I've mentioned EKU's Chautauqua Lecture Series before. The new director of the series, my colleague Minh Nguyen, is launching a journal, to appear annually, that will complement the theme of each year's series, and contain articles by many or most of the (often big name) speakers and other invited essays, fiction, photography and art on the theme. This year's theme is "Nature's Humans," and I was asked to contribute a piece. With that preface, and with some trepidation, I post here a draft of my essay, "Ethics Beyond Sentience." I've worked through this a few times, enough to have hidden all its most unacceptable flaws from my own view.
In it, I work out, mainly by example, rather than systematically, a critique of the idea that sentience is the foundation of ethics--a claim most obviously associated with Peter Singer (one of this fall's speakers) and reiterated (multiple times) by another speaker in this year's series (science writer Jonathan Balcombe). I focus on two cases where respect and consideration often already are, and where it makes good sense that they are (or should be), extended beyond the limits of sentience: the dead and the mountains.
Part of my trepidation is the concern that my inner hippie gets too much free rein at the end. (And is the distance between the beginning and the end insufferable?) Thoughts about that or other aspects of the essay are much appreciated.
Ethics Beyond Sentience