“Imagining a better future through our everyday decisions” – Podcaster and academic Claudia Hirtenfelder – New Sentientist Conversation

Claudia Hirtenfelder is a PhD Candidate in Geography at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. She is host of The Animal Turn Podcast (Subscribe!)

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 here on Apple: ​ (& most other platforms here).

We discuss:

  • Doing The Animal Turn podcast as a way of learning about animal studies
  • Growing up non-religious but in a Christian context in South Africa (school, society)
  • Loving confirmation camp & the church community
  • Enjoying the easy answers of star signs
  • Asking questions of the church and challenging religion. “Why do bad things happen?”… “Mysterious ways!”
  • Eventually identifying as an atheist
  • Gravitating towards being more anti-theist “If there is a god, why is he so shitty?”, while still respecting people who are religious
  • Rejecting religion because of ethics & evidence/reason
  • Hesitating about whether reason is “everything” (vs. significance of emotion)
  • Emotions can cause problems, but so can being too calculating…
  • Social realities
  • How is the idea of rational thought operationalised. It’s not perfect or free of context
  • Supposedly “rational” thinking has been used to cause terrible harms
  • The need for humility and scepticism, even of our own rationality
  • Different types of evidence, including personal lived experience
  • Subjective experiences as part of one objective reality
  • Awe, wonder & connectedness even within a naturalistic world view
  • Luna the puppy (no longer really a puppy) comments on our discussion
  • “I wouldn’t talk about us as ‘information processing units’ even though I know that’s true”
  • Recognising our social contexts & the physicality of our bodies
  • The importance of our individual “lived realities”
  • Even if we can’t perfectly understand the perspectives of others, we can understand them well enough to co-operate
  • Objectivity as a spectrum rather than an absolute
  • Knowledge as always provisional & partial
  • Knowledge in formal systems (e.g. maths) & in the real world
  • Valuing expertise. Not all perspectives have equal validity
  • Individual & shared perspectives
  • Compassion/community/meaning in religion – but the danger of ethical warping: Threats of hell/othering/cruel punishments/un-founded freedom restrictions/sexism/homophobia/caste
  • Most religious people are more moral than their religion
  • Religion & philosophy as tools for moral thinking
  • Social settings, networks, independencies (even global) & commitments as moral context
  • Individual & institutional responsibility
  • Causing the least amount of harm
  • Relativism as a way of dodging individual responsibility
  • Some moral questions are very simple and obvious
  • Pre-veganism “How did I not see it?”. Discounting slaughterhouse videos as “exceptions”
  • The danger of open-ended, “we’re all on our own journey” answers… when the moral case is clear
  • Subversive chipping away at damaging social norms
  • “Recognise that who you are eating has gone through that system”
  • Cycling 6,000 km across Asia on a vegan diet
  • Feeling trepidation about going vegan, but being healthy & happy after making the switch
  • Ethics came first, then environmental considerations
  • Not moral circles, but complicated entanglements
  • Non-human animals aren’t a “monolith”
  • Respecting other cultures but using needless harm as a test to counter relativism
  • Collecting degrees (five!)
  • Feminism and veganism as challenges to forms of discrimination and needless harm
  • How racism, sexism, speciesism relate & interlock
  • How some forms of rejecting oppression can be motivated by other forms of oppression (e.g. being against religious slaughter of animals but not factory farming)
  • How relativism/over-sensitivity can lead to abandoning the oppressed within an oppressed group
  • Embracing complexity & nuance, with humility, while drawing clear lines in the sand
  • Taking the individual perspective of any oppressed being as a safety net
  • Engaging with compassion even where you disagree
  • “Imagining a better future through our everyday decisions”
  • Integrating non-humans into cities; diverse ways of farming
  • Imagining a world where killing isn’t the first answer.

You can find Claudia at @ClaudiaFTowne & The Animal Turn here​.

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at​​​. Join our “wall” ​ using this simple “I’m a Sentientist” form.

Everyone interested, Sentientist or not, is welcome to join our groups. Our main one is here on FaceBook.​

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