Sentientism is a philosophy that commits to using evidence, applying reason and granting degrees of moral consideration to all sentient beings – those that can experience suffering or well-being.
While it is a simple philosophy, sentientism has far reaching implications. Our global Sentientism community (all are welcome to join) have been thinking through what would disappear if everyone became sentientist.
We have a better chance of solving every problem if we commit to using evidence and reason, so those listed below are just a start. At the very least, unnecessarily harmful practices motivated by supernatural beliefs or tradition are on the list.
Let us know what you think, either in the comments below or by joining the discussion on Twitter.
Abuse, Punishments and Constraints
Apostasy is formally leaving or renouncing a religion. Apostasy is often punished in religious societies and countries, sometimes with death. In an sentientist world there would be no religions to leave. Changing your mind based on evidence and reason would be expected and respected.
Infant Genital Mutilation (FGM and MGM) cause suffering and sometimes death to sentient human infants without their consent. The only reasons for doing this are traditional or religious. Childrens genitals should only be cut if there is a clear medical need and no less harmful alternative treatment. If adults want to have their genitals cut they can choose to do so.
Shunning is socially rejecting someone. This practice is common in many religious and traditional groups when someone leaves. In extreme forms, people who leave a group lose all contact with their family and friends. In a sentientist world, no one would be shunned because of leaving a group.
Institutionalised abuse and cover ups are remarkably common in traditional and religious organisations. These organisations explicitly prioritise their deity, their institution and the leaders of their institution over their members. This sometimes enables widespread abuse and the subsequent cover-up of this abuse. In a sentientist world this type of organisation would not exist. Those at risk of abuse would be protected, those who carry out abuse would be treated and, as required, constrained.
Blasphemy and blasphemy laws – would not exist in a sentientist world as there would be no religions to blaspheme against. Freedom of speech would be universally respected, with restrictions strictly limited.
Witchcraft motivated abductions, mutilations and killing are common in certain traditional societies. These cause harm and death, purely for superstitious motivations. In a sentientist world these practices would not exist.
Cruel Punishments are often motivated by a desire for retribution or by supernatural or traditional beliefs. In a sentientist world, punishments would be based on a need to prevent further crimes (including through deterrence), a need to protect potential victims and a need to help restore and recover from the damage caused by crimes.
Religious constraints on dress, speech and behaviour are common in many societies. In a sentientist world, personal freedom would be the default, only being constrained where behaviour causes harm to others. Individuals would be able to choose how to constrain themselves, but would not be able to impose dress, speech or behaviour restrictions on others without clear harm-avoidance justification.
Harm to Animals
Animal farming causes industrial scale suffering and death for billions of sentient beings every year. In addition, partly due to its inherent ~10x inefficiency vs. plant agriculture, animal farming is a major contributor to the climate emergency, which is already causing suffering and death and threatens more. Animal farming also contributes to the antibiotic microbial resistance crisis due to the over-use of antibiotics where they are not medically required. Commercial fishing is the source of between 20-40% of ocean plastic in many areas, which in turn causes suffering and death to sea life. The pleasure people get from eating and drinking animal products does not warrant the suffering caused and alternatives are easily available to most.
Abbatoirs and slaughterhouses, butchers, fishmongers, live animal transportation, hunting / fishing for food would also disappear.
Animals being used as entertainment gives pleasure to some humans. This does not warrant the suffering and death caused to the sentient beings involved.
Bullfighting, dogfighting, cockfighting, aquariums, zoos, horse racing, hunting and fishing for sport would also disappear.
Politics and Government
Theocracy is a form of government that has a deity as the supreme ruler, with laws being determined or interpreted by a religious organisation. In a sentientist world there would be no religious government and no religious representatives in government. Supernatural beliefs are not a sound foundation for policy. Instead, evidence, reason and compassion would drive policy.
Fascism is a form of government characterised by dictatorial power, strict regulation of society and violent oppression of any opposition to those in power. Fascism would not exist in a sentientist world, as it does not accord equal moral consideration to all and is willing to cause suffering and death purely to maintain social and power structures.
Nationalism is an ideology that privileges the identity and power of one nation over others and often attempts to define a national identity based on ethnicity, culture, language, politics and shared history. In some manifestations nationalism explicitly grants higher moral consideration to people from the nation in question and less to others. In a sentientist world, all people would warrant equal moral consideration regardless of their nation. While nation states are likely to still be useful entities in a sentientist world and the diversity of characteristics would be celebrated, there might be a stronger focus on co-operation between sentient beings across national boundaries.
Religiously motivated terrorism and war. Wars and terrorism can have many causes, but in a sentientist world, religious motivations would not be a cause or a catalyst. Given sentientists grant equal moral consideration to all humans – wars and terrorism would require exceptional levels of justification. Sentientists also don’t believe in an afterlife so would be less likely to sacrifice themselves compared with those expecting heavenly rewards.
Amoral and immoral foreign policy has been a common feature both historically and in the modern world. Human rights and development are genuine considerations but are often over-ridden by “pragmatic” concerns including commercial and military interests. A single job in a local arms factory seems to justify many deaths overseas. In a sentientist world, potential harms and benefits would be taken seriously – regardless of where the beings affected live. Policies would be developed using evidence, reason and broad compassion.
Homophobia, Sexism, Racism, Transphobia, Ableism, Ageism, Religious, Caste or Species discrimination all grant different moral worth to beings because of characteristics that don’t relate to their level of sentience. In a sentientist world, all beings of equivalent sentience (e.g. humans) would be granted the same moral consideration without discrimination. Where it is clear a being has a different level of sentience (e.g. much simpler animals), they may be granted less moral consideration – but anything sentient would warrant compassion so would be protected from suffering and death.
Harmful Fabrications and Practices
Fake news, Conspiracy Theories (unsubstantiated ones), Pseudoscience, Homeopathy, Goop, Astrology, Fortune Tellers, Mediums, Psychics, Conversion Therapy, Alternative Medicine, Anti-Vaccination. All of these phenomena are unsupported by sound evidence. In some cases they provide harmless entertainment. In others they waste time and money or cause harm. In a sentientist world these phenomena would not exist – except as well-understood sources of entertainment.
Ponzi, Pyramid and Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) schemes are businesses often based on misleading then taking advantage of the people that participate in them. In a sentientist world based on evidence and reason these businesses would not exist and the harm they cause would not be acceptable. Lotteries and gambling might continue as forms of entertainment but people would play understanding the probabilities involved and the likely outcomes.
Religions and Cults are organisations based on fabrications. They are often privileged in their political representation and power, their protection from the rule of law and their access to tax concessions and public funding. In a sentientist world they would not exist. Instead, sentient beings would collaborate and build community in other ways that don’t require faith.
Prayer makes no sense to sentientists as there is no deity to listen. Sentientists might instead prefer reflection, thought, mindfulness, meditation and practical action to help others or themselves.
Education, Knowledge, Science and Innovation
Faith schools would have no place in a sentientist world. They tend to undermine social cohesion through their selective and segregationist practices and they teach fabrications as truth. Where non-religious subjects are taught at all, students are expected to apply evidence and reason in one lesson, then ignore them in the next.
Dogmas are supposedly incontrovertible truths laid down by an authority, whether supernatural or otherwise. In a sentientist world all knowledge would be provisional and subject to improvement as evidence is discovered and reasoning improves.
Religious and traditional constraints on progress have often delayed improvements in medical (“playing god”), biological (e.g. the Anti-GMO movement) and ethical policy (e.g. slavery, sexism, homophobia, the war on drugs) domains. In a sentientist world, progress would be deliberately constrained by evidence of risk or harm.
Identity Politics tends to refer to groups forming exclusive alliances based on a particular identity, be that racial, gender, sexual preference, religion, social grouping, culture or some other characteristic. In a sentientist world, these various characteristics would be celebrated and could be used to identify and support groups that might be disadvantaged. However, the alliances formed and solutions developed would not be exclusive, but would instead focus on what these different groups have in common – their sentience, which grants them equal moral consideration.
While a sentientist world wouldn’t automatically resolve the climate emergency we face it would have a much better chance of doing so.
The phenomenal environmental damage caused by animal farming would disappear, cutting emissions, reducing land and water usage and enabling us to sustainably feed the projected population of the earth.
Energy solutions would be assessed based on evidence and reason, not dogma. The role of nuclear power would likely be accelerated and enhanced. Innovative solutions would be prioritised and progressed more rapidly, constrained by evidence about risks, not by traditional or supernatural thinking.
More generally, a wider circle of compassion, for all humans and for sentient animals, would raise the priority of mitigating climate change, both in private decisions and institutional policy-making.