Jessica Pierce

“Compassion needs to be grounded in reality” – Bioethicist and Author Jessica Pierce – Sentientist Conversation on YouTube and Podcast

Jessica Pierce (​) is a bioethicist & writer. Her work focuses on human-animal relationships & interconnections between ecosystems & health. Her “All dogs go to heaven” blog at Psychology Today is here​.

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 video of our conversation is on the Sentientism Youtube here and you can find the podcast versions here on Apple ​and on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

  • Training in philosophy & religious studies
  • How ethics intersects w/biomedical science
  • Working for 10 years in medicine
  • Medicine can damage and enable health
  • Shifting to focus on non-human animal ethics
  • Companion animal relationships & the experience of losing Ody
  • The parallels between non-human animal & human care/ethics
  • Breaking the default assumption that “humans are the raw materials of ethics”
  • Growing up in an “outdoorsy” family in the Sierras & Colorado
  • Attending Buddhist temples, synagogues, churches. A wide variety of religions
  • Finding kernels of truth in every tradition but “you don’t want to get stuck in one”
  • Studying religion from undergrad to phd
  • “How is someone with a phd in religion an atheist?” “When you study religion it turns you that way.”
  • Not rejecting the theist traditions, but also not embracing them
  • If there is some “god” (with a small “g”) then it’s in nature and if there’s a “heaven” then its a state of mind, a state of being in harmony and peace.
  • “Humans are not the centre of the universe”
  • Our attitude that we can just exploit and use the world is an offense
  • “I would put myself in that camp of naturalism”
  • The appeal of pantheism
  • The trap of human arrogance (both scientists and religious people seeing humans as “like gods”)
  • The need for humility, respect & non-violence. Treading lightly
  • Humility & open-mindedness and doubt are the power of naturalism and science
  • John Gray’s “Straw Dogs”
  • The naive assumption that once we see animals as sentient that will solve all of our problems
  • Jessica’s book “The Animals’ Agenda” ​
  • Showing slaughterhouse footage to animal ethics students, seeing their distress, then hearing them say “but I really like steak”
  • Recognising the moral value of someone (as with humans) doesn’t automatically solve all problems
  • Facts and ethics as reasons for leaving religion “these are not deities I want to worship”
  • Compassion & its evolutionary roots
  • A sense that even rocks have value and a “lifecycle”
  • Ethics as intuition followed by rationalisation to justify those intuitions (some of which aren’t that good)
  • Mindfulness emerging from compassion
  • “Compassion without attention to the details can backfire”
  • People feel compassion for companion animals, but if they don’t understand the needs and perspective of the companion they can cause harm
  • Trying, however imperfectly, to take the perspective of other sentient beings
  • “Saving” worms from the sidewalk as a child, then seeing them drown
  • Sentience as information processing, maybe with a fuzzy boundary vs. non-sentient information processing
  • The need for humility & prudence re: which entities are sentient
  • A sense of reverence can go beyond sentience
  • The choice between eating a plant & an animal is clear. It doesn’t hurt the plant
  • Caring about “ecosystems” & Gaia but still eating obviously sentient beings
  • Actions are more important than rationales. Causing less suffering is good whatever the reason
  • Why “vegan” is off-putting, “a dirty word” to many people
  • Climate change is a “less threatening” story than animal ethics for those who consume animals. The implications of what we have done is a “powerful pill to swallow”
  • A future where people have compassion for other beings & become more scientifically oriented
  • Is animal consumption necessary for survival in some places?
  • People going to KFC probably don’t even consider that they’re consuming an animal
  • Don’t educate kids about nature through capturing it, teach through going out into it
  • How would dogs live without humans (forthcoming book with Marc Bekoff)
  • Pet-keeping (captivity) would go away in a utopian future
  • Non-animal research alternatives
  • Ending zoos
  • “Compassion isn’t a limited commodity – The more you build the more you have”
  • “If we can learn to treat animals better we’ll learn to treat each other better”.

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. Join our “wall”​ using this form:​. ​Everyone interested, Sentientist or not, is welcome to join our groups. Our main one is on FaceBook​.  Thanks Graham for you post-prod work:

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