problem. If genuine love is there–reverence for life, then it all comes together effortlessly. Seamless like forests. Power Vs Force–the book. If there is less love, there is limited moral vision.

    “Why should we care about animals, when humans are dying of hunger and genocide?
    Why should we care about plants, when animals are suffering and are killed for food?
    Because animals are not rational beings, their lives are impoverished and less valuable, compared with those of humans.
    Because plants are not sentient beings, their lives are impoverished and less valuable, compared with those of animals.
    Where do we draw the line if we admit animals into our moral considerations? Will plants be next?
    Where do we draw the line if we admit plants into our moral considerations? Will bacteria be next?”

    Who is really in command here on this earth–humans with their frightfully limited philosophy, or is it Mother Nature, The Universe, The Multi-Universe, God, A Creative Force which is the most ultimate intelligence? There’s no competition at all in the level of creative perfection. I respect your reply, but I do not accept the blurring of boundaries between rocks & life trees. That is where I draw the line. Say hi to Gary.

    • What’s most important to me is that we grant moral consideration to every sentient being. I think you and I share that commitment. I’m open minded about how to go beyond that – whether we see intrinsic or instrumental value in non-sentient entities. Either way, sentient beings (primarily us animals) need a healthy, rich environment for us to survive and flourish.

      As to who is in charge – no one is. But us humans have a great deal of power for good and ill. That’s why our beliefs (hopefully based on evidence and reason) and our values (hopefully moral consideration for all sentients) are so centrally important.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 − one =