Deborah W.A. Foulkes

31Joined May 2022


“5.) Animal activists have a reputation for naivete and credulity. Engaging substantively with science, which necessarily includes studies that cruelly harm animals, may help us to be taken more seriously.”

No. ‘Engaging’ with cruel studies and citing them, paying attention to them, means giving them credence. They should be ignored into oblivion. This is a valid standpoint, neither naive nor credulous.

In your note, you state you are uncomfortable with these experiments. Me too. I find them abhorrent. I used to have a couple of pet rats and they are the dearest, sweetest, most curious and intelligent creatures imaginable. The thought that they could have been ‘decortified’ makes me feel sick.

I have spent a lot of time reading on the neuroscience of memory, to develop my understanding of the field, especially relating to the hippocampus. Much understanding here has come from experiments on rats. When/if I finally publish my findings, however, I intend to avoid citing those papers using rat experimentation wherever possible. Imaging technology has advanced to the point where animal lesion studies can gradually take a back seat, and I would hope that eventually they are no longer performed. As Effective Altruists we should be also moving in that direction too, don’t you think? Is examination of consciousness via this type of experiment even at all compatible with the moral standpoint of ‘doing the most good’? I think not.

Once I visited a university physiology lab. The scientists there seemed like nice people. But they thought nothing of turning a gas tap on to kill a vibrant and happy bunch of mice that were extraneous to their experimental needs. The conversation and the laughter went on, while I looked at all those suddenly still, dead little bodies. It was grotesque. Grotesque.

Hi Roman, I really like your post, the idea of experimenting with telling each other about random samples of our daily lives. Something that is more likely to bring people together than the slickly curated Instagram posts. It’s a very worthwhile thing to try and achieve, and you seem to be succeeding in it - so well done there!

However, the title of your post doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual content. I read your post expecting to find something about cognitive biases, for example, and groupthink, based on that title. Could you maybe consider giving your post a title which better reflects the content? Then you will be more likely to reach the readers you want to have a conversation with about it.

All the best!

Please do not cherrypick your facts regarding pyrethroids. The full information provided by your source is as follows:

“Pyrethroids are toxic to insects such as bees, dragonflies, mayflies, gadflies, and some other invertebrates, including those that constitute the base of aquatic and terrestrial food webs.They are toxic to aquatic organisms including fish.


Pyrethroids are usually broken apart by sunlight and the atmosphere in one or two days, however when associated with sediment they can persist for some time.

Pyrethroids are unaffected by conventional secondary treatment systems at municipal wastewater treatment facilities. They appear in the effluent, usually at levels lethal to invertebrates.”

See also:


Malaria is a serious global health issue, with around 200 million cases per year. As such, great effort has been put into the mass distribution of bed nets as a means of prophylaxis within Africa. Distributed mosquito nets are intended to be used for malaria protection, yet increasing evidence suggests that fishing is a primary use for these nets, providing fresh concerns for already stressed coastal ecosystems. While research documents the scale of mosquito net fisheries globally, no quantitative analysis of their landings exists. The effects of these fisheries on the wider ecosystem assemblages have not previously been examined. In this study, we present the first detailed analysis of the sustainability of these fisheries by examining the diversity, age class, trophic structure and magnitude of biomass removal. Dragnet landings, one of two gear types in which mosquito nets can be utilised, were recorded across ten sites in northern Mozambique where the use of Mosquito nets for fishing is common. Our results indicate a substantial removal of juveniles from coastal seagrass meadows, many of which are commercially important in the region or play important ecological roles. We conclude that the use of mosquito nets for fishing may contribute to food insecurity, greater poverty and the loss of ecosystem functioning.”

I'm so sorry you find my post 'adversarial'. I do apologise if that is the impression you have received. It was not intended. By way of explanation - I've arrived at Effective Altruism via a path that started with existential risks and then expanded to longtermism, so I suppose I automatically start from a more risk-averse perspective. X-risks and longtermism lead to one thinking more in terms of the negative effects an intervention could have on vast numbers of future people (since a human extinction event would prevent huge numbers of future people from leading happy fulfilling lives up to the habitable limit of this planet, around one billion years, and prevent even huger, barely comprehensible numbers of future people expanding to settle inhabitable planets throughout the universe), and this often seems to conflict with considerations of smaller (in comparison) numbers of people here on this one planet in the short-term. It is a quite horrible moral dilemma, to weigh these up against one another, and one which is very uncomfortable indeed to contemplate or to even attempt to quantify. But we should not shrink from this difficult task, I feel. 

While I agree with you that we owe it to our descendants to make the leap into space, my personal motivation for that is also to ensure that we take as many of the other living creatures of our planet with us (quite apart from the fact that I doubt we would be able to survive in an entirely artificial environment without any other Terran life forms). If the Earth's inhabitability will only last for about another billion years before the sun expands into a red giant and boils off the oceans, etc., then human beings represent the best chance of survival for our planet's other life forms, too. 

That being said, I find the phrase you used, "It is up to us to subdue the earth" quite disturbing. Being a woman, the word 'subdue' has overtones of violence and dominance that, frankly, frighten me. And look at where that mindset has got us: according to Toby Ord, we are at the edge of the precipice of extinction already. In large part, that is the result of people trying to 'subdue' the earth. It's not going to work, though. We as a species need to both recognise the enormous responsibility we bear for making sure life manages to survive beyond the lifespan of our little corner of the galaxy, and exercise humility through recognising the threat that we ourselves pose to the continuance of life on Earth. I hope you would agree with me that that's quite an intellectual and emotional/psychological feat. Like doing the splits :-).

Regarding the - in my view false - distinction between humans and nature: I would argue that human consciousness in its current state of development is highly problematic in that it is one that engenders separateness on many levels, rather than oneness. I am optimistic that we will overcome this state from several angles: with concepts from quantum physics such as quantum cognition (see e.g. ); with concepts from biology showing the breathtaking entanglements and co-evolution of e.g. viruses and bacteria with and within humans and human cells, such as the account given by David Quammen in The Tangled Tree ( ) - after reading this you will never look at nature or see humans in the same way again, I promise you :-); and experientially, through meditation - during meditation I (and others in increasing numbers) have briefly and occasionally experienced oneness with all other humans and with the rest of the living and non-living world/universe, an experience which appears to take place outside of time and space, which feels utterly real and valid, yet which is impossible to put into words and which carries no scientific 'weight'. Nevertheless, it is this latter experience which gives me most hope for the future of humanity.

You are right that the reference I gave refers to Zen Buddhism and paganism/shamanism. These are schools of thought which are more able to embrace non-duality and have insights on the false dichotomy between humans and nature. For more information on my own 'religion', one which feels that the scientific worldview is not incompatible with a spiritual view of nature, please take a look at the Green Spirit Circle website, which my partner and I created and which contains some of my nature poetry: 

Thank you for such a comprehensive consideration  (and I'm glad you seem to like my newly-coined neologism sapioseparatism enough to use it, even though you disagree with the concept itself :-) ). 

I'll try to address some of your points. Firstly, there is a very good journal article on utilitarianism and biodiversity that I think you might enjoy reading: Why biodiversity matters: A review of the arguments, and counter-arguments, for the conservation of the diversity of life,  Abstract

The impact of human activities on the biosphere has accelerated rapidly during the last 200 years, and particularly so since the second half of the 20th century consequent upon an exponential rate of population growth combined with scientific and technological developments. Advances in technology continue to facilitate the exploitation of the world's organic resources and the manipulation of its physical environment. This has called for increased efforts towards the conservation of the world's biodiversity so as to reduce the rapid rate of species extinction and decline. This review paper explores the arguments and counter-arguments that have been put forward for the conservation of biological diversity. The ultimate purpose of the review is to broaden the horizon on the value of biodiversity, which will help in diminishing the narrow, humanistic valuation of biodiversity largely responsible for the current biodiversity crisis. Indeed, one of the causes of the accelerated loss of biodiversity has been the utilitarian and human-centred argument that has largely been put forward as justification for the conservation of the world's biodiversity. The major weakness with a conservation system based on economic motives is that most members of the biological community do not have immediate economic value. Therefore, justifying species preservation for utilitarian purposes predisposes many seemingly useless species to extinction. Only a moral or ethical argument for the conservation of biodiversity in which nature is conserved for its own sake, combined with sustainable use, can ensure a more effective conservation of the world's organic resources.  

This paper also has a fascinating discussion of the utilitarian dilemma with respect to the 'existence value' of biodiversity:

Existence value, biodiversity, and the utilitarian dilemma 

Existence value has been argued to be a significant part of the total economic value of some
ecosystems. However, its compatibility with the welfare economic foundations of economic
valuation is very limited – it is difficult to logically conceive of changes in existence. Moreover,
when applied to biodiversity, the concept of existence value gives rise to an instance of a more
fundamental problem of economic valuation, termed here the utilitarian dilemma: it can be
argued conceptually that biodiversity cannot have existence value; yet the results of empirical
studies suggest that people in stated preference studies can be expected to assign existence value
to it. The utilitarian dilemma arises as the analysing economist must deal somehow with
‘erroneous’ preferences. There seems to be no simple solution to the dilemma, but deliberative
monetary valuation has the potential to alleviate it. 

I also recommend: Respect for Nature

A Theory of Environmental Ethics - 25th Anniversary Edition

Paul W. Taylor

In the series Studies in Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy

About this book

What rational justification is there for conceiving of all living things as possessing inherent worth? In Respect for Nature, Paul Taylor draws on biology, moral philosophy, and environmental science to defend a biocentric environmental ethic in which all life has value. Without making claims for the moral rights of plants and animals, he offers a reasoned alternative to the prevailing anthropocentric view--that the natural environment and its wildlife are valued only as objects for human use or enjoyment. Respect for Nature provides both a full account of the biological conditions for life--human or otherwise--and a comprehensive view of the complex relationship between human beings and the whole of nature.

This classic book remains a valuable resource for philosophers, biologists, and environmentalists alike--along with all those who care about the future of life on Earth. A new foreword by Dale Jamieson looks at how the original 1986 edition of Respect for Nature has shaped the study of environmental ethics, and shows why the work remains relevant to debates today.

Author information

Paul W. Taylor (1923–2015) was professor emeritus of philosophy at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.


"When it first appeared, Respect for Nature was at once recognized for the important, groundbreaking work it was. It was deservedly a major influence in the then newly developing field of environmental ethics. Time has only confirmed this first opinion and it is good to have the book back before us."—Michael Ruse, editor of Philosophy after Darwin

"Paul Taylor notes that just as we would not ask 'What is a human being good for?,' so also should we not ask 'What is nature good for?' This is surely right. His Respect for Nature is a systematic working out of the consequences of this observation. It is even more relevant today than when it first appeared twenty-five years ago."—Stephen Darwall, Yale University


Load More