Steve Sapontzis headshot

“The basis of all value is sentience” – Steve Sapontzis Take #2 – Sentientism Episode:111

Find Steve’s Sentientist Conversation with me here on the Sentientism YouTube and on the Sentientism podcast.

Steve is a philosopher and professor emeritus of philosophy at California State University, East Bay who specializes in animal ethics, environmental ethics and meta-ethics. He was co-founder in 1985 of the journal Between the Species: A Journal of Ethics and served as its initial co-editor. Steve was a member of the board of the American Philosophical Quarterly (1991–1994). In 1983, Steve founded, with his wife Jeanne, the Hayward Friends of Animals Humane Society. They now operate Second Chance, Helping the Pets of People in Need, in California. Steve wrote Morals, Reason, and Animals, in 1987, Subjective Morals, in 2011, and edited Food for Thought: The Debate over Eating Meat; published in 2004.

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.” In addition to the video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple and here elsewhere.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

01:34 Steve’s Intro

  • Getting out of the ivory tower “Put the values you espouse into effect & help the animals”
  • A seminal early voice in animal ethics

6:05 What’s Real?

  • Growing up in Salt Lake City
  • Immigrant parents from war-torn Europe “focused on making sure they could make a living”
  • Greek Orthodox & Methodist Christian parents
  • Sunday School
  • Order of the Cross cult (vegetarian because of reincarnation)
  • “I was never interested in religion” “The story of Noah was really nuts”
  • “The story in the 1950’s was you couldn’t survive without meat… but my mother proved that wrong”
  • “We liked animals… didn’t see the need to kill them for something totally unnecessary”
  • James vs. Bertrand Russell “It’s immoral to believe something just because it makes you feel good”

17:03 What Matters?

  • Literature as a way into philosophy
  • Philosophy at Rice University (classical, medieval, existential)

22:52 Who Matters?

  • Singer’s Animal Liberation
  • Animals “were my friends”
  • “The most basic principle of morality is not to cause suffering for no good reason”
  • “I was very much a Kantian”
  • Writing “Are Animals Moral Beings”
  • “Utilitarianism can tend to subordinate the indvidual… it tried to do a science of ethics”
  • “Kantianism has problems too”
  • Pluralism & pragmatism: Care ethics, Singer & utility, Regan & rights, Korsgaard & Kant…
  • “We need to build on history”
  • Anthropocentric & bio/ecocentric challenges
  • “A lot of environmental ethics… is nonsense”
  • “The basis of all value… is sentience”
  • No change matters in a universe without sentience
  • We can’t explain value w/out referring to sentient experience
  • “The values really originate with sentience so there’s no prejudice in… starting with sentient beings”
  • “Ecosystems, biotic communities, diversity of natural species… are all important, but they’re important to the proliferation of sentient beings”
  • “It’s the sentient beings in nature that make nature valuable”
  • “It’s a matter of fact that the values come from sentient experiences – therefore that’s going to be the ultimate basis in any value system”
  • “Nature itself has no concern, no feelings, no preferences”
  • Ecofascism: harming sentient beings to help insentient ecosystems to “flourish”
  • Ecocentrist victim blaming of farmed animals as “monstrous” because they’re “not natural”
  • Wild animal suffering: Writing the “Saving the Rabbit From the Fox” chapter of “Morals, Reason & Animals” in 1987
  • “morals are created by human beings… to counteract our selfishness… to reinforce our other-centred sentiments.”
  • Nature is “red in tooth & claw” but it’s not just that
  • “Stamping out predation is a practical nonsense – delusional”, but “we have an obligation to minimise suffering where we can”
  • Vaccination, put a bell on your cat, contraception, provide food/shelter…

56:40 How Can We Make a Better World?

  • “It’s hard to be really optimistic about the future of the human race given what’s going on in Ukraine & reactionary right-wing anti-democractic politics… in the US & other places”
  • “We may not have time to get to these more generous questions if we blow ourselves up”
  • “There is a latent compassion… in human psychology… that extends far beyond family & tribe”
  • “You have to change not only a simple practice but a whole culture (e.g. ranching)”
  • Plant alternatives to meat, cheese, dairy that ease the change
  • Health & enviroment veg*anism help reduce animal suffering & death too
  • “The moral argument has been won”
  • The need for both naturalistic epistemology & sentiocentric compassion
  • Warping our beliefs to justify animal farming & research
  • Writing “Subjective Morals”, stevesapontzis.com.

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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