“Compassion is a boundless capacity” – Lisa Kemmerer – Sentientism Episode 121

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Lisa is an activist and academic who specialises in anymal & environmental ethics. She was an associate professor of philosophy & religion at Montana State University Billings until she retired in 2020 to found & lead the educational, vegan umbrella organization, Tapestry. Lisa is the author or editor of ten books including “Animals & World Religions”. She has written over 100 articles & book chapters. Lisa coined the term anymal as a “correct” term for non-human animals.

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

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is also on our Podcast here on Apple & here everywhere else.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome

01:28 Lisa’s Intro

01:58 What’s Real?

  • Linking epistemology & ethics
  • “My mind sees a continuum”
  • Being born with “a more eastern way of thinking”
  • Metaphysical & practical concerns
  • “I don’t tend to use philosophy in an abstract way”
  • “I have very little faith in human reasoning… we are not rational beings.”
  • Descartes reasoning that anymals aren’t sentient
  • “We cannot trust our reason… that doesn’t mean reason’s out… we need to do it with humility”
  • “It’s the extent of our power that makes our arrogance dangerous”
  • “Roe vs Wade was just overturned… don’t tell me humans are rational.”
  • “Trump’s reality… I don’t want to know about that”
  • The USA: “Democracy requires education & we’re not an educated public”
  • “Our reason is flawed… we need to use it… we have to be sceptical”

11:53 What Matters?

  • “Cultures & people – that’s where you have to work”
  • “To try to bring change I need to work with humans where they’re at”
  • “I can see the beauty in it… and I can see the problems in it”
  • “Cruelty is not a good thing… compassion is a good thing… fairly universal”
  • “I love religions… they have a committed strong belief… I can get a hold of it”
  • “I have never, never talked to a serious Christian, & had them, after a serious conversation, say ‘it’s OK, what we’re doing with anymals’… an atheist? – whole different picture.”
  • Fowler’s stages of religion “I was there (stage 6) in my teens”
  • “These religions are rock solid in teaching the core ethic… of compassion”
  • Wild animal suffering & hell as challenges to a benevolent god
  • “Western faiths tend to be very rigid…” Eastern faiths are more pluralistic/flexible?
  • Compassion / empathy as central to Lisa’s family’s ethics
  • “When you live in a community you can’t tolerate cruelty”
  • Rights theory, virtue ethics (“bravery can be stupid or it can be good”)
  • Reciprocity
  • Consistency, practicality, flexibility

29:21 Who Matters?

  • Moral scope. Who gets to be in our community?
  • Father saving worms from the pavement
  • Moral luck & privilege
  • “I always found humans to be mean” whereas “my family were honest & not cruel”
  • “I grew up on meat”
  • Sister talking about PETA literature
  • Going vegetarian then vegan in the 1980’s “it wasn’t like now… there was no reasonable milk… I just did without.”
  • “I stopped eating what she [mother] had cooked… I know that was hard for her”
  • Dad: “You kids saved my life by changing my life”
  • “Normal is normal… we all grow up in our little bubbles.”
  • “I was very much on my own path… I didn’t have to worry about what anyone else thought.”
  • Travelling
  • A fascination with religion from a v.early age
  • Bio/ecocentrism “Have regard for everything… why wouldn’t we?”
  • “I am going to work on this situation”
  • “Philosophy goes wrong when it runs off… the ivory tower stuff”
  • “Why would I argue between the gnat & the grass when there is a veal calf right here that is dying”
  • “That human being is hungry & that veal calf is going to be slaughtered because we have collectively failed in our compassion”
  • “Everything is harmed by the fact that we’re taking up space”

49:10 A Better Future?

  • Do the religious or atheists have the clearest path to universal compassion?
  • “No religious person will say ‘I don’t care'”
  • Humanism & anymals? … “You’re going to have better luck with religious people”
  • “Most people have some religion… most religons feel very strongly about cruelty.” It’s a mistake for animal activists to reject the religious
  • “You have to be educated about religions to talk to people inside religions”
  • “Every religion teaches compassion, humility & at the centre is not humanity, it is either a god… or your ultimate journey… all of that points to vegan”
  • “All religions have… a core idea that it is best not to be eating anymals”
  • Genesis: “I give you the plants & the seeds to eat”… “We were given a vegan diet by god”
  • “The earth is ruined by humanity”
  • “Should we try to eat the beauty of that original Eden… which was peaceful & compassionate”
  • “On earth as it is in heaven!”
  • “These teachings are so beautiful – did you ever notice them… wouldn’t you like to practice them?”
  • “In the Eastern tradition the ideal is not to harm… the Jewish/Christian/Islamic tradition is to love… which is stronger!”
  • “Helping people to work inside their own traditions… that’s better”
  • “Everything about us is dualistic… but that isn’t the way the world is”
  • “You either have compassion or you don’t… once you start having compassion, why would you only have it for your family… it’s not a zero sum game… it’s a boundless capacity… [although] we’re limited in our energy.”
  • “What I ask is that anymal activists not feed into racism, not feed into sexism… and similarly, that those working to end poverty don’t feed animal products to hungry people and that those working for the environment don’t themselves consume anymals & anymal products… quit working against each other”
  • “They [social justice issues] are all connected”
  • Emotional motivations “not from a mind point of view but from a heart point of view”
  • “I’ll engage with anyone that gets near me”

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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