“We are reflective animals – which comes with responsibility” – Susana Monsó – Sentientism Episode: 113

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Susana is assistant professor based at the Department of Logic, History, and Philosophy of Science of UNED, working on animal ethics & the philosophy of animal minds. She has been a post-doc fellow at the University of Graz and at the Messerli Research Institute in Vienna. Susana describes her research interest as focusing on “what animals are capable of feeling, thinking, and doing, and what this means for the sort of treatment that we owe them.”

Susana led the project “Animals and the Concept of Death” which culminated in her book, “La Zarigüeya De Schrödinger” or “Schrödinger’s Possum”.

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.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here everywhere else.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome

01:46 Susana’s Intro

  • Vienna & Madrid cultures re: animals & veganism

03:57 What’s Real?

  • Growing up in a 100% atheist household. Unusual for 1980’s Spain
  • “I used to think of god as a woman” but “I never had it as a belief”
  • No religious education… “It’s a little bit sad”
  • “It’s always been very natural to not have god as part of the explanation”
  • Some sense of shame about not being religious as a kid but “I quickly grew proud of my beliefs”
  • Attending an international private school with rich kids “I knew I was different”… incorporated being an atheist into that difference
  • Superstitions “Just in case” 🙂

12:51 What Matters?

  • “I want to believe in moral realism – I don’t want to be a relativist”
  • “Sentience is definitely something that provides a good grounding for ethics & moral status”
  • “I feel like something is left out if we focus excessively on sentience”
  • Agency as a potential moral grounding? “Something that ought to be respected about agency”
  • Wilcox: “agency & sentience are co-extensive”
  • “Harms beyond sentience?… ways of wronging animals that don’t correlate with subjective feelings”: dignity, preventing from relations / developing capacity
  • Drawn to objectiveless accounts of wellbeing more than hedonist accounts
  • “Pleasure is something important… but a life that contains only pleasure… might be a good enough life, but it’s somehow impoverished”
  • Nihilism
  • “It feels like experiences aren’t everything”… “Experiences are subject to manipulation, habituation…”
  • “There are implications of reducing everything to sentience that I’m very uncomfortable with” e.g. genetically engineering farmed animals so they can’t feel pain… “we’re just worsening the oppression”
  • “We are wronging farmed animals in ways that go beyond the suffering we are inflicting on them”… oppression, use, exploitation
  • “Pain & suffering have important roles to play”… “the positive functions of negative mental states”: fear, disgust…
  • Flow: “When your capacities correspond to the challenges in front of you” vs. anxiety vs. boredom
  • Caring: “An individual that cannot suffer is also a callous indvidual”
  • Relationships: If you don’t miss your friend “is that even a true friendship?”
  • Jo Cameron (not Joanne Cooper – sorry!)
  • David Pearce & the abolition of suffering
  • “Negative emotions help us grow… & be better people”
  • Brave New World: “Oppressed people who don’t have the capacity to rebel or even recognise their oppression”
  • “Obviously sentient beings count!”… No doubt that it’s a sufficient reason
  • Pushing back on default utilitarianism “Challenging the boundaries of sentientism”
  • Could non-sentient beings be worthy of respect e.g. plant ethics?
  • Dignity? Susan Capaldi: bear circus show
  • Objectification & wrongful depiction of others
  • “I do think people & animals can be wronged after they are already dead”
  • Virtue ethics
  • Fisher & OzTurk’s “Facsimilies of flesh”. Are replicas of bad things bad? Failures of respect? Selfies at holocaust memorials. Meat alternatives?
  • A vegan future: Not just plant-based but plant-inspired?

47:40 Who Matters?

  • Carnivore until late in life
  • Didn’t care much about animals as a child
  • At 9yrs, watching an ant dying: “I had this moment… I just felt incredibly sad… I couldn’t bear what I was doing to her”
  • Adopting a dog. Became “super super close… the love of my life”
  • An awakening – becoming interested in the animal mind
  • Still eating meat… then it became “utterly disgusting”
  • “Donald Davidson (denied animal sentience) clearly didn’t have a dog”
  • “There’s something wrong in training animals to be docile”
  • Vegan transition “it’s still quite difficult in Madrid… patatas bravas, lettuce & tomato”
  • Do non-sentient agents matter morally?
  • What happens to justice & ethics without free will or moral agency? Sentientist Justice?
  • Ultimately agency & sentience are both “just physics” but remain useful levels of explanation?
  • The significance of death to animals “Understanding death is a spectrum… the minimum concept of death is not very complex… and is fairly common among non-human animals”
  • “I’m quite convinced by the deprivation account… you’re depriving them of all future goods”
  • Indirect harms of death: how the death of others harms you
  • Should animals have the right to grieve? Wronging animals by preventing grieving
  • Grieving behaviours in the wild vs. in captivity / companion situations

1:12:23 A Better Future?

  • “Humans need to realise they are animals”
  • Melanie Challenger’s “How to be an animal”: “The world is dominated by an animal that doesn’t know it’s an animal”
  • Re-connecting with nature and the planet. “Lessening the importance of our human affairs”
  • Risks of the naturalistic fallacy – “it’s also kind of cynical… we don’t have to leave aside our rationality & capacity to reflect”
  • “It’s very, very tragic that the world is in the state that it’s in because of an animal that knows what it’s doing”
  • “I don’t think predation is necessarily immoral”
  • Mark Rowlands: moral subjects vs. moral agents and accountability. “Understanding that what you’re doing is wrong – yet still doing it”
  • “I’m super pessimistic… I have zero faith in humanity to be honest”
  • Persuading the other 7.7 billion humans to become Sentientist – thereby solving all the world’s problems 😊

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

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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