Lee McIntyre is a Philosopher of Science. He is a Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy & History of Science at Boston University & an Instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School. Lee is the author of How to Talk to a Science Denier as well as many other books, essays & papers. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, the Boston Globe, the New Statesman & the Humanist.
In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”
01:30 Lee’s Intro
- Philosophy of science to public philosophy (“it’s supposed to be about making life better”)
- “Science denial & misinformation are the scourges of our age… there’s an epistemic crisis”
- Clarity & 2-way public engagement “philosophers can’t just be talking to each other”
06:00 What’s Real?
- Ontology (being) & epistemology (knowing)
- “It’s possible there are things that are real… that we cannot know”
- Naturalistic ontology (only the natural exists) & epistemology (evidence & reason)
- Growing up in Portland
- Questioning: “My mom didn’t treat me like a kid… That made me a philosopher early on”
- Dad & grandmother kicked out of church
- Raised non-religious
- “It was good to wonder, but it wasn’t good to pretend that you were certain of things that you couldn’t know or that you didn’t know”
- Socrates: the real enemy isn’t ignorance (because we can learn) it’s false knowledge
- “Don’t let the charlatans take that sense of wonder away from you”
- Norm MacDonald: Faith as a choice, a leap?
- Experiencing cancer & considering mortality
- How does Dawkins know there’s nothing after death? Could there be a naturalistic afterlife?
- “The fact that there are questions we can’t answer is not an excuse for pretending we have an answer”
- Faith is often a response to the discomfort of uncertainty
- David Hume & empiricism
- Skepticism, humility, hubris
- Karl Popper, fallibilism
- Pretend naturalism vs. good faith naturalism
- Science denial/conspiracism: Gullibility about what you want to believe & extreme skepticism about any alternative
- Hugh Mellor’s “The warrant of induction” https://youtu.be/0__p0iVUi2M & bayesianism
38:00 What (& Who) Matters?
- Teaching ethics for a decade but “I’ve never really made up my mind”
- “A lot of people want there to be a science of ethics”
- “It’s irreducibly a question of values… they’re not set on a naturalistic foundation” (Ought – Is)
- Descriptive, evolutionary ethics vs. normative ethics
- “I cannot help but believe there is such a thing as right & wrong… it’s just wired in”
- Bringing the family dog into ethics class. Do non-human animals have duties?
- “What can you say to someone who just says ‘I don’t care?'”
- Ayn Rand & egoism
- Love & care “If we loved everyone we wouldn’t need ethics”
- Singer, animal ethics & moral “circle”
- Sentientism granting moral consideration to all sentients, but neutral on ethical system
- Demandingness, omission, commission. At least not needlessly causing suffering & death
- Veganism, wild animal suffering
- Moral agents & patients
- A Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights? https://sentientism.info/universal-declaration-of-sentient-rights
- Stocker: Love?
- Science denial beliefs are not about facts & evidence, they’re about identity. 1) Getting them to care more broadly & 2) Seeing the moral imperative to act
- We need both naturalism & compassion
01:15:08 How Can we Make a Better World?
- I started out thinking “If I could just get people to change their beliefs then things would get better (e.g. climate denial).” But that’s not enough – it’s more about caring & not caring
- Performative belief
- Institutional change, personal change, nudges
- Cultural ways of extending our moral concern scope & embracing sentientism?
- Caring through contact/communication
- Showing it’s possible, resisting peer pressure, changing norms
- Thoreau: “It doesn’t suit my imagination” to eat animals
- “My Octopus Teacher”, slaughterhouses with glass walls
- Animal ethics as the “science denial” kryptonite for many humanists/skeptics
- Latent sentientist ethics? (people already care about some non-human animals)
- Making it easier to do the right thing (Impossible Whopper)
- Win-wins from broader compassion
- Be calm, respectful, patient. Listen, have empathy. “Someone will not change their beliefs if they don’t trust you.”
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.