We could also ask how many days of one’s human life one would be willing to forgo to experience some duration of time as another species. This approach would allow us to assign cardinal numbers to the value of animal lives.
I hope I’m not being too obvious here, but I’ve seen people frequently speak of animals “mattering” X times as much as a human, say, without drawing this distinction: we’d need to be very careful to distinguish what we mean by value of life. For prioritizing which lives to save, this quote perhaps makes sense. But not if “value of animal lives” is meant to correspond to how much we should prioritize alleviating different animals’ suffering. I wouldn’t trade days of my life to experience days of a very poor person’s life, but that doesn’t mean my life is more valuable in the sense that helping me is more important. Quite the opposite: the less value there is in a human’s/animal’s life, the more imperative it is to help them (in non-life-saving ways), for reasons of diminishing returns at least.
I would strongly encourage surveys about intuitions of this sort to precisely ask about tradeoffs of experiences, rather than “value of life” (as in the Norwood and Lusk survey that you cite).
Do you think they would have a similar response to intervening in the lives of young children in X oppressed group (or any group for that matter)? That seems to be a relevantly similar case to wild animals, in terms of their lack of capacity to self-govern and vulnerability.
Excellent and important, if sobering, work! I've gotten the sense that very general social psychology arguments about animal advocacy strategy can go either way (foot in the door vs door in the face, etc.), so it's refreshing to see specific studies on this that tell me something not at all obvious. I like the preregistration and use of FDR control. Some minor remarks:
the reason you maintain and continue to value the relationship is not so circumstantial, and has more to do with your actual relationship with that other person
Right, but even so it seems like a friend who cares for you because they believe caring for you is good, and better than the alternatives, is "warmer" than one who doesn't think this but merely follows some partiality (or again, bias) toward you.
I suppose it comes down to conflicting intuitions on something like "unconditional love." Several people, not just hardcore consequentialists, find that concept hollow and cheap, because loving someone unconditionally implies you don't really care who they are, in any sense other than the physical continuity of their identity. Conditional love identifies the aspects of the person actually worth loving, and that seems more genuine to me, though less comforting to someone who wants (selfishly) to be loved no matter what they do.
I suppose the point is that you don't recognize that reason as an ethical one; it's just something that happens to explain your behaviour in practice, not what you think is right.
Yeah, exactly. It would be an extremely convenient coincidence if our feelings for partial friendship etc., which evolved in small communities where these feelings were largely sufficient for social cohesion, just happened to be the ethically best things for us to follow - when we now live in a world where it's feasible for someone to do a lot more good by being impartial.
Edit: seems based on one of your other comments that we actually agree more than I thought.
It's more circumstantial if they prioritize you based on impartial concern; it just happened to be the best thing they could do.
Hm, to my ear, prioritizing a friend just because you happen to be biased towards them is more circumstantial. It's based on accidents of geography and life events that led you to be friends with that person to a greater degree than with other people you've never met.
that's pretty small compared to the impartial stakes we face
I agree, though that's a separate argument. I was addressing the claim that conditional on a consequentialist choosing to help their friend, their reasons are alienating, which I don't find convincing. My point was precisely that because the standard is so high for a consequentialist, it's all the more flattering if your friend prioritizes you in light of that standard. It's quite difficult to reconcile with my revealed priorities as someone who definitely doesn't live up to my own consequentialism, yes, but I bite the bullet that this is really just a failure on my part (or, as you mention, the "instrumental" reasons to be a good friend also win over anyway).
I'm still confused by this. The more impartial someone's standards, if anything, the more important you should feel if they still choose to prioritize you.
One thought to have about this case is that you have the wrong motivation in visiting your friend. Plausibly, your motive should be something like ‘my friend is suffering; I want to help them feel better!’ and not ‘helping my friend has better consequences than anything else I could have done.’ Imagine what it would be like to frankly admit to your friend, “I’m only here because being here had the best consequences. If painting a landscape would have led to better consequences, I would have stayed home and painted instead.” Your friend would probably experience this remark as cold, or at least overly abstract and aloof.
This doesn't resonate with me at all, personally. What exactly could be a purer, warmer motivation for helping a friend than the belief that helping them is the best thing you could be doing with your time? That belief implies their well-being is very important; it's not just an abstract consequence, their suffering really exists and by helping them you are choosing to relieve it.
the problem comes from trying to compare infinite sets of individuals with utilities when identities (including locations in spacetime) aren't taken to matter at all
Ah, that's fair - I think I was mistaking the technical usage of "infinite ethics" for a broader class of problems involving infinities in ethics in general. Deonotological theories sometimes imply "infinite" badness of actions, which can have counterintuitive implications as discussed by MacAskill in his interviews with 80k, which is why I was confused by your objection.
Do non-utilitarian moral theories have readily available solutions to infinite ethics either? Suggesting infinite ethics as an objection I think only makes sense if it's a particular problem for utilitarianism, or at least a worse problem for utilitarianism than for anything else.
I'd also recommend the very repugnant conclusion as an important objection (at least to classical or symmetric utilitarianism).