Kyle Johannsen headshot

“That’s moral progress – you have to interfere in things” – Philosopher Kyle Johannsen

Find our conversation on the Sentientism YouTube and Podcast.

Kyle (@KyleJohannsen2 and on PhilPeople) is Adjunct Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Queen’s University. His research is in social & political philosophy, & in animal & environmental ethics. He teaches normative ethics, metaethics, bioethics, business ethics, cyberethics, the philosophy of law & critical thinking. He is the author of “Wild Animal Ethics“.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?” Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the video above, the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple and here on the other platforms​​​​​​.

We discuss:
0:00 Welcome

1:22 Kyle’s Intro

2:25 What’s Real?

  • Growing up Roman Catholic. Attending catholic schools. Believing in god.
  • “I didn’t like being Catholic. I found it very restrictive… I didn’t like having to pray – it felt fruitless”
  • Ethics was being thought about but “I didn’t like the conservative values” e.g. abortion, contraception, sex
  • “It just struck me as false.”
  • Catholicism did leave the impression that it’s important to think about morality
  • Majoring in philosophy

8:25 What Matters?

  • “Morality is objective”
  • “Even relativists behave like morality is objective… why would you argue unless there were some right answer?”
  • Even under objective morality duties vary by context
  • Moral objectivism doesn’t have to imply moral realism
  • Consistency, coherence, flourishing, co-op as potential groundings
  • Goods (welfare, resources, health, relationships), functions (distribution, efficiency, increases) & constraints (respect) values
  • “I don’t know if pleasure always wins out”
  • Pluralism within Sentientism

21:15 Moral Scope? Sentience

  • Anthropocentrism, Sentiocentrism, Biocentrism, Ecocentrism
  • Sentientism as Sentiocentrism & Naturalism
  • Sentiocentrism itself implies naturalism. It conflicts with many supernatural/religious worldviews (e.g. soul as basis for moral value, use of science to assess sentience)
  • Hard cases of marginal sentience (brain injury, foetal development, simplest animals)

28:27 The Journey to Sentientism

  • Taking a PhD animal ethics course taught by Will Kymlicka based on Zoopolis
  • Concluding that “Sentience is the correct criterion for inclusion in the moral community”
  • Pluralism re: various goods. But sentience is a condition for the non-welfare elements to count as good (e.g. health only matters if the being cares about being healthy)
  • “Veganism is a moral requirement if sentiocentrism is right”
  • Going vegan during the PhD. Cutting out animal products over 8 month transition. Finding social support

32:36 Biocentrism, Ecocentrism?

  • Indiv. biocentrism (e.g. blades of grass), holist biocentric (e.g. species), ecocentrism (e.g. ecosystems)
  • “I’m really sceptical of these views” – a veneer for anthropocentrism
  • Are these things valuable or valued? The reasons for wanting to value them tend to be very anthropocentric
  • Environmental pragmatism “seems crazy to me”
  • “Expanding the moral community should have big practical implications” as it does within humanity
  • Biocentrism & ecocentrism are trying to put a progressive veneer on anthropocentrism. Trying to make it look progressive when its not
  • Wild animal suffering exposes tensions between environmental & sentiocentric ethics. Dropping the “appeal to nature” fallacy resolves some of the tension
  • “That’s moral progress – you have to interfere in things”
  • Most bio/ecocentrists grant no practical moral consideration to farmed animals

41:13 Wild Animal Suffering

  • Thinking about wild & farmed animals from day one (for most, wild animals come later)
  • Effective Altruism: scale, tractability, neglectedness
  • Most wild animals are “r-strategists”. Short, painful lives
  • The need for more research re: tractability
  • Gene drives (e.g. amp nociception but reduce the affect of pain)

51:49 The Future

  • Anthropocene: humans are the main thing influencing the natural world
  • Duties of justice
  • Contraception/vaccination
  • Looking for win-wins e.g. Elimination of the screw-fly parasite
  • “Veganism frees us to care about wild animals”
  • Ending animal farming enables re-wilding. But low/high suffering ecosystems?
  • Consistent moral consideration for non-sentients makes human discrimination less likely
  • Non-biological sentience (AI) & S-risk?

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at​​​​​​​​​​​​​. Join Kyle on our “I’m a Sentientist” wall.

Join me and Kyle in our biggest community group on FaceBook – it’s open to all, not just Sentientists. ​

Thanks Graham for the production!

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