“I agree wholeheartedly with Sentientism” – A.C. Grayling – Humanist Philosopher & Author – Sententism Episode 132

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism podcast

Anthony or A.C. is a philosopher and author. In 2011 he founded and became the first Master of New College of the Humanities. Anthony is the author of over 30 books including The Future of Moral Values, What Is Good?, The Meaning of Things, The Good Book & The God Argument. He was a fellow of the World Economic Forum, & is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature & the Royal Society of Arts. Anthony is a vice-president of Humanists UK & an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome

01:50 Anthony’s Intro

  • “I agree wholeheartedly with… Sentientism”
  • #humanism
  • #Supernaturalism, #naturalism , value & #morality

03:43 What’s Real?

  • A non-religious family
  • Encountering religions at 13 yrs “preference for one kind of candy vs. another”
  • Evangelical chaplain at boarding school “he galvanised me” & provided a reading list. “I’ve read everything & I simply cannot understand how you can believe this stuff”
  • How Christianity remixes stories from other mythologies. “That demolished the pretentions of Christianity”
  • “Religions keep their hold mainly by brainwashing the young”
  • Malign effects of religion e.g. blocking science; “a kind of mental prison”
  • Joining the #NewAtheist debate with #richarddawkins , #christopherhitchens
  • Do gods exist?, should we have a #secular society?, should we have a #humanist morality?
  • Why atheists & humanists still hold other dogmatic beliefs
  • “All claims should be defeasible”
  • “Instead of talking about knowledge, let us talk about rational belief”. Belief ratioed to the weight of evidence
  • There may be fairies in your garden but “it is profoundly irrational to believe it”
  • The ethics of rationality
  • “You often hear religious people saying you can’t prove there is no god… I’m going to do it now.” “in the empirical sense proof means test… like proving steel”
  • #CarlSagan ‘s Dragon in the Garage “the claim turns up empty”
  • Standards of “discovery” in physics

20:57 What Matters?

  • Spanning the #Is-Ought chasm “I emphatically disagree with Hume”
  • “Very few people on the planet like to be cold, hungry, alone, in pain, oppressed… tortured… those few people who do like those things are weird”
  • Mirror neurons, theory of mind & #empathy
  • “There is a deeply naturalistic basis to the possibilities of moral behaviour… it takes culture to mess them up”
  • The negative bias of news “The reason the front page of the Times doesn’t have ‘shopkeeper is polite to customer’ is because it happens so many millions of times every day”
  • Tightly linking the good/bad of feeling with the good/bad of ethics
  • Emotions: Our reasoning “can discipline some of them (anger, greed, lust) & promote certain others (fellow feeling, sympathy…)”
  • The possibility of ethical progress re: animal cruelty & human discrimination “at least we’re trying to head in the right direction”
  • Default human benevolence “you just rescue the child!”. William Haslett & Coleridge: “Because we have a nature to one another”
  • “Racism is much more difficult once you know individuals”
  • JL Mackie’s “englightened self-interest”
  • “It’s not about me it’s about what it means to be human”
  • Ethics (character “what sort of person should I be?”) vs. morality (Cicero – behaviour, action & consequences)
  • Good people doing bad things
  • Post-war #Homophobia & #alanturing
  • The liberal/puritanical pendulum swings but “the great ethical question… is invariant”

38:50 Who Matters?

  • Does focusing too much on moral agents risk us excluding some moral patients?
  • Many early thinkers about “virtue” unquestioningly accepted slavery. “Aristotle thought that plenty of people were just natural slaves”
  • Growing up in Zambia & Malawi
  • Colonial settlers & colonial protectorates
  • Being brought up by the family servants “they were really my family”
  • “I became increasingly conscious from an early age of the difference in the way they were treated”
  • Being horrified by seeing South African #apartheid
  • Hearing a racist story about how god wanted all humans to be white, but non-whites didn’t get the message in time
  • A kind, generous father & a racist mother

48:51 Non-Human Animals?

  • Human & non-human interdependencies & self-interest
  • “One should go further… intrinsic value”
  • #Rightsofnature?
  • “The sense of responsibility that we have to non-human sentient creatures… becomes… very difficult to escape”
  • #anthropocentrism #biocentrism #ecocentrism
  • Environmentalism
  • #DanielDennett
  • A sentient being has a stronger claim than a blade of grass
  • Boundaries of sentience
  • “A chicken is a moral patient because it can be afraid & feel pain”
  • “We should treat with genuine… moral concern anything capable of sentience”
  • #Panpsychism
  • #LukeRoeolfs https://youtu.be/HsmKX34M1Vs
  • #vegan

01:07:05 A Better Future?

  • #Sentientity #Sentientkind
  • The atheist/humanist blind-spot re: non-human animal ethics
  • “The solution is education & democracy”
  • “A really functioning democracy needs an informed electorate”
  • “We are never going to get perfection… but we can hope for very substantial meliorism – making things a hell of a lot better if people were more thoughtful, more informed and more effectively participating”
  • Writing, teaching, YouTube & podcasts 🙂 “keep on making a noise about this”
  • Bertrand Russell: “Most person would rather die than think and most people do.”

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

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

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