Dr. Brian Earp (@briandavidearp) is Associate Director of the Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics & Health Policy & a Research Fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. His work is cross-disciplinary, following training in philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, history & sociology of science and medicine, & ethics. He has written extensively on resisting traditional & religious justifications for causing harm – particularly to children through genital mutilation / circumcision. He wrote the book “Love Drugs” w/Julian Savulescu. Brian is also a professional actor and singer.
In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”
02:00 Brian’s Intro – Academically trying to understand the world & lay out how it should be.
03:04 What’s Real?
- Growing up in Seattle in a Free Methodist Evangelical Christian society
- Mum: Christianity & god. Dad: A more naturalist perspective
- “Evolution was something that might tempt us away from the path of righteousness”
- Unthinkingly accepting Christianity at first
- Asking questions of the pastor at 12/13 yrs. Is it fair to send people to hell who have never even heard of Jesus?
- The problem of evil… while being emotionally sensitive to the pain of others
- Taking “a very serious concern with morality” from mum’s Christian worldview even as a kid
- Divine command theory: things are right/wrong because god says so
- Agnostic re: metaphysics: “What do you mean by god?”
- The burden of proof is on the claimant… “Wow – how are you confident about that?”
- Bible college vs. secular Yale
- Studying philosophy at college
- The fundamental fact claims fell apart
- Ethical concerns: religious homophobia etc. The tension between strict religious rules & personal compassionate intuitions “something has to go here!”
- “Unless I have an independent reason to believe one view over another…”
15:37 What Matters?
- Supernatural worldview risks to universal compassion
- Can compassion go too far? Undermining justice/fairness?
- Agnostic about the grounding of ethics / meta-ethics
- Instead a Quinian web of beliefs & intuitions I’m pretty darn sure about: “Needless suffering of an innocent person”… “Treating people differently without reason”… “concern for the disadvantaged / those without power or representation” then reasoning about cases
- “We should believe what we have best reason to believe”
- Adding supernatural elements doesn’t seem to explain anything
- Personal experiences as evidence for the supernatural?
- A “new atheist” phase – needing that unbridled anti-religious fervour?
- “You can find dogmatism anywhere”: Political progressive or conservative, religious or atheist…
- Sentientism as ethically pluralistic
- “Why wouldn’t you grant moral standing to anything that can feel?”
- “Are there seriously people who deny moral standing to animals?”
- People agreeing with sentiocentrism in theory but not in practice
- Giving up eating meat 10 years after deciding it was a bad thing to participate in the system
- “It can’t be that bad – everyone is doing it!”
- “Some of the worst problems… things that are really bad but are widespread in social norms”
- Weirdness as a constraint on personal/social change
- The centrality of psychology
- “Social isolation was a death sentence for much of our history & still is for some today”
- “For a long time veganism was a freakish position – & nobody wants to be a freak”
- Inconsistencies: Being against pet cruelty but for animal farming. Against FGM but for male circumcision
- Culture drives most people’s morality, not the other way around
- Non-human animal ethics as kryptonite to otherwise careful thinkers (philosophers, humanists, atheists, rationalists)
- “Nobody likes hypocrisy but we’re all hypocrites”
- “In my cultural milieu people take it for granted that, at birth boys should have part of their penis removed… there are strong reasons to profoundly object to this practice.”
- Snark & righteousness… “it just didn’t work.” “People who already agreed were cheering. Those who didn’t completely dismissed my argument.”
- Persuading those who disagree: Shared ground. Respect.
51:50 How to Make a Better Future?
- There’s a role for righteous anger (vs. posturing on Twitter)
- Bringing people on board. Treat people as collaborators
- MDMA in the water supply?
Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.
Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on Facebook.
Thanks Graham for the post-production.