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Special MPRG: Mattia Cecchinato

April 12 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Location: Edgecliffe G03

Title: “The Mind that Matters: Degrees of Sentience and Moral Status”.

Abstract: It is often argued that the capacity for conscious experience is necessary for a creature to morally matter for its own sake and thus have moral status. Entities that lack the capacity for consciousness, such as chairs, philosophical zombies, or anencephalic infants, seem to lack all subjectivity and welfare concerns—nothing can be good or bad for them. But is the morally relevant property the general fact of being (phenomenally) conscious as such, or is it a particular kind of consciousness that matters? According to a long and widespread philosophical tradition, Narrow Sentientism, the ground of moral status is the capacity for affective consciousness (i.e. emotions, pleasure, and pain). David Chalmers (2022), however, has recently challenged this view by arguing for Broad Sentientism, according to which the capacity for phenomenal consciousness alone suffices for moral status, even in cases where the capacity for affect is absent.

In this talk, I examine both views in light of recent evolutionary and philosophical arguments concerning the possibility of degrees of consciousness (Tye 2021; Lee 2022). I propose that the most compelling understandings of Narrow and Broad Sentientism are scalar versions of each. But I also argue that if (i) we can distinguish between affective and phenomenal consciousness, and if (ii) both are gradable, then trade-offs reveal the inadequacy of Scalar-Broad Sentientism. A highly conscious creature with a low degree of affect would not score well in terms of moral status. The view of moral status that better tracks our intuitions across a range of cases, I argue, is a version of Scalar-Narrow Sentientism. It is a function of the degree of affect weighted by the size of the phenomenal repertoire possessed by the relevant conscious creature. Finally, I investigate the practical implications of this novel view for our treatment of non-human animals, our fellows humans, and artificial sentience.


April 12
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm


Theron Pummer