“De-centring the human” – New Sentientist Conversation with Josh Gellers. Also Happy New Year!

Josh Gellers is an associate professor at the University of North Florida. His work spans animal, environmental and artificial intelligence ethics and law. He is a research fellow with the Earth System Governance Project and is a Fulbright scholar. He is Author of “Rights for Robots: Artificial Intelligence, Animal and Environmental Law” (open access!).

In these Sentientist Conversations (subscribe!), 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: (& on most other platforms).

We discuss:

  • Seeing the impact of climate first hand in South Florida
  • Spanning “hard” and social sciences, rights, ethics and law, animal, environmental and artificial intelligence… inter-disciplinary
  • Sophia the robot and non-human entity rights
  • Growing up in a culturally Jewish household, with a mix of conservative religious and more secular liberal perspectives
  • Doubting religion from an early age
  • How could there be an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving god when there is so much suffering?
  • Seeing examples of sexism and societal shaming within orthodox religion
  • Kosher laws as historic public health recommendations
  • Exposure to Buddhist animal ethics in Sri Lanka (living with spiders)
  • Considering animals in diet for environmental reasons
  • Trail maintenance/habitat restoration in California
  • “Other ways of knowing and worlding” and pluralism
  • Wanting to say there are certain universals, but hesitating to say “I have the right way”
  • Jack Donnelly: “Relatively universal human rights”
  • Aspiring to be more ecocentric
  • Guilt and consciousness about how to be in the world
  • Learning, respecting, humility, open-mindedness, compassion
  • Doing the above without slipping into a relativism that allows the powerful to oppress others
  • Anna Greer as an inspiration
  • Critical environmental ethic with underlying pillars: Compassionate, resilience, sensitivity to the needs of others – ground rules as a safety net vs. relativism
  • Needlessly causing harm isn’t compassionate, whatever your cultural norms
  • People who care about people they know and people who care about people they don’t know
  • Individualism and collectivism
  • Extending compassion over increasing distances/abstractness
  • Finding common ground vs. tribalism
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Who or what is entitled to moral or legal rights? – The Anthropocene dilemma. An ecocentric anthropic view – we’re all part of one ecosystem but humans have distinctive capabilities/responsibilities
  • Fuzzy vs. clean categories re: human/animal/biological. The film “I am Mother”
  • Sex robots
  • Randall Abate: “Communities of the voiceless”
  • Ecocide
  • Relational moral consensuses can cause awful suffering/death (e.g. animal farming)
  • Bio/ecocentrists that still exclude sentient beings from moral consideration
  • Natural rights is “nonsense on stilts” – would have excluded many humans not long ago
  • How do we broaden consideration?
  • Taking the perspective of the entity being harmed/oppressed
  • Indigenous vs. naturalistic/scientific epistemologies
  • “Wading in the waters of other perspectives”
  • Plant sentience and slippery slopes
  • The weakness of singular approaches (vs. pluralist)
  • Other factors (autonomy/capability/relations…)
  • Degrees of sentience and/or moral consideration
  • Sentience as an evolved class of info processing linked to an entity’s ability to model itself and its environment
  • Animal farming implies zero moral consideration for farmed animals
  • “Decentring the human”
  • Queer theory, transhumanism and future developments in human rights
  • Tech (e.g. clean meat) as a way of meeting cultural /societal needs with less harm
  • Will robot rights follow animal rights? Links to human ethics
  • How will we want to treat humanoid robots that are indistinguishable from humans (a Rawlsian veil that extends beyond biological substrates)
  • Ethical/environmental challenges of economic growth (esp. China, India)
  • Meat/dairy consumption as a marker of social status. Can we say that’s wrong?
  • AI/robot ethics as another way to challenge our broader ethics. Just being human isn’t enough
  • From robot rights to the rights of non-humans in general, including non-human animals
  • “We can walk & chew gum at the same time” re: non-human & human ethics. An integrationist approach.

Josh is @JoshGellers and his home page is at

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Join our “wall” using this simple form.

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Thanks to Graham Bessellieu for his post-prod work on this video. Follow him at @cgbessellieu.

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