Josh Milburn headshot

“Animal activists don’t have to be on the political left” – Josh Milburn – New Sentientist Conversation on Podcast and YouTube

Watch here or listen here!

Josh ( & @JoshLMilburn & @aveganphilosopher) is a moral & political philosopher with research interests in animal ethics, the philosophy of food, liberal & libertarian political theory & applied ethics. He is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Dept of Politics & International Relations at the University of Sheffield. He co-hosts the Knowing Animals podcast.

In these 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 also on our Podcast – subscribe here on Apple​​​​ & on all the other platforms here​​​​​​.

We discuss:

  • Taking an interdisciplinary approach to academia & activism
  • Encountering various religious traditions as a child
  • Thinking “I don’t believe that” at 8 years old re: Noah’s ark
  • Being a “militant atheist” as a teenager
  • Studying religions to undergrad level
  • What is real & what we can know to be real
  • There is a world out there but we don’t know all about it
  • Science & naturalism
  • Dogma vs open-mindedness & humility
  • Moral realism & different kinds of claim/evidence
  • The dangers of moral relativism & nihilism
  • Grounding morality in a naturalistic understanding of sentient beings & sentience. “I don’t suffering & I don’t think you do either”
  • Pluralism
  • Religious studies didn’t cover philosophy
  • Being very resistant to vegetarianism. A fundamental challenge
  • Reading Peter Singer at 17 while considering studying philosophy
  • “Philosophers are often not the best activists”
  • Philosophical arguments don’t have the same impact on everyone
  • Some people “get it” but still don’t change. Others just don’t get it
  • “Imagine animals had rights – how would we feed the world?… It would’t be a vegan food system.” Clean/cultivated meats & milks
  • “Can we get to an ethical food system without people having to change their practices at all?”
  • Animals where it’s less certain whether they are sentient. Invertebrates, oysters, jellyfish, insects, sponges
  • Deciding how to act in the face of uncertainty
  • “It’s got to be a high bar to say ‘you cannot do that thing that is central to your life'” but “Sentient animals have rights” and that’s enough to tell pig farmers to stop
  • Edge cases re: veganism & animal ethics
  • Liberalism & state coercion. Only using coercion when injustice is clear
  • Having compassion for human sentients too, even those doing harm
  • #JustTransition
  • The history of the term “Sentientism”. Rodman, Richard Ryder, Peter Singer
  • It’s hard not to be consequentialist in its broadest sense
  • Deontological rules do have to pay attention to what happens
  • Gary Francione’s abolitionism
  • Sue Donaldson & Will Kymlicka’s Zoopolis
  • Sentientism as a pluralistic philosophy
  • “Animal activists don’t have to be on the political left”
  • Sentientism rules out intra-human discriminations. Racism/homophobia etc. don’t belong
  • Robert Nozick was a vegetarian & a libertarian
  • Academics can find new ways of thinking about human-animal relations
  • Activists need to meet people where they are
  • Not every argument we have is about a perfect end-state
  • Sometimes we have to work within existing systems
  • How can liberalism be more friendly towards non-human animals
  • Any political system will work better if more people are sentientist
  • “Being a sentientist gives us more in common than sharing politics”
  • The biggest political & ethical issue is what we’re doing to other animals
  • Agreeing on the most fundamental issues is most important. Finding common ground
  • Most people with supernatural worldviews use naturalism most of the time
  • Most of those who consume animal products see animal suffering as negative
  • “Change is coming because we have to change” re: animals, zoonosis, anti-microbial resistance, topsoil erosion, climate change
  • Do the biggest problems have the most obvious solutions? But “humans are weird”
  • Risks of motivated reasoning & non-scientific thinking in the vegan movement. “Wooganism”
  • Veganism has many powerful positive effects but isn’t a perfect panacea
  • Humans can respond well when the crisis is imminent and severe enough
  • The generally positive community responses to COVID-19 might give us hope
  • “Compassion isn’t enough” – we need naturalism too
  • “Stamping out the risk of embracing nonsense in the vegan community”
  • “If you want to collect crystals or enjoy tarot cards that’s fine – but…”

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at​​​​​​​​​​​​. Join Josh on our “wall” using this simple form​.

​Everyone interested, Sentientist or not, is welcome to join our groups. The largest so far is here on Facebook​.

Thanks to Graham for the post-prod. Follow him @cgbessellieu.

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