New article published at Seeds of Science:

Moral Weights of Animals, Considering Viewpoint Uncertainty

Authors: Richard Bruns, Jim Davies
Date: July, 2022
Areas: Biology, Scientific Ethics

Many utilitarians would like a number to use to evaluate the moral impact of actions that affect animals. However, there is a great disagreement among scholars involved with animal ethics, both about how much different animals can suffer and how much that suffering morally matters. To illustrate this uncertainty, while showing as a proof of concept that it may be possible to produce useful estimates in spite of it, we ran a Monte Carlo simulation that samples the ranges of major viewpoints scholars hold in the field, to show a spread of uncertainty for how we should treat six representative animals: crickets, salmon, chickens, pigs, cows, and elephants. The results show that the uncertainty is very large, with a 90% confidence interval ranging between an animal having no value and being valued as much as a human being. More research, in the form of expert surveys and a thorough and rigorous literature review, would be required to produce better estimates, but as an illustration, we present 20% and 40% confidence intervals, as well as the median and geometric mean, based on weighting the theories according to our informal estimate of their prevalence in the literature.


Seeds of Science (http://theseedsofscience.org) publishes scientific articles that are speculative or non-traditional in some manner. Our primary criterion can be distilled into one question - does the article contain original ideas that have the potential to advance science? The goal is to be as open-minded as possible about what qualifies as a useful scientific contribution (hypotheses, proposals for experiments, perspectives, etc.) and allow for a diversity of writing styles and formats so that authors can express their ideas in an engaging manner. The openness of our format, along with the quick turnaround time and minimal submission requirements (see the “How to Publish” page) are designed to make the writing and reading of our articles a much easier and more enjoyable process than is typical for most scientific papers. Peer review is conducted through community-based voting and commenting by our diverse network of reviewers ("gardeners" as we call them; free to join and all are welcome).

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