February 17 Thursday

"Sentience is more complicated than you think," with Dale Jamieson

  • Thursday, February 17, 2022 at 12:15PM - 1:15PM
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  • Open To The Public
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Description

One very powerful narrative in the animal protection movement goes like this. In the grip of bad philosophy, people in the West used to think that sentience is a necessary but not sufficient condition for moral standing, and that all and only humans are sentient. Bentham showed us that sentience is sufficient for moral standing and Darwin showed us that many non-humans are sentient as well. Now all we need is science to tell us which beings are sentient and activism and law to put animal protection into practice. The Owl of Minerva (i.e., the philosophers) can go back to sleep. But not so fast. Sentience is a scientifically informed, but highly interpretative concept, in need of philosophical reflection. Moreover, a single-minded concern with sentience obscures other morally relevant features, such as agency, which matter profoundly for how we should treat those who exemplify them. 

Dale Jamieson is Professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy; Affiliated Professor of Law; Affiliated Professor of Medical Ethics; Associated Faculty, Center for Bioethics; and Founding Director of the Center for Environmental and Animal Protection, at New York University.  In 2016 he was awarded the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences William R. Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award.  He has been thinking seriously about animals since the early 1970s when his dissertation supervisor, Paul Ziff, made him read Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen in order to write a dissertation in philosophy of language, since “human linguistic behavior is just a branch of animal behavior;” and he met Tom Regan who had written, but not yet published, his first paper on animals, “The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism.”  He has been thinking about science and why it matters even longer.

Sponsoring Organization(s)

This event is presented as part of the Law, Ethics & Animals Program’s speaker series, in collaboration with the Yale Sustainable Food Program.

 

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