We are Sentientists

Why are these people considered ‘nearly’ sentientist?

These are people who have been nominated as a Suspected Sentientist, but don't seem to be Sentientist (yet). This is either because they don't seem to have a naturalistic worldview (committed to evidence and reason, rejecting supernatural beliefs) or because they don't seem to grant meaningful moral consideration to all sentient beings.

Thank you for nominating people. If you have further input I'd love to hear it in the comments for each person. If you are one of these people, feel free to correct things and post yourself on our Wall of Sentientists!

Christopher Hitchens

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference

Christopher was an author and journalist who wrote or edited over 30 books and countless articles (with the New Statesman, The Nation, Vanity Fair and many others) on culture, politics, and literature.

Christopher described himself as an anti-theist who saw all religions as false, harmful and authoritarian. He argued for a naturalistic approach including free expression and scientific discovery and asserted that these provided superior groundings (vs. religion or the supernatural) for ethical codes of conduct. He also advocated separation of church and state. The dictum "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence" has become known as Hitchens's razor.

Although he seemed to grant moral consideration to non-human sentient beings he continued to consume products made from farming animals. In this Atlantic piece he wrote: "the shepherd protects the sheep and the lambs not for their own good but the better to fleece and then to slay them."; "when I read of the possible annihilation of the elephant or the whale, or the pouring of oven cleaner or cosmetics into the eyes of live kittens, or the close confinement of pigs and calves in lightless pens, I feel myself confronted by human stupidity, which I recognize as an enemy." and "Like the quality of mercy, the prompting of compassion is not finite, and can be self-replenishing."

Christopher Hitchens on Wikipedia
2010 Archive of Hitchensweb

Greg Graffin

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference

Greg is a singer and evolutionary biologist. He is most recognized as the lead vocalist and only constant member of punk rock band Bad Religion, which he co-founded in 1980. He embarked on a solo career in 1997, when he released the album American Lesion. His follow-up album, Cold as the Clay, was released nine years later. His newest solo work is Millport, released in 2017. Greg obtained his PhD in zoology at Cornell University and has lectured courses in natural sciences at both the University of California, Los Angeles and at Cornell University.

Greg writes that he is an atheist: "I've never believed in God, which technically makes me an atheist". However, he prefers to identify as a naturalist rather than as an atheist, saying: "Evidence is my guide. I rely on observation, experimentation and verification."

He describes himself as Straight Edge which often includes a vegan philosophy but I'm not sure of his views on non-human sentient animal ethics.

Greg on Wikipedia

Mark Solms

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference

Mark is a psychoanalyst and neuropsychologist, best known for his discovery of the brain mechanisms of dreaming and his use of psychoanalytic methods in contemporary neuroscience. He holds the Chair of Neuropsychology at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital and is the President of the South African Psychoanalytical Association. He is also Research Chair of the International Psychoanalytical Association. Mark has received numerous awards, notably Honorary Membership of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, the American College of Psychoanalysts and the American College of Psychiatrists. He has published more than 250 articles and book chapters, and 6 books. His second book, The Neuropsychology of Dreams, was a landmark contribution to the field. His 2002 book (with Oliver Turnbull), The Brain and the Inner World was a best-seller and has been translated into 13 languages. His latest book, on the hard problem of consciousness, is The Hidden Spring.

Mark has a naturalistic worldview and a sentiocentric moral scope. However, although his son and daughter in law are vegan, Mark hasn't yet put this aspect of conceptual Sentientist worldview fully into practice.

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast. Don't forget to subscribe!

Mark on Wikipedia

Fearne Cotton

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference

Fearne is a television and radio presenter. She has presented television programmes such as Top of the Pops and the Red Nose Day telethons. In 2007, she became the first regular female presenter of the Radio 1 Chart Show, which she co-hosted with Reggie Yates for two years. She went on to present her own Radio 1 show, airing every weekday morning from 2009 to 2015. She joined BBC Radio 2 in 2016. In 2007, Fearne presented The Xtra Factor, an ITV2 spin-off from the main show. She hosted the show for one year before being replaced by Holly Willoughby for the following series. From 2008 to 2018, Fearne appeared as a team captain on the ITV2 comedy panel show Celebrity Juice alongside host Keith Lemon and fellow team captain Holly Willoughby. She quit the series in December 2018 to pursue other projects. In 2018, Fearne began presenting the podcast Happy Place. She has written a number of books, including the "Happy Vegan" cookery book.

Fearne is vegan, implying she has a sentiocentric moral scope. She doesn't seem to be religious but holds spiritual beliefs that don't seem to be naturalistically grounded.

Fearne on Wikipedia

Helen Kopnina

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference
Helen (@hkopnina) is Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Business at Northumbria University & The Hague University. Her research focuses on environmental education, biodiversity & corporate sustainability. She is an atheist and has a naturalistic worldview. Helen has an ecocentric ethics and describes herself as a flexitarian, implying she doesn't yet grant moral consideration to all sentient beings. Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Lee McIntyre

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference

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.

Lee has a naturalistic worldview and is sympathetic to a sentiocentric moral scope - although is working on applying its practical implications.

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Andy Norman

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference

Andy Norman, PhD is the author of "Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind-Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think". His work has appeared in Scientific American, Psychology Today, Skeptic, Free Inquiry & The Humanist. He has appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience, public radio, The BBC’s Naked Scientist & The Young Turks. He champions the emerging science of mental immunity as the antidote to disinformation, propaganda, hate, and division. He likes to help people develop immunity to bad ideas. Andy directs the Humanism Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University & is the founder of CIRCE, the Cognitive Immunology Research Collaborative.

He has a naturalistic worldview and does grant moral consideration based on sentience but is still working on removing sentient animal products from his lifestyle.

Find his Sentientist Conversation with me here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on our Podcast.

Frans de Waal

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference

Frans is a primatologist and ethologist. He is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior in the Department of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory and the author of numerous books including "Chimpanzee Politics", "Our Inner Ape" and "The Bonobo and the Atheist". He has featured in TV/radio productions and TED talks viewed by tens of millions of people. His research centers on primate social behavior, including conflict resolution, cooperation, inequity aversion, and food-sharing. He is a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

While Frans does largely grant moral consideration based on sentience he does still consume some non-mammalian sentient animal products. Frans is an atheist and has a naturalistic worldview. He has written extensively on the evolutionary histories and naturalistic bases for ethics.

Frans' Sentientist Conversation with me is on the Sentientism YouTube and podcast.

Frans on Wikipedia
Frans on FaceBook

Henry Mance

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference

Henry is the chief features writer for the Financial Times newspaper. He is the author of "How to Love Animals in a Human Shaped World."

Henry is vegan and is an Anglican Christian.

Find his Sentientist Conversation with me here on YouTube and here on Podcast.


Martha Nussbaum

Nearly Sentientist
Discussion and points of difference

Martha was nominated as a "Suspected Sentientist" via our "I know a Sentientist" form (thank you!). More details are forthcoming, but in the meantime, here is Martha on Wikipedia.

Martha has written extensively on non-human animal ethics. While she has focused on developing a capabilities approach she does seem to grant moral consideration to all sentient beings regardless of capabilities. While she seems to have a broadly naturalistic worldview she converted to Judaism in 2008.

Latest work

Head shot of Peter Singer speaking to a audience using a microphone

"Animal Liberation Now!" - Peter Singer - Sentientism Episode 156

Peter Singer is often referred to as the “world’s most influential living philosopher.” A conversation about Sentientism's "evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings".
Headshot of Elan Abrell wearing a blue shirt

"With great power comes great responsibility" - Elan Abrell - Anthropologist & Author - Sentientism Episode 154

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Elan is a cultural anthropologist focusing on human-animal interactions, environmental justice, and food politics. He is assistant professor of the practice in environmental studies and coordinator of the animal studies minor at Wesleyan University. He is the author of the Gregory Bateson Prize winning book: "Saving Animals: Multispecies Ecologies of Rescue and Care". He also contributed a chapter called "The Empty Promises of Cultured Meat" to the book "The Good it Promises, the Harm It Does: Critical Essays on Effective Altruism".

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
01:25 Elan's Intro

  • Cultural anthropology and teaching animal studies "my favourite thing to teach!"
  • Appearing on Knowing Animals & Our Hen House
  • Working with Kathryn Gillespie

02:42 What's Real?

  • Raised mostly #secular
  • Dad believed in #reincarnation
  • At 12yrs old becoming aware of major religions & thinking "probably none of them are right"
  • "Materialist with a small 'm', empiricist with a small 'e'"
  • "Probably when we die, we die… that just makes our lives more poignant & important"
  • Being given a bible stories book by a #jehovahswitness "this god person is really cruel… like a villain"
  • "Reassuring in a humbling kind of way… I'm a tiny part of this vast universe… we're no less important for that"
  • "Mildly #agnostic… I know that I don't know"
  • Not spiritual but "a certain sense of wonder"
  • An #ayahuasca retreat. Most others talked of "spiritual" experiences. "I felt pretty in touch with the particles of the universe… I don't have any anthropomorphic encounters to explain I just felt deeply in touch with creation and appreciative that I'm a part of it… that went down like a lead balloon."
  • Ego dissolution… "the seed of #sentience … that I share… with other animals"

17:00 What Matters?

  • #comics : "#spiderman was my favourite super-hero… with great power comes great responsibility" (vs. #judgedredd and "law and order" 🙂 )
  • "We have an obligation to help each other when we can"
  • Fairness: "Some people's extra benefit isn't really worth anybody else's suffering"
  • "I don't have a #utilitarianism perspective of maximising pleasure… but for each individual who experiences the world they deserve to have minimal suffering & maximal enjoyment of life"
  • Understanding bad actions that may be a response to trauma or desperation - not bad ethics
  • "An openness to understanding what might be motivating people even in conflicts"
  • Neil Levy: "Why bad beliefs happen to good people"
  • Peter Singer (future Sentientism guest - forthcoming episode)
  • Ethical pluralism: #care/#virtue/#deontological/relational ethics as long as all sentient beings get to count "that's exactly right"
  • #elonmusk & the ethics of self-driving cars "it's deeply flawed if you can take individual lives & throw them away without their consent because you think it will actually benefit more people in the long run"
  • #consequentialism
  • Risks of utilitarianism: aggregating, offsetting, replacement, maximisation, ends justifying means, epistemic / ethical uncertainty & risk

26:21Who Matters?

  • Beyond #anthropocentrism
  • Growing up "having relationships with members of other species"
  • "It always struck me as silly - the idea that other animals don't have emotions & feelings & experiences… some things feel intuitive to a child's mind… you almost need to think your way out of it."
  • Solipsism & other people being "NPCs" (non-player characters)
  • Diverse experiences within & across species
  • Matti Wilks "children are much less speciesist than adults"
  • Delci Winders "we met in high school & she explained to me why she is #vegan… that day… I have to be vegan"
  • "I felt an absolute anger at the #injustice "
  • "Since I've mellowed a bit… a broader perspective… tempered the self-righteousness."
  • At 17: "The rabbit & I just became bonded buddies… I don't want to eat pigs who are like this… or cows who are like this… a couple of years feeling guilty because I became aware of the fact that my diet was coming from this kind of violence…"
  • "It was the 90's & I didn't know other people like that"
  • Having compassion for those facing social & practical barriers to veganism
  • “It is accurate to compare it to a religious conversion experience”
  • “It’s more than just making one choice… I’m going to reorient my whole life based on ethics”
  • “It became easier & easier… it doesn’t even feel like I’m trying to do anything anymore”
  • Moral purity & sacrifice vs. compassion as drivers of veganism
  • “I have some nostalgia for that time [when veganism was hard]… it was rewarding.”
  • “…elements of praxis & habitus that aren’t there now… I’m not complaining about it”
  • Biocentrism/ecocentrism “I feel conflicted about it”. These ideas aren’t new for many indigenous cultures.
  • Plant communication through fungal networks. Possibility of forms of sentience we can’t understand? The precautionary principle
  • “But I’m also used to years of people saying ‘but what if carrots have feelings?!’”
  • “Let’s be keep being open to those possibilities & adjust if we learn new things…”
  • Artificially Intelligent sentience? “We could also just not make the [sentient] AI”
  • Exclusion is more of a problem than over-inclusion.

49:43 How To Make a Better Future?

  • Cultural anthropology’s role in change
  • “There is no easy solution to that question”
  • “We’re not going to solve those problems with neo-liberal capitalism or global capitalism… it has an inability to address those problems because it permanently has to grow”
  • Compassionate capitalism? “The way the machine is designed - it requires a constant inequality”
  • Socialism, communism… something different?
  • Individualism vs. “we are social animals”
  • People using human nature as an explanation “yes we can be greedy, yes we can be self-interested… we can also be tremendously altruistic and practice mutual aid and make choices to help other people”
  • “I would love to see alternative proteins entirely replace animal agriculture… but we’re still going to have food injustice & environmental problems… if we don’t also shift how we think about food – should it be a right?”
  • Risks of authoritarianism or individuals being harmed for group ends
  • “I’m an anarchist at heart… small scale vegan anarchist communes?”
  • “I don’t think that appreciating the collective… your social connections to others & your bonds to others has to lead to a situation in which individuals are being subsumed into this group mind… the two things can be equally valued and balanced against each other”
  • “The claim by people who are perpetuating intolerant ideologies that their perspective should be treated as an inherent identity… that others will tolerate… is contradictory and absurd… I don’t have to tolerate your racism or your sexism or your homophobia… I don’t have to make a space to respect that.”
  • Making space for freedom of expression
  • Respecting aesthetic production & art & education
  • “Balancing the value of the individual and the collective at the same time”
  • Might capitalism emerge again from anarchism? “It might even be probable if there isn’t a reorientation”
  • “I don’t think there’s anything inherent to humans as a collective that makes capitalism an end goal”
  • The role of animal sanctuaries and the “Saving Animals” book
  • Working at sanctuaries “A lot of sanctuaries do function as inter-species anarchist commune models” although there is some hierarchy and power differentials – and they’re not self sufficient
  • Ethics of care
  • “They’re not functioning as a mechanism of saving vast numbers of animals, but…” that’s not what they’re trying to do
  • JW: “Even small impacts are meaningful”
  • Human unhoused: “No one is making a serious argument that because there are so may unhoused people there shouldn’t be shelters or support or opportunities for people.”
  • “It’s a put into practice approach to that idea – that everybody matters… a model of that kind of ethical orientation”
  • “The fact that there’s a growing number of people dedicating their lives to creating these spaces to help animals… becomes a part of the cultural consciousness… that’s how cultural shift happens over time.”
  • “Demonstrating that these animal lives matter – and that they’re going to do something about it”
  • JW: Inter-group contact theory across species “recognising this different way of being is possible”
  • Sanctuaries are not panaceas
  • Pattrice Jones and Vine Sanctuary
  • The role of sanctuaries in #JustTransition away from animal agriculture & exploitation
  • Different visions for sanctuaries: visitors? Trade-offs
  • “Animals are losing their spaces”
  • Ways of co-habitation?
  • “The ideal goal for all sanctuaries would be that they don’t need to exist… that animals don’t need to be in captivity”
  • JW: Animal agriculture as a “forced, relentless, repeated extinction over & over again”
  • The role of education – teaching animal studies
  • “We’re seeing a growth of animal studies across a lot of different disciplines… a response to increased interest among students”
  • “They’re really interested in thinking through this topic – but they’re not coming in as vegans, they’re not coming in as animal activists”
  • “I don’t see my classes as a means to convert people… let them think… I’ve seen a lot of people really shift”
  • There’s a block for some students “don’t want to mingle human issues with animal issues… risks dehumanising humans… but then they do see connections”

Following Elan: @ElanAbrell, buy “Saving Animals”.

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

Join our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple form.

Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on Facebook.

Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

Ashley Byrne headshot - smiling

"Just dive in and meet people where they're at" - Ashley Byrne - PETA Outreach Director - Sentientism Episode 153

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Ashley is Director of Outreach for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). She has led a broad range of PETA’s campaigns and has been interviewed about her work to promote animal rights by the LA Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and in many other publications.

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
01:33 Ashley Intro

  • 16 years at #PETA: public campaigns, celebrities… "enjoying every minute of it"

03:18 What Matters

  • #ChristianScience "there was never a divide… this is science & this is god… a lot of spirituality"
  • (see risks re: prayer vs. medicine)
  • Father "a non-practising Catholic… not a religious person but was very supportive of… that part of my mother's life"
  • Personal relationship with god "connect directly with this spiritual part of your life"
  • More a spiritual, all-pervasive god than a "judgemental, human figure"
  • Rejecting "we judge everything based on a human worldview"
  • Universally accessible rather than in/out-group based
  • "Not telling you what to do"
  • Religious vs. scientific views of reality "It never occurred to me that those things could be incompatible"
  • Spiritual rather than literal interpretation of the #bible
  • "#spiritually I really still do identify with these ideas & these values"
  • "Macro spiritual concepts of love… that bring us out of what's right in front of us"
  • "Isn't so much of science trying to go bigger & deeper"
  • Science that we don't yet understand that can sometimes be anticipated by mystical/spiritual thinking
  • Ontological (what's real?) & epistemological (how should we work it out?) naturalism
  • Risks of wishful thinking
  • #faith vs. #naturalism "I'm the latter… the evidence"
  • Is there evidence that would lead you to reject Christian Science? "it's more of a spiritual practice"
  • "#spirituality … it is a scientific pursuit… our ideas of science are too limited"
  • Risks of dogma / harmful & discriminatory ethics in religious/supernatural worldviews
  • "If you have an ethical question about the world you should be going back & working it out with these spiritual tools"
  • Growing up in #losangeles
  • One 8th grade term in a Southern #Baptist school "pamphlets in the office that told you why every other religion in the world was wrong & sinful - mine was in there"
  • "You're going to hell!"
  • "I was constantly being told 'be quiet, sit down, stop asking questions'… I remember the word 'obey' was used a lot"… "I didn't get it… why can't you answer these questions?"
  • The #trauma caused by religious beliefs (e.g. threat of hell)
  • Secularism & kids learning about multilple worldviews

41:08 What Matters?

  • "My parents really laid the foundation… for my sense of ethics… each coming from their own respective backgrounds… two extremely ethical, thoughtful, kind, intelligent people."
  • You don't need an old book to be a good person… universal goods
  • "Goodness is something more primal than that [#divinecommandtheory]"

45:30 Who Matters?

  • "I grew up in an animal loving household… unquestionably family members"
  • The family dog: "She loved me and I loved her"
  • "There was never any idea that these weren't individuals"
  • At a few years old "why is this called chicken… if the animals are called chicken?"… "There was this pause… like when someone at school said 'Santa Claus isn't real?'"
  • Mum had once been #vegetarian. Dad was "red meat & potatoes"
  • "When they told me that meat was made of animals I was not happy"
  • Thinking as a teen, but then drifting back to the social default
  • Imagining humane farms & "there must be something different about these animals that we're eating"
  • "We [good people] wouldn't be doing this if chickens felt pain… if it was cruel & violent & wrong"
  • Asking a Sunday school teacher about "Thou shalt not kill" vs. eating animals… "take that back… & address it spiritually… figure it out… so I did."
  • Seeing horrific footage in "Faces of Death" that "changed my entire life on the spot"
  • "I knew that the footage of animals was real because I knew that they didn't need to fake that"
  • "The worst thing I had ever seen… the level of devastation"
  • Cultural differences re: #dogmeat vs. other animals
  • “There’s no scientific reason why it’s wrong to eat a dog but OK to eat a chicken – it’s entirely cultural”
  • “I can’t accept that this is OK… I guess that means it’s not OK to kill & eat any of these animals… & that’s when it stopped”
  • “What we do to animals… it’s horrifying”
  • Mum gave Ashley “Diet For a New America” book
  • Learning about eggs, dairy & wider animal exploitation: “Dammit… I’m going to have to go vegan”
  • “The punk scene was integral to educating me about these things.” Vegan bands and animal advocacy zines
  • Previous guests: Nick Pendergrast (not Paul – sorry!), Kristof Dhont
  • “In the punk community it was absolutely supported”
  • Rebelling against classic teenage forms of “rebellion”
  • “Our default should be that everyone matters… to care & to respect”
  • Sentience vs. intelligence
  • “Sentience should help us guide how we can do the least amount of harm”
  • “A rock & a pig are very different”
  • Destroying nature – “you’re in an ecosystem that does impact sentient beings”
  • “There’s this impulse… ‘what can we not care about?’ Shouldn’t the default be the other way?”

01:16:33 How Can We Make A Better Future?

  • “The whole of my work is dedicated to that [making a better world]”
  • “Just caring more… and acting on it… not ‘what’s the most I can get away with?’”
  • We’re not living on a desert island with a chicken… “we’re living in this modern world where we just have an abundance of choices”
  • The power of improving human worldviews
  • Win-wins
  • Changing minds & institutions
  • Many kinds of activism “what brings one person around is not the same as what will bring another person around… PETA is a great example of this”
  • Changing legislation, corporations, cultural change, habits, ideas, thoughts “how people think about animals”
  • “How do you change cultural thought?”
  • Demonstrations that “people cannot walk past”, making headlines, “reaching people where they are”, social media, whistleblowers, veganism, lobbying
  • “You can’t give problems without solutions… here’s the problem & here’s the action”
  • Corporate vegan options
  • Previous guest Ingrid Newkirk (PETA founder & president)
  • Criticisms of PETA: corporatisation of philanthropy (vs. grass roots), feminist critiques, shock tactics
  • “I am absolutely a feminist… Riot Girl is how I entered the punk scene” after experiencing the sexism of the Southern Baptist school
  • “Respecting people’s autonomy… decisions about their bodies & their lives… something humans constantly deny animals”
  • “If I choose to take part in a protest… with my clothes off… that’s entirely my decision… I’m standing up for animals.”
  • “bodily putting myself out there for animals who have no choices about their bodies”
  • “It’s interesting how often the media will take a photo of that protest & cut out the men… & what people choose to share on social media”
  • Animal exploitation industries are marketing to people in this way “it’s very subversive that we take this imagery & we use it to unmarket – to tear down this facade”
  • “Now that we have your attention we are going to debunk”
  • “Meeting people where they are and making use of things that people already respond to – that is what some people need”
  • Dress Vegan: People think that veganism is a diet “so it’s interesting to talk about something that clearly isn’t food”
  • “There is a demand for vegan fashion”… vegan leather shoes, down alternative jackets
  • Smaller brands often have some ethical motivation. The big brands “aren’t doing it to be nice… there’s a demand”
  • “Individual choices do matter… it’s happening because people demanded it, asked for it, bought it, supported it… I think it’s empowering to think about that”
  • “If you’re funding a terrible system unnecessarily, then stop!”
  • Arguments from futility, ineffectiveness
  • “The system wants you to believe you’re powerless… Put more stock in your ability to make a difference”
  • “You just dive in – you get your hands dirty”
  • “It’s almost as if people don’t realise they have the agency to act!… they’re almost waiting for someone to give them permission”
  • Helping free ranging animals in New York
  • “You’re allowed… you don’t need anyone to give you permission to do the right thing”
  • JW: “If everybody sits at home waiting for collective action & systemic change to solve the problem – there isn’t going to be any collective action or systemic change”
  • “The solution is – you act!”

01:44:00 Following Ashley:

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

Join our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple form.

Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on Facebook.

Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

Jay Shapiro in front of a blackboard - looking to the side

"I went vegan finally when I fell in love with one" - filmmaker & writer Jay Shapiro - Sentientism Episode 151

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Jay is an award winning filmmaker, writer, and podcaster. He directed Islam and the Future of Tolerance, a film based around a conversation between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. He produces and creates a wide range of content, writes on his “What Jay Thinks” blog & hosts the Dilemma podcast (some co-hosted with Coleman Hughes). I had the pleasure of being his guest for a Dilemma Hangout on Sentientism back in 2020.

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
01:54 Jay Intro

  • The Essential #samharris series
  • Documentary & narrative film-making
  • "I really want to understand ideas… and transmit those to an audience… even if I totally disagree with the idea"

03:16 What's Real?

  • Growing up in a secular #Jewish household
  • "Post-holocaust American judaism is it's own brand… a very ethical & political tribe more than a religious one"
  • "'Never again' becomes the holiest prayer"
  • Psychologist dad, guidance counsellor mum
  • "I'm a boring naturalist but… I love analogies for what it feels like to exist"
  • Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five "Oh… This is what I like"
  • An over-active imagination as a kid… "my scientists", The Truman Show, solipsism, Philip K Dick & #scifi
  • #Meditation, #psychedelics, religious experiences… "scrambles the dials"
  • Donald Hoffman's "The Case Against Reality"
  • How evolution shapes our construction of experiences of reality
  • Psychedelics help us "catch it in the act" of reality construction
  • "There's much more out there" e.g. non-human sentient experiences
  • "It reminds you of the expansiveness of reality rather than show you a new one"
  • The National High School Ethics Bowl
  • Anil Seth's "How your brain hallucinates reality" @TED
  • Annaka Harris's exploration of consciousness theories re: "The Hard Question"
  • "Reality is awesome enough - who needs magic" (I mis-spoke!)
  • Epistemological tests?: atheism, veganism, spherical earth…
  • Writing about Sam Harris, not for him
  • Object-oriented ontology
  • #psychology "I don't think we're the rational animal… we're the rationalising animal"
  • How people respond to #cognitivedissonance (Leon Festinger) "they really don't like it"
  • Criticising #consequentialism "you can justify anything… wait long enough and the consequences will work out… where do you stop the clock… too easy to find an out"
  • #Virtueethics "Secular virtue" (vs. religious views of virtue)
  • What happens after noticing the cognitive dissonance. More about psychology & values more than epistemology?
  • Coping mechanisms. Consequentialism, capitalism, economics… give people outs to "quiet these voices in their heads"
  • Neil Levy "people are more rational than you think"
  • Qanon, Goop products… everyone selects evidence/sources to suit themselves
  • Believing unfounded things can be a "rational" response to existential crises / the discomfort of cognitive dissonance

37:45 What Matters?

  • "There is no grounding (to ethics)"
  • David Hume's "unbreachable" is-ought chasm
  • "If you hate Sam (Harris) I think you'll like a lot of what I do there" (the Foundations of Morality episode of The Essential Sam Harris
  • There is a relationship between is and ought but "It's up to us to define that relationship"
  • "My bridge": Carl Sagan's "We are a way for the universe to know itself"
  • "I'm super humanistic… I bristle at the efforts… to downgrade the human as just another animal"
  • We have the "moral opportunity" to figure things out & decide what we ought to do
  • "Luckily there's a lot of joy & fun in figuring it out… and some sadness… it's the only game in town… so I'm playing"
  • "I'm trying to champion the human" & David Deutsch re: creation of explanations/knowledge
  • "Experience must be the only way to see the bridge across is-ought"
  • Moral agency & patiency
  • Compassion as a moral opportunity
  • Cultivated meat: Is there a risk of easy solutions that don't require humans to be better? Would we be missing a moral opportunity? What future horrors might we create?
  • A future where everyone is #vegan so "we don't even need the word any more"
  • The value of sacrifice?

58:50 Who Matters?

  • “I went vegan finally when I fell in love with someone who was a vegan – and now she’s my wife”
  • “I know what it feels like to agree with the arguments about animal suffering… I can remember what it feels like… to participate in a system that I now think is incredibly evil and harmful… and it feels like nothing… the banality of evil… but cognitive dissonance sucks.”
  • The “I’m waiting for clean meat” and “I die if I eat vegan” / “I have no choice” responses (e.g. Sam Harris, Paul Bloom) and “it’s normal”
  • The hope in realising people still feel cognitive dissonance
  • Consistency & coherence… eating dogs and babies?
  • How responding to cognitive dissonance can warp ethics (“they don’t matter”) and epistemology (believing things that are wrong)
  • “My wife is the person who saw a video and was like ‘I can’t participate any more this is too horrible’ and changed her behaviour”
  • “Most people are more like me – it’s hard for us – we just don’t face it”
  • “I was living the [meat] paradox – but I do remember it felt like nothing”
  • “The arguments themselves don’t carry the day”… humility
  • Falling in love, going vegan, falling in love with cooking
  • “My veganism was easier than hers – 15 years earlier”
  • Anthropocentrism, sentiocentrism, biocentrism, ecocentrism
  • The social norm determinants of how humans morally evaluate different non-humans (e.g. horrified at eating dogs but OK with eating pigs) “I must have been one of those people!”
  • Jared Piazza, Brock Bastian, Rob Percival re: “The Meat Paradox” and Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil”
  • Jay’s experience of his dad’s death: “you don’t have to wait ‘til they die – it was a missed opportunity… don’t wait!”
  • Moral opportunities… finding “better ways to live”
  • “[non-human] animals don’t tend to struggle with cognitive dissonance”
  • The naturalistic fallacy and the “necessary” argument… “A failure to embrace the transcendent nature of human knowledge creation… to question who we are… to engineer ourselves away from, if we want to, evolution.”
  • Jay’s “Two Burgers on a Plate” article
  • Sentientism’s ethical pluralism (deontology, utility, feminist care, virtue…)
  • Philosophy of mind
  • Thomas Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?”
  • Solipsism
  • “With your definition of Sentientism – sign me up”
  • Dan Dennett
  • Integrated Information Theory IIT Tononi et al
  • Imagining a consciousness/sentience detector “would people still eat lamb?”
  • Can non-human animals do art? Second order thinking “most people would not want to eat that animal”
  • “I don’t think animals are on the same level… I don’t think a lion… is wondering if it should be going plant-based”
  • Carol Gigliotti’s “The Creative Lives of Animals”… play, love
  • Frans de Waal & animals’ complex inner lives
  • “I’m actually optimistic”

01:50:49 How Can We Make A Better Future?

  • The Direct Action Everywhere right to rescue cases: if rescuing a dog from a hot car is illegal – so should rescuing animals from farms
  • Rescuing Lily and Lizzie from Smithfield farms in Utah and being charged with felony burglary – then being acquitted
  • Jay’s film project about the case & visiting Lily & Lizzie in a sanctuary
  • Luna makes an appearance
  • “given the choice humans don’t want to really do this”
  • Imagining streaming live camera footage from slaughterhouses “My optimism is… it still bothers people”
  • “We all know veganism is getting easier… the argument of necessity will be absurd”
  • The flawed argument that “In the global capitalist consequentialist socioeconomic system… the greater good always works out…”
  • Filming DxE protesting a rodeo… “people were upset… there’s some optimism in the anger… kids were just curious”
  • Jay’s wife “it’s wrong – why don’t they just stop?”… “Most people have trouble just stopping”
  • Sentientism puts intra-human and intra-species ethics “all on the same page”
  • Religion and politics re: intra-human ethics. Re: non-human ethics it’s more culture?
  • “I want to reinvigorate faith in the human capacity for love and compassion and for change”
  • There’s a mismatch between “a better future” (consequentialism?) and “a good individual life” (virtue?) today. 8 billion people can’t live the way that’s currently thought of
  • “We want to think of ourselves as good people… and doing something worthwhile” – integrity
  • “Easy” tech fixes: horseless carts and cultivated meat
  • Personal choices, political campaigns, donating to causes, influencing others, inventing new products, changing the market
  • “Go try to watch an animal cruelty video and see if it bothers you… take an evidence-based approach… ask yourself and wonder… is that integrity?”
  • An examined life. We have the capacity to address our cognitive dissonance
  • “Catch yourself in the act…” of reacting to cognitive dissonance “taking the exit”
  • If you wait for the easy tech fix you’ve missed a moral opportunity “We all face the opportunities that come along”
  • “Believe me, Sam, you can be healthy”
  • “You realise how fun it can be and how lovely it is to feel the integrity grow in yourself… and you can probably do others… that’s human”
  • “Or fall in love with a vegan” 😊

Following Jay:

  • Leaving social media (as has Sam Harris – same deal)
  • The Essential Sam Harris series

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.


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