“Nobody likes hypocrisy but we’re all hypocrites” – Dr. Brian Earp – Sentientism Ep:84

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

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?”

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

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

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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