Effective altruist, moral philosopher, animal advocate. Beatriu de Pinós Postdoctoral Fellow, Law & Philosophy Group (Pompeu Fabra University)/Board member, UPF-Centre for Animal Ethics. Barcelona-based.
I must say I am pretty confused as well.
Hi Neel. Thanks for your respectful reply. Yes, I have been present in discussions in which all parties have been comfortable. Suppose that the background assumption is that gender/racial/class/whatever discrimination exists in the EA community, that it is unjust and that it needs to be addressed. Suppose that the EA organisations involved have taken steps to address it. Suppose that a further assumption is that the burden of evidence lies with those who claim that addressing its existence in the EA community should not be an overwhelming priority. My hypothesis is that these are conditions that allow for a healthy and constructive discussion.
It seems to me that Eric Herboso's reply already does an excellent job of explaining how one can, at the same time, follow proper epistemic rules and promote social justice. I would like to add a couple of considerations. First, I think Hypatia is engaging in a straw man fallacy. They describe social justice norms as having three features:
Given their definition of such norms it is understandable that they further incur in the false dilemma denounced by Herboso. But this is quite an uncharitable understanding of the guidelines often suggested to mitigate discrimination in our interpersonal relationships and in our organisations. One ought rather to understand them in the following way:
Thus, it is the position that funds should not be allocated to combat discrimination within the movement that should be rigorously defended. It is by not addressing social justice issues within the movement that one creates a hostile environment, destroys trust and squanders talent.
Finally, I think it would be profitable if there was an open discussion about the substantive issue of whether there is such thing as structural discrimination in our societies (and within the movement) and its relative moral importance. My hunch is that many apparent disagreements about the interpersonal and organisational norms that should be enforced regarding social justice are rooted in more substantive moral disagreements. What are the best epistemic norms to follow on a daily basis does not depend solely on theoretical epistemic principles, but also on moral and political considerations.
First I'd like to thank Ula for raising the important issue of how employees in the animal movement are treated. Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence that these are not isolated cases. Former employees of other organizations like Animal Equality have reported similar disturbing practices, for example:
Given all this, I'd like to ask:
Thanks in advance for your answer.
Thanks for this post. The EA movement will be a flawed instrument for doing the most good until it addresses the the racism, cissexism (and, I may add, Western-centrism) in its midst. We need an organisation to supervise EA charities on these issues.
It seems to me that the piece you linked (which is great) does not exactly make a non-consequentialist/non-welfarist case for improving wild animal welfare. Rather, it claims that if we reject speciesism and believe (on whatever moral grounds) that there should be positive legal obligations towards humans, then we must conclude that there should be similar legal obligations towards animals as well.
I think that the most complete rendering of that line of reasoning for our moral (rather than legal) obligation to intervene in nature on behalf of wild animals can be found in Catia Faria's 2014 doctoral dissertation.
Thanks for your research and for this post! It was a very interesting read. I was just thinking about how to strengthen the case for wild animal welfare, in the spirit of increasing the chances and the solidity of a pragmatic coalition between those who care about wild animals and those who care about restoration ecology.
In this sense I think it would be good for us not to suggest that one needs to be a utilitarian in order to be on board with improving wild animals’ lives. This is mainly for two reasons.
First, you really don’t need to be a utilitarian:
a) Other welfare-centric consequentialist views also entail we have very strong moral reasons to improve wild animals’ lives. For instance, prioritarianism or egalitarianism;
b) Non-consequentialist views can entail that as well. You can embrace a rights-based position or Kantism and still believe that we have a moral obligation to help others in need. More importantly, even if one doesn’t believe such an obligation exists, surely one wants to say that it’s morally permissible, and a good thing, to improve the lives of others, be they human or not.
c) One can derive reasons to intervene in nature and improve wild animals’ lives from non- welfarist axiologies. For example, we may be concerned with enriching wild animals’ choice opportunities. Right now these are very poor, in that their choice situations involve few alternatives and these tend not to be very satisfactory from the point of view of the animals’ preferences. Thus, intervening in nature to help them may be something we’d want to do if we are concerned about their freedom of choice.
Second, most people aren’t utilitarians, consequentialists or welfarists. It seems good strategically to find ways to tap into the moral intuitions.
I hope this is helpful. Again, thanks for the work you do!
Thanks for the reply! I think you are not missing anything: if there's total net positive/negative value then, necessarily, there's average net positive/negative value, and viceversa. But average net negative value can be lower than total net negative due to some individuals having much better lives than others. Some axiologies care for average, some for total, so it would be interesting to have separate measurements of each.
Hi Zack. Great work! I have one clarificatory question. It is unclear to me whether you use your model to yield predictions about net average welfare or about net total welfare. Sometimes you seem to speak about one and sometimes about the other (on average, on the whole, etc.). Thanks!