As in human ethics, the perspective of the victims cuts through this topic pretty cleanly for me.
As a thought experiment, imagine writing an article considering these sorts of nuances re: a human ethics topic where individuals are needlessly being harmed & killed for the pleasure of others.
Thanks Holden - great article.
The Sentientism web site (and the Sentientism podcast/YouTube series of conversations) proposes Sentientism as an explicitly naturalistic, sentiocentric worldview. I summarise it as "evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings". Feedback very welcome.
Methodological naturalism is so obvious to many that it's often left unstated. However, given most people on the planet have their ethics shaped (warped?) by unfounded and / or supernatural beliefs it seems important to specify this epistemological stance alongside an ethical one re: our scope of moral patiency.
Arguably every human caused problem is rooted in a failure of compassion, un-founded credence/belief or a combination of the two.
Hi Vaidehi - thanks for the post!
Would you see worldview advocacy as part of meta-EA? Moral circle expansion and moral advocacy more generally are examples often referenced within EA - but some worldviews go beyond morality into epistemology.
As an example, I work (amateurishly) on developing and building community around Sentientism as a combination of naturalism and sentiocentrism. I summarise it as "evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings." Some think of it as a corrective to the anthropocentrism of secular Humanism.
Thanks Peter. You might find this site interesting re: Sentientism https://sentientism.info/. There's a global community growing up around it. I think of Sentientism as recognising the moral salience of sentience regardless of species or substrate - so entirely consistent with "transsentientism".
Thanks - interesting perspectives.
I'm working to build a global movement around the moral philosophy of Sentientism (basically secular humanism extended to grant moral consideration to all sentient beings). It has much in common with EA values, of course - although it's explicitly naturalistic.
The community is new and small (although people from 56 countries involved so far in our main FaceBook group) - but anecdotally I've seen a fairly balanced mix of H1-H2-H3 so far. For some, sentientism just gives a name to a philosophy they already held (roughly humanism + ~veganism). For others, it's more novel and has led to different personal and institutional decisions.
It might prove an interesting case study at some point.
Thanks Jamie. I have another movement building example to add to your list - focusing on expanding our moral circle. I'm working (rather amateurishly) to raise awareness of sentientism. It's a modern re-casting of Peter Singer / Richard Ryder's philosophy as an explicitly naturalistic extension of humanism. Evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient things.
Short read here: https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/07/humanism-needs-an-upgrade-the-philosophy-that-could-save-the-world/
We're building online communities in various places but our core group is here. All welcome to join whether or not the term fits personally. https://www.facebook.com/groups/sentientism/ We have quite a few EAs involved already as well as activists / philosophers / writers / policy-people from 45 countries so far.
I'm an amateur here so my confidence level isn't necessarily that high. I am taking "degrees of sentience" from the research (as summarised in Luke's paper) that shows varying levels of complexity in the nervous systems that generate sentience and the behaviours that demonstrate it. Given sentience is a subjective experience it's hard to judge its quality or intensity directly. However, from examining behaviour and hardware / biology, it does appear that some types of sentience are likely to be richer than others (insect vs. human for example). Arguably, that could warrant different degrees of moral consideration. I suspect that, while we will want to define a lower boundary of sentience for ethical consideration reasons, we may never find a clear binary edge. Sentience is likely to be just a particular class of advanced information processing.
I'm using the term sentientism partly because it helps focus on sentience as the primary determinant of which beings deserve moral consideration. We can use it to take decisions about whether to have compassion for humans, non-human animals and potentially even sentient AGIs or aliens. Hedonistic Utilitarianism implies sentience (given it focuses on the experiences of pleasure / suffering) - but has traditionally (despite Bentham) focused only on human experience.
Sentientism, like Humanism, also has an explicit commitment to evidence and reason - rejecting supernatural rationales for morality. As I understand hedonistic utilitarianism it is neutral on that perspective.
For anyone interested in refining these ideas, we run a friendly, global group re: Sentientism here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sentientism/ . All welcome whether or not the term fits personally. Philosophers, writers, activists, policy people + interested lay people (like me) from 43 countries so far.
Thanks Max - More research in this space feels important. For me, degrees of sentience should determine how much moral consideration we should grant to things (animals, humans, maybe even aliens and AGIs).
I wrote this re: sentientism - may be of interest https://secularhumanism.org/2019/04/humanism-needs-an-upgrade-is-sentientism-the-philosophy-that-could-save-the-world/ .
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.
Thanks Jon. I agree on all fronts. Looking forward to reading your book.
In addition to normalisation and any "lock-in" being based on sentiocentric, compassionate values would baking in a broadly naturalistic epistemology also be desirable?
I describe the Sentientism worldview as "evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings" in part because I don't think compassion alone is sufficient.