Jeff Sebo

“Change is possible but hard” – Jeff Sebo – Author, Activist, Academic – New Sentientist Conversation

Jeff Sebo is Clinical Assoc. Prof. of Environmental Studies, Affiliated Professor of Bioethics, Medical Ethics, & Philosophy, & Director of the Animal Studies M.A. Program at New York University. He is on the executive committee at the NYU Center for Environmental & Animal Protection & the advisory board for the Animals in Context series at NYU Press. He is a board member at Animal Charity Evaluators, a board member at Minding Animals International, an Exec. Cttee. member at the Animals & Society Institute, and a Senior Fellow at Sentient Media.

In these Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, commitment & compassion for all sentient beings.”

The audio is also on our Podcast – subscribe on Apple here & most other platforms via Anchor.

We discuss:

  • Jeff’s background in moral & political philosophy & his shift to focus on animal & environmental ethics
  • Multi-disciplinary approaches
  • Using academia to drive real change
  • Growing up in a Christian household & connecting with religious community (e.g. leading youth groups)
  • Considering going into ministry
  • College at Texas Christian University (liberal arts focus, but many conservative Christian students)
  • Facing a wave of challenges to religious beliefs & having a major faith crisis
  • “I never really believed the Christian stuff in the first place as much as I thought I did… in fact, I was just invested in the community.”
  • A reactionary atheism phase: “God is dead, life is absurd!”
  • Re-constructing a more generous interpretation of religious & scientific beliefs
  • Deep humility re: the fundamental nature of reality
  • The limits to empirical testing. There might be truths beyond those limits
  • “Use evidence & reason to study what we can but recognise that they will not be able to grasp everything of interest in the world”
  • Avoiding certainty (whether supernatural or claimed naturalistic), but also avoiding nihilism & giving up
  • Socrates’ Euthyphro dilemma https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro
    ​ (are gods expressing the “good” or are gods good by identity?)
  • Formal constructivism & anti-realism (values are things we create for ourselves)
  • JW: “Before sentient beings existed, there was no morality”
  • Christine Koorsgard: Value as an intrinsic aspect of agency
  • Sharon Street (formal constructivism): Contingent reasons drive overlap in our values (bio/cog/culture)
  • We can still constrain an ideally coherent Caligula who enjoys torturing
  • “You don’t have to be moral, but the rest of us will constrain you”
  • Valenced experience of sentient beings (suffering/flourishing) as a moral grounding
  • Other perspectives for moral value beyond sentience?
  • “My credence that Sentientism is the correct & only theory of moral status is lower than 1 but it is relatively high”
  • Sentientism can rule out moral systems that are agreed within groups if they needlessly cause suffering
  • Justifying practical ethics using meta-physics is skipping too many layers, but “suffering is bad” is pretty practical
  • Growing up “normal” re: non-human animals
  • Falling in love with ethics & existentialism
  • Singer, Regan, Rachels
  • “Sentience is, if not necessary, then at the very least sufficient for moral consideration”
  • Going vegetarian then vegan
  • Building an identity as an animal advocate
  • Being open-minded about the scope of sentience
  • The difficulty of assessing sentience & openness to broad sentience (plants, AI, all matter?)
  • Danger of humans focusing on Sentience as a “things like us” characteristic (we’ve been too restrictive historically with other characteristics)
  • Sentience as a counter to anthropocentrism
  • Sentience as an evolved capacity… but why does it have to come with phenomenological consciousness. Why should it “feel like” anything? The “hard problem”
  • Or is Sentience just what it feels like to run this type of info proc?
  • Mental states about mental states. A conception of the self
  • Sentience vs. consciousness
  • The future: Including animals in public policy – a multi-species political society. Extend human politics (democracy, liberalism) or re-think from scratch
  • “The future needs to look really different!”
  • A unified multi-species approach, acknowledging differing norms
  • Practical common ground (e.g. end animal farming) between diverse approaches
  • “Just transition”
  • Re-writing SDGs & the UDHR for all sentients
  • Aspire then act.

Follow Jeff at @jeffrsebo​ & find him at jeffsebo.net

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at https://sentientism.info/​​​​. Join our “wall” ​using this simple form.

Everyone interested, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. Our biggest (~90 countries so far) is here on FaceBook. ​

Thanks to Graham for his post-prod work. Follow him: @cgbessellieu.

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