11Joined Jan 2022


University student studying math. Trying to make the world a better place.


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I think my above reply missed the mark here.

Sticking with the cow example, I agree with you that if we removed their pain at being separated while leaving the desire to be together intact, this seems like a Pareto improvement over not removing their pain.


A preferentist would insist here that the removal of pain is not what makes that situation better, but rather that pain is (probably) dis-prefered by the cows, so removing it gives them something they want.


But the negative hedonist (pain is bad, pleasure is neutral) is stuck with saying that the "drugged into happiness" image is as good as the "cows happily reunited" image. A preferentist by contrast can (I think intuitively) assert that reuniting the cows is better than just removing their pain, because reunification fulfills (1) the cows desire to be free of pain and (2) their desire to be together.

This response is a bit weird to me because the linked post has two counter-examples and you only answered one, but I feel like the other still applies.

The other thought experiment mentioned in the piece is that of a cow separated from her calf and the two bovines being distressed by this. Michael says (and I'm sympathetic) that the moral action here is to fulfill the bovines preferences to be together, not remove their pain at separation without fulfilling that preference (e.g. through drugging the cows into bliss).

Your response about Pareto Improvements doesn't seem to work here, or seems less intuitive to me at least. Removing their sadness at separation while leaving their desire to be together intact isn't a clear Pareto improvement unless one already accepts that pain is what is bad. And it is precisely the imagining of a separated cow/calf duo drugged into happiness but wanting one another that makes me think maybe it isn't the pain that matters.

Spreading wild animals to space isn't bad for any currently existing humans or animals, so it isn't counted under thoughtful short-termism or is discounted heavily. Same with a variety of S-risks (e.g. eventual stable totalitarian regime 100+ years out, slow space colonization, slow build up of Matrioshka brains with suffering simulations/sub-routines, etc.)

"I really love you!"

"You mean you enjoy my company a lot?"

"Well of course, and I want you to be happy."

"I enjoy your company and want you to be happy as well, so I guess I love you too!"


That doesn't seem creepy to me. In fact, I've had this discussion with myself before (about what it means to love someone) and (1) liking them and (2) wishing them happiness, are about what I got.

As for people existing, I think the first 2 levels are clearly true regardless of axiology. As for 3, I think a hedonist could say something like "Person X gives me great pleasure, a good thing" and "Person X is happy, another good thing". All 4 of those statements (1, 2, and my revised versions of 3) seem totally fair and non-weird to me, but perhaps I'm misunderstanding you.

This is pretty amusing Matt, unsure why you've been down-voted here. More seriously, rationalization of one's preferences is a real trap!

This seems at least a bit different from going veg*n in "private" so to speak. If you stop eating meat and tell no-one not immediately impacted by this choice, why would that lead to scaring off people from EA?


Granted, you seem to be talking about a large portion of EAs being veg*n, a large enough portion that meat is not served at the events and a potential new-comer would feel like the only omnivore there. I think this cuts against EA organizations advocating for veg*nism and towards providing non-veg*n food at EA events, but not necessarily against one's own personal consumption choices.

I find the argument for veg*nism based on expected value fairly compelling. In a developed nation, factory farming is dominant. In a factory farm, it seems like ~all animals have net negative lives. Not eating animal products reduces demand for those animal products, leading to less animals with net negative lives being raised on factory farms.


You say that this value isn't very big, and perhaps it isn't. But neither is the cost? Veg*n food in my experience is as healthy, potentially cheaper, and similarly effortful to make as home-cooked non-veg*n food. 


You mention moral licensing. My prior for social science research being true is pretty low so I'd tend to think this effect is small or non-existent. A 5-second google search revealed a meta-analysis of ~90 studies studying ~7000 participants, only including those with a control. They found the magnitude of the effect to be a Cohen's d of .31 which is small. Also unpublished studies had smaller effect sizes than published ones, which makes me more skeptical. 


Informal citation: A Meta-Analytic Review of Moral Licensing. Irene Blanken et al. 2015.


You also mention health/energy costs. As far as I know, the consensus is that well-planned diets whether veg*n or not are all healthy, with some (crappy? I haven't looked into it) research that veganism is good for you. Vegan for Life by Jack Norris and Virginia Messina gives this conclusion and seems to be right. I hope someone will tell me if this opinion about health is wrong though!

As far as I can tell, Richard Bruns is talking about the quality-adjusted life year or QALY. 


The reason it is a year is essentially arbitrary, a year is decently long without being too long for the purposes of public health where QALYs first got used.

The way we deal with "healthy, happy, and flourishing" as a single unit is much trickier. For traditional QALY calculations, researchers simply ask people how they feel when experiencing certain things (like a particular surgery or a disease) and normalize/aggregate those responses to get a scale where 0 quality is as good as death, 1 is perfect health, and negative numbers can be used for experiences worse than death.


Then you multiply quality by quantity. The Wikipedia article on this is good and goes into more depth: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-adjusted_life_year



Note: I don't know how Bruns intends to measure quality of life yet, I expect we'll have to wait.

If a long future is not plausible, a uniform prior of hingy-ness makes sense even when considering the non-negligible amounts of x-risk we seem to observe now.

It also offers an explanation for us being in an 'early' time, there is no later time we could have been born in. In other words, humanity doesn't have much time left so being born a long time into the future is the implausible bit.

Shouldn't this doomsday argument have a higher prior probability than a sudden decline in x-risk or simulation? We've seen extinction events happen before, but not the other two.