It's maybe worth noting that there's an asymmetry: For people who think wild-animal lives are net positive, there are many things that contain even more sentient value than rainforest. By contrast, if you think wild-animal lives are net negative, only few things contain more sentient disvalue than rainforest. (Of course, in comparison to expected future sentience, biological life only makes up a tiny portion, so rainforest is unlikely to be a priority from a longtermist perspective.)I understand the worries described in the OP (apart from the "let's better not find out" part). I think it's important for EAs in the WAS reduction movement to proactively counter simplistic memes and advocate interventions that don't cause great harm from the perspective of some very popular moral perspectives. I think that's a moral responsibility for animal advocates with suffering-focused views. (And as we see in other replies here, this sounds like it's already common practice!) At the same time, I feel like the discourse on this topic can be a bit disingenuous sometimes, where people whose actions otherwise don't indicate much concern for the moral importance of the action-omission distinction (esp. when it comes to non-persons) suddenly employ rhetorical tactics that make it sound like "wrongly thinking animal lives are negative" is a worse mistake than "wrongly thinking they are positive". I also think this issue is thorny because, IMO, there's no clear answer. There are moral judgment calls to make that count for at least as much as empirical discoveries.
I also read Animorphs! I saw this tweet about it recently that was pretty funny.
The Ancestor's Tale got me hooked with trying to understand the world. It was the perfect book for me at the time I read it (2008) because my English wasn't that good yet and I would plausibly have been too overwhelmed with reading The Selfish Gene right away. And it was just way too cool to have this backwards evolutionary journey to go through. Apart from the next item on this list, I can't remember another book that I was so eager to read once I saw what it's about. I really wish I could have that feeling again!
Practical Ethics was life-changing for the obvious reasons and also because it got me far enough into ethics to develop the ambition to solve all the questions Singer left open.
Atonement was maybe the fiction book that influenced me the most. I had to re-read it for an English exam and it got me thinking about typical mind fallacy and how people can perceive/interpret the same situation in very different ways.
Fiction books I read when I was younger must have affected me in various ways, but I can't point to any specific effect with confidence.
I'm not sure I remember this the right way, but here's an attempt: "Constructivism" can refer to a family of normative-ethical views according to which objectively right moral facts are whatever would be the output of some constructive function, such as an imagined social contract or the Kantian realm of ends. "Constructivism" can also refer to a non-realist metaethical view that moral language doesn't refer to moral facts that exist in an outright objective sense, but are instead "construed" intersubjectively via some constructive function. So, a normative-ethical constructivist uses constructive functions to find the objectively right moral facts, while a metaethical constructivist uses constructive functions to explain why we talk as though there are some kind of moral facts at all, and what their nature is.I'm really not sure I got this exactly right, but I am confident that in the context of this "letter to a young philosopher," the author meant to refer to the metaethical version of constructivism. It's mentioned right next to subjectivism, which is another non-realist metaethical position. Unlike some other Kantians, Korsgaard is not an objectivist moral realist. So, I think the author of this letter is criticizing consequentialist moral realism because there's a sense in which its recommendations are "too impartial." The most famous critique of this sort is the "Critique of Utilitarianism" by Bernard Williams. I quoted the most relevant passage here. One way to point to the intuitive force of this critique is as follows: If your moral theory gives the same recommendation whether or not you replace all existing humans with intelligent aliens, something seems (arguably) a bit weird. The "human nature element," as well as relevant differences between different people, are all lost! At least, to anyone who cares about something other than "The one objectively correct thing to care about," the objective morality will seem wrong and alienating. Non-objectivist morality has the feature that moral actions depend on "who's here." That morality arises from people rather than people being receptacles for it. I actually agree with this type of critique – I just wouldn't say that it's incompatible with EA. It's only incompatible with how many EAs (especially Oxford-educated ones) currently think about the foundations of ethics.Importantly, it doesn't automatically follows from this critique of objectivist morality that a strong focus on (some type of) effectiveness is misguided, or that "inefficient" charities suddenly look a lot better. Not at all. Maybe it can happen that certain charities/projects look better from that vantage point, depending on the specifics and so on. But this would require further arguments.
I thought the same thing recently.
I have the same!
For me it's the feeling of too many options, that some options may be less convenient for the other person than they initially would think, and that I have to try to understand this interface (IT aversion) instead of replying normally (even just clicking on the link feels annoying).
I did read the post, and I mostly agree with you about the content (Edit: at least in the sense that I think large parts of the argument are valid; I think there are some important disanalogies that Hanson didn't mention, like "right to bodily integrity" being way clearer than "moral responsibility toward your marriage partner"). I find it weird that just because I think a point is poorly presented, people think I disagree with the point. (Edit: It's particularly the juxtaposition of "gently raped" that comes also in the main part of the text. I also would prefer more remarks that put the reader at ease, e.g., repeating several times that it's all just a thought experiment, and so on.)
There's a spectrum of how much people care about a norm to present especially sensitive topics in a considerate way. You and a lot of other people here seem to be so far on one end of the spectrum that you don't seem to notice the difference between me and Ezra Klein (in the discussion between Sam Harris and Ezra Klein, I completely agreed with Sam Harris.) Maybe that's just because there are few people in the middle of this spectrum, and you usually deal with people who bring the same types of objections. But why are there so few people in the middle of this spectrum? That's what I find weird.
Some people here talk about a slippery slope and having to defend the ground at all costs. Is that the reasoning?
I want to keep up a norm that considerateness is really good. I think that's compatible with also criticizing bad outgrowths of considerate impulses. Just like it's compatible to care about truth-seeking, but criticize bad outgrowths of it. (If a virtue goes too far, it's not a virtue anymore.)
Thanks, that makes sense to me now! The three categories are also what I pointed out in my original comment:
Yes, it's a tradeoff, but Hanson's being so close to one extreme of the spectrum that it starts to be implausible that anyone can be that bad at communicating carefully just by accident. I don't think he's even trying, and maybe he's trying to deliberately walk as close to the line as possible.
Okay, so you cared mostly about this point about mind reading:
While I'm comfortable predicting those categories will exist, confidently asserting that someone falls into any particular category is hard,
This is a good point, but I didn't find your initial comment so helpful because this point against mind reading didn't touch on any of the specifics of the situation. It didn't address the object-level arguments I gave:
[...] I just feel like some of the tweet wordings were deliberately optimized to be jarring.)
but Hanson's being so close to one extreme of the spectrum that it starts to be implausible that anyone can be that bad at communicating carefully just by accident.
I felt confused about why I was presented with a fully general argument for something I thought I indicated I already considered. If I read your comment as "I don't want to comment on the specific tweets, but your interpretation might be a bit hasty" – that makes perfect sense. But by itself, it felt to me like I was being strawmanned for not being aware of obvious possibilities. Similar to khorton, I had the impulse to say "What does this have to do with trolleys, shouldn't we, if anything, talk about the specific wording of the tweets?" Because to me, phrases like "gentle, silent rape" seem obviously unnecessarily jarring even as far as twitter discussions about rape go." (And while one could try to defend this as just blunt or blithe, I think the reasoning would have to be disanalogous to your trolley or food examples, because it's not like it should be surprising to any Western person in the last two decades that rape is a particularly sensitive topic – very unlike the "changing animal food to vegan food" example you gave.)
Now, I'm not saying Hanson isn't deliberately edgy; he very well might be.
If you're not saying that, then why did you make a comment? It feels like you're stating a fully general counterargument to the view that some statements are clearly worth improving, and that it matters how we say things. That seems like an unattractive view to me, and I'm saying that as someone who is really unhappy with social justice discourse.
Edit: It makes sense to give a reminder that we may sometimes jump to conclusions too quickly, and maybe you didn't want to voice unambiguous support for the view that the comment wordings were in fact not easy to improve on given the choice of topic. That would make sense – but then I have a different opinion.
That all makes sense. I'm a bit puzzled why it has to be edgy on top of just talking with fewer filters. It feels to me like the intention isn't just to discuss ideas with people of a certain access need, but also some element of deliberate provocation. (But maybe you could say that's just a side product of curiosity about where the lines are – I just feel like some of the tweet wordings were deliberately optimized to be jarring.) If it wasn't for that one tweet that Hanson now apologized for, I'd have less strong opinions on whether to use the term "misstep." (And the original post used it in plural, so you have a point.)