“If you have experienced suffering you’re aware of its badness” – Philosopher Michael Huemer – Sentientism Episode 85

Find our Sentientist Conversation on the Sentientism YouTube here or on the Sentientism podcast here.

Michael Huemer (@FakeNousBlog) is professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. He is the author of more than seventy academic articles in epistemology, ethics, metaethics, metaphysics, & political philosophy, as well as eight amazing books that YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY BUY including Skepticism & the Veil of Perception, Ethical Intuitionism, The Problem of Political Authority, Approaching Infinity, Paradox Lost, & Dialogues on Ethical Vegetarianism. He blogs at

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 on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome

01:31 Mike’s Intro

02:20 What’s Real?

  • Reading bible stories at 5 yrs old & declaring “This is stupid!… I don’t believe in god”
  • “all the major religions are false… incredibly implausible”
  • Bible & other religious texts: “just so obviously the sort of things a primitive human would write”… obsessed w/sex, different human tribes
  • “If I’d created a universe containing 100 bn galaxies… I don’t think I’d be obsessed with this particular tribe of humans”
  • “God in traditional religions doesn’t even seem like a decent person, let alone the greatest… If he was a human we’d have to lock him in jail”
  • Mike’s “Scary Bible Quotes” page
  • Jesus contradicting the Old Testament
  • Atheism to agnosticism. “There could still be a creator”. Fine tuning
  • Intelligent design, multiverse, anthropic responses
  • Methodological naturalism & metaphysical naturalism
  • “I don’t even really know what supernatural means”
  • “There can be natural things that are beyond our understanding”
  • “I think I’m conscious & I don’t think my consciousness is physical”… many naturalists say that’s not naturalism
  • Direct realism: “You should assume that things are they way they seem unless you have specific reasons for thinking otherwise”. Most people who object don’t know what it is. “The main problem is people refuse to listen.”

23:52 What Matters?

  • “It was always bizarre that people thought you needed religion in order to have ethics”
  • Divine Command Theory: “The boss is going to mess you up”. That’s not ethics
  • What does “where does ethics come from?” even mean? Where did numbers come from?
  • “We thought about it – then it was obvious”
  • “If you’ve felt pain you’re going to notice that it’s bad”
  • The is/ought gap “is supposed to be between such & such is painful & such & such is bad”
  • “If you have experienced suffering you’re aware of its badness”
  • “In a way I’m following what I thought when I was a small child”
  • The fundamental ethical insight is taking someone else’s point of view
  • There’s a debate whether egoism is an ethical stance
  • “I’ve met people who endorse egoism but they do not act like psychopaths”
  • Subjectivity/objectivity
  • Epistemic & ethical humility
  • Problems of over-confidence (e.g. abortion is always permissible) & under-confidence (e.g. suffering is bad)

38:33 Who Matters?

  • “The main reason why almost all ethics has been talking about humans… is because they didn’t think about the case of animals.”
  • Finding out plants were alive, then realising they weren’t conscious… “There isn’t anyone there to care”
  • Being upset about cruelty to animals but not connecting it to food
  • In college learning about the reality of animal farming. Inflicting massive suffering for trivial pleasures
  • Vegetarian to vegan, while surrounded by meat eaters
  • Synthetic meat will become cheaper, more nutritious, better tasting. Then people will shift. Then they’ll admit eating animals was always wrong
  • Biocentrism, ecocentrism. Plants & mountains don’t have points of view. What could even be in their interests?
  • Philosophy of mind: Panpsychism, materialism, illusionism
  • Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?”
  • “I don’t understand how this (consciousness) can be physical”

01:05:18 A Better Future?

  • Libertarianism, anarchism
  • “I don’t have an overarching theory that explains all the truths of ethics – I have intuitions…”
  • “Forcing people to do what you want seems like the wrong thing… That’s what government is doing”
  • “Your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins”
  • Change through philosophy doesn’t reach most people. “The elites will lead… transmit social pressure.”
  • “No government has authority… We don’t have an obligation to follow the law as such”
  • Replacing monopolistic concentrations of power with competition.

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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