Hide table of contents

Humanism commits to evidence and reason (naturalism) and grants moral consideration to all humans (anthropocentrism).

Sentientism retains that naturalistic stance but goes a step further on moral conisderation - granting it to all sentient beings (most animals and potentially sentient AIs / aliens).

As such - Sentientism seems to have much in common with Effective Altruism: evidence, reason and a sentiocentric scope of moral consideration.

I'm very interested in feedback on this philosophy and whether promoting it might be a useful EA initiative.

We've built Sentientism.info and run a YouTube, Podcast and a variety of global communities. I've had articles published in Sentient Media, Free Inquiry, Open Global Rights, The Humanist, Greeneralia and Areo magazines and been interviewed for a range of podcasts.

Our biggest online community so far is here on FaceBook. All are welcome, whether or not the term Sentientism fits personally. We have people from 90+ countries there so far. EAs, philosophers, activists, policy people, writers, but mostly interested lay-people like me.




Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Meta: I'm concerned about the amount of downvotes I see that aren't accompanied with any justification. Consider that there is a lot of information value in a negative judgment. I imagine that the author would be very happy to hear about this, and more generally, I imagine that EA as a whole would skill up a *lot* faster if downvotes came with instructions.

Downvotes aren't primarily to help the person being downvoted. They help other readers, which after all there are many more of than writers. Creating an expectation that they should all be explained increases the burden on the downvoter significantly, making them less likely to be used and therefore less useful.

The title of this post is “Does EA need an underlying philosophy? Could Sentientism be that philosophy?” I would consider both of those points to betray a lack of basic understanding of effective altruism. There are lots of good resources elsewhere- perhaps it would be good to have a basic faq article / wiki that could be Linked in such cases?

Thanks all. I'd love to hear thoughts from anyone who has downvoted. No obligation of course.

Alasdair - I think I'm reasonably familiar with EA but I could have been clearer. I was trying to explore two points:

1) Given both sentientism and EA focus on using evidence and reason and having broad moral compassion - I thought the term and the philosophy might be of interest to EA people generally.

2) Many (all?) of the problems EA looks to address are exacerbated by the fact that billions of people believe and act without a basis in evidence, reason or broad moral compassion. I'm interested in whether people think there is value in trying to bring large numbers of people up towards a simple, common philosophical baseline like Sentientism.

I wouldn't say I'm opposed to the idea of sentientism, I agree with basically all of its claims and conclusions. But I don't think it'd be a good to strongly associate EA with sentientism, and I don't think it adds much to discussions of ethics.

On the first, I agree pretty strongly of the framing that effective altruism is a question, not an ideology, so I don't want to prescribe the ethics that someone must agree with in order to care about effective altruism.

Second, as I currently understand it (which is not super well), sentientism seems to only to take one ethical stance: conscious experience is the source of all moral value. This is definitely different from a stance that gods or humans or carbon-based life are the only sources of moral value, so kudos for having a position. But it takes no stance on most of the most important ethical questions: deontology vs consequentialism vs others, realism vs non-realism, internalism vs externalism, moral uncertainty. Even assuming a utilitarian starting point, it takes no stance on person affecting views, time discounting, preference vs hedonic utilitarianism, etc. Sentientism is my favorite answer to the question it's trying to answer, but it's hardly a comprehensive moral system.

[Meta: I'm still glad you posted this. We need people to think about about new ideas, even though we're not going to agree with most of them.]

Thanks Aidan - really appreciate the feedback.

Sentientism isn't a comprehensive moral system as you say - it leaves open all of the questions you list and others. It's similar to secular humanism in that way. My intention in promoting Sentientism is for it to be a simple, unifying baseline philosophy - rather than something comprehensive. For many in the EA community the philosophy will be unremarkable or even obvious, but billions of people around the world are very happy believing and acting without evidence, reason or broad moral compassion. To my mind that exacerbates many of the problems EA is trying to address.

I find the intricacies of traditional philosophy fascinating, but I am wondering if there is more value in bringing large numbers of people up towards a simple, common baseline.

I'm open minded about how closely linked EA could or should be to Sentientism. It feels like a strong fit in some ways, but religiously motivated EAs are likely to disagree, as are those who think only humans warrant moral consideration.

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities