And what matters?
If those seem like esoteric philosophical questions, I sympathize. I spent many hours studying philosophers whose views seemed utterly disconnected from the important things in my life.
And so when I had an opportunity to converse with Jamie Woodhouse, a leading proponent of a philosophy (or is it an mental operating system?) called Sentientism, I worried that we'd be debating angels on pins and imaginary trolley problems and stuff like that.
Boy was I wrong.
It turns out that deep, fundamental philosophical questions, in the right hands (or mouths, or hearts, or whatever) are crucial to how we express our values in the world. And when we aren't clear on our own personal answers to those questions — eg What is real? and What matters? — we are liable to live in ways that ignore, bruise, or even stomp on what we actually hold most dear.
The question of what's real, usually debated in the context of an rarified branch of philosophy called epistemology, has actually become a daily point of contention in a world where consensual reality no longer holds sway. With frighteningly large and loud groups of people denying basic science, the results of elections, and history itself, each of us is no forced, in some way, to declare how we know what we know. And how we weigh the evidence (and lack thereof) that leads us to decide what is real.
Sentientism relies on evidence and reason, rather than emotional or supernatural claims.
In that way, it's very much like humanism, the worldview that all humans are worthy of consideration, and that minimizing human suffering across the globe is a worthwhile goal.
The limitation of humanism, in the view of Jamie and other Sentientists, is that it includes too few beings within its circle of regard. To the sentientist, that same consideration and compassion must be extended beyond the human world to that of all sentient beings.
We can debate whether celery, trees, fungi, and rocks are sentient, but it's hard to deny that quality to squirrels, sheep, chickens, cows, pigs, giraffes, crows, and halibut.
And yet, as a society, we do. We privilege human life over all other species, and do so at our own peril. But for the humanist, we should treat animals well as they are instrumental to our own thriving, through the web of life.
The sentientist extends compassion and consideration to all sentient beings as their right, not lesser than or conditional to our own.
In our conversation, Jamie and I explored the nature of compassion, and the contortions our civilization goes through in its attempts to deny or distract us from this fundamental aspect of our humanity.
We talk about how one can (and must) derive morality from natural law, rather than relying upon a religious creed or dogma.
And whether the irrational and limited human mind can in fact embrace a rational view of life, rather than emotional stories filled with drama, allies, and enemies.
We're scheduled to continue the conversation on Jamie's Sentientist Podcast in a couple of weeks. I'll post the link here when it's up.
John Rawls, Justice as Fairness
You CAN Change Other People!
Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative new book of that title.
What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.
Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.
Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight
Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.
It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂
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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.
It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.
You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.
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