Richard Brown

“We don’t need a god – we can do it ourselves” – Philosopher Richard Brown

Find our conversation on YouTube or podcast!

Richard (@onemorebrown & is a philosopher at CUNY. His work is focused on the philosophy of mind, consciousness studies & the foundations of cognitive science. He also has interests & projects in the philosophy of language, metaethics, philosophy of physics, logic, the philosophy of logic and the history of philosophy.

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 YouTube and on The Sentientism Podcast here on Apple and here elsewhere​​​​​​.

We discuss:
0:00 Welcome
1:10 Richard’s Intro: A carbon-based philosopher.

2:08 What’s real?

  • Attending Christian and other religious venues. Mother converting to being a Jehovah’s Witness
  • “I found it incredible – in the sense of not possible to believe”
  • “Worship me or die”
  • Theodicy & the problem of evil
  • Refusing baptism at the age of 14. “If you live in my house you’re going to do this.”
  • Running away, stealing a motorcycle, being arrested & spending 4 years at juvenile hall
  • Scholarship & philosophy
  • Atheistic re: formal religions: “I find the stuff in all the holy texts to be obviously man made”, but agnostic re: theism
  • What counts as evidence? Fine tuning, arguments from design?
  • Simulation hypothesis. Maybe our creator is a teenager in the next universe up or hyper-dimensional mice
  • God as a genocidal maniac
  • Religious homophobia
  • Naturalistic ethics based on reason (vs. authority/fear/obedience)
  • “It’s better to do the naturalistic thing because you have to ultimately do it anyway”
  • Islam means “peace through submission”
  • “It’s undignified to demand worship”

18:29 What matters morally?

  • “I always thought it was obvious that there are things that matter morally”
  • Being raised vegetarian, then going vegan
  • The optimistic futurism of the 1950’s
  • JW pamphlets depicting a transhumanist utopia where we’ve engineered the predators to eat Impossible Burgers
  • “I was raised to see animals as companions & friends & family members”
  • Kant, universalism, freedom & autonomy
  • Theirs is valuable because mine is valuable
  • “There’s something rational about morality”
  • “I couldn’t make sense of sociopaths”
  • Hume’s is/ought
  • A flaw in traditional Kantian ethics is that “only ‘rational creatures’ get into the club”. Christine Korsgaard corrects
  • Ethical pluralism & moral considerability

32:42 Sentience, consciousness and p-zombies

  • Panpsychism as a popular alternative to the impasse between physicalism & dualism
  • Can electrons experience/suffer? Are they pieces of consciousness? If so, surely they’re bored?
  • Epiphenomenalism
  • We often respond before we are conscious
  • “The mind is the brain”
  • Is panpsychism any more outlandish than the concept of fields in physics?
  • Torturing an insentient p-zombie would still be wrong
    (Sorry about me waving at a delivery guy)
  • If a p-zombie failed to pick me up from the airport I’d still blame it
  • Empathising with Roombas stuck in the corner
  • Just because animals matter doesn’t mean that they’re equivalent to humans
  • Plant cognition… but sentience?
  • Biocentrism & ecocentrism

51:15 The Future

  • “A kid walked up to me in 5th grade, said ‘Real Americans eat meat’ & punched me”
  • Many thought there was something immoral about me being vegetarian but “I felt surrounded by ghouls”
  • Thanksgiving. “I knew turkeys, I had friends that were turkeys”
  • I got to know animals as individuals
  • Animal farming & the harm & killing of countless unique individuals
  • “I felt surrounded by callous indifference to all this torture & suffering”
  • Impossible Burgers are almost too realistic
  • “It was very hard for me to understand why people didn’t care”
  • How can people care so much about some animals but nothing about others?
  • “Dogs & pigs are persons”
  • If there’s something immoral you enjoy doing, the immorality outweighs the enjoyment
  • “Why are we so desperate to find ways to eat meat?”
  • “We can’t even get people to care about other people”
  • Future humans will condemn animal farming as an atrocity
  • “We should make carnivores extinct”
  • The fact that humans aren’t photosynthetic is an argument against god
  • Transhumanism: “We don’t need a god – we can do it ourselves”
  • “Satan is massively irrational”
  • Maybe transhumanism will be our way out
  • There’s a slim path to a more compassionate world
  • “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for”
  • What if there’s an alien species that treats us like we treat non-humans?
  • “We don’t want the AI to have better ethics than we do”
  • “I want to make things better for us while we’re here.”

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

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