Walter Veit headshot

“Maybe moral systems are harmful! Like religion, they are used to divide us.” – Walter Veit – New Sentientist Conversation

Walter Veit
(@wrwveit & is an interdisciplinary scientist, philosopher & writer focusing on biology, minds & ethics. He publishes the ‘Science and Philosophy‘ series on Psychology Today and Medium.

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.” As well as the YouTube video above, the audio is also on our Podcast – subscribe here on Apple​​ & here on all other platforms​​.

We discuss:

  • Defending Descartes, as a child!
  • Studying philosophy, politics, economics & science
  • Writing a phd on the philosophy of consciousness. How sentience came to arise in a purely physical universe
  • Growing up in an agnostic family, attending church but “grumbling”
  • Finding it strange learning about god at school. Asking annoying questions 🙂
  • A brief early teenage phase of believing in god, then reverting to atheism
  • Church seemed like a “weird cult-like thing.” “It just didn’t make sense.”
  • There are thousands of religions. They can’t all be right. Just disbelieving in one more than religious people do
  • Being a “hard-core naturalist” but still feeling the pull of superstition
  • Finding naturalism reassuring. Can abandon the “f*cking scary stuff” (monsters, ghosts, hell)
  • We can just enjoy our lives & explore the universe
  • The pull of being part of something larger. The universe, a tribe, a sports team fan group…
  • The hesitation in Germany about collectivism
  • “It’s a peculiar world we live in – it’s exciting”
  • Does morality crumble without the normative force of a god. “A dude in the sky making up laws and we just have to follow them”
  • People sceptical of morality aren’t sceptical about laws. You can break them but there might be consequences
  • Too much of morality seems arbitrary. But Bentham almost proposed utilitarianism as a sort of science, not morality
  • Utilitarians in the UK were engaged in politics & in improving the world
  • Instead of considering morality – just consider the facts re: “What do animals want from their own point of view”
  • Facts: animals exist. They can be harmed. They don’t like suffering
  • Humans evolved as a social species. That makes us care
  • “Morality” might create more harms than benefits!
  • There is no dividing line between humans and other animals because we all have interests
  • Both morality and religion have been used to divide humans & animals
  • Even oppressive groups have divided people through an appeal to morality
  • The deep connection between morality and spirituality/religion. Often naturalists & atheists don’t see the danger
  • Naturalists are attacked for being amoral but are no less moral
  • Naturalism can ground morality, but only in a weak way
  • Naturalism doesn’t need to compete with religious, super-ordinate meta-ethics
  • Is sentient experience the root of all value?
  • Moral realism/anti-realism
  • Nature isn’t a good guide to morality
  • Nietzsche’s master & slave morality
  • If people with different interests appeal to different moralities (as with different gods) it’s hard to find common ground
  • Hunter-gatherer morality doesn’t work on a global scale
  • The risks of relativism
  • Partner Heather Browning, zoologist turned philosopher
  • Are zoos intrinsically bad? What do animals want?
  • Humans fantasize about what life in the wild is like
  • Taking the perspective of the other
  • The false distinction between subjective & objective “mattering”. The only “mattering” is subjective
  • We should be more neutral about what matters to each individual
  • The richness of sentient experience
  • Long-termism: future sentients have no voice. Democracy is just a fight between current humans
  • Is Sentientism the only moral discrimination?
  • Biocentrism & ecocentrism are absurd. The only things that matter, matter to a subject
  • We subjects can care about the environment
  • “If you don’t think chimpanzees don’t feel pain you should re-consider everything you’ve learned”
  • Donald Griffin’s revival of animal consciousness science
  • Humans are just one little branching point on life’s tree
  • Can there be consciousness without valence?
  • Dennett’s “suffering matters” and Walter’s “pathological complexity” thesis
  • Even pre-Cambrian, flexible action evolved in the face of pathological complexity in the wild (not the lab!)
  • Staying away from danger, seeking the good: the evolution of utility
  • Getting rid of the hard problem
  • Degrees of vs. binary sentience. Favouring gradualism
  • When I wake up in the morning I’m not fully conscious. Coffee is needed for us to become fully sentient beings!
  • Consciousness and sentience as classes of evaluative information processing
  • Panpsychism is a non-starter. It has no evolutionary rationale
  • “If there is something it’s like to be an electron then it’s bloody boring”
  • Powerpointism!
  • “Being complex in a complex world and having to make complex decisions is you need sentience as an efficient way of making choices”
  • Artificial sentience might not have to have an evolutionary rationale, but biological ones do
  • Living systems are goal directed. There are obstacles (pathological) to those goals
  • Will even artificial sentients need some pathological drive – Robot Wars
  • We are robots as well!
  • We don’t yet know how it works. Maybe a whole brain wave / electrical phenomenon?
  • Insect sentience. Duration, intensity, population size…
  • Sentientism doesn’t have to grant equal consideration to every type of sentient
  • Could we genetically engineer animals to enjoy being farmed?
  • Clean/cultivated meat
  • It’s hard to think beyond our own experiences
  • Sentient experience is foundational, not freedom
  • Peter Singer’s influence
  • “We just care about suffering”. There are beings that suffer – we can do science about that
  • Sentientism is a necessary stance. To find out about animal experiences we need to care about them
  • Our worldview is finally changing, both re: naturalism and in how we want the world to be
  • “Caring about beings that care about their lives”. There is nothing magical here
  • Establishing the pluralistic foundations of naturalism and sentiocentrism in Sentientism and bringing disciplines together in that common ground.

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

Join Walter on our “I’m a Sentientist Wall” using this simple form.

​Everyone interested, Sentientist or not, is welcome to join our groups. Our main one is here on FaceBook.

Thanks, Graham for the post-prod: @cgbessellieu.

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