I am attracted to utilitarianism, but also find some of the possible implications off-putting. But there are also some objections I have from first principles.
One objection is that any numbers we use in practice just have to be made up. (This objection might be especially serious if we take animals into account, which I think we should.) So maybe utalitarianism is the "correct" theory but if I don't have access to the correct utilities it is not clear whether I should use some made up numbers to do the expected utility calculations. One might compare with theorems saying that individual rational choice is equivalent to maximizing a von Neumann-Morgenstern utility function. Yet very few people, even economists, try to do that in practice and it is not clear that people would be less irrational in practice if they tried to do calculations with their expected utility in various circumstances.
A second theoretical objection I have is that if we suppose there is any chance that humanity, or sentient life, will survive forever, then the universe will contain infinite amounts of pain and pleasure, all calculations become divergent, and the theory gives no guide at all. You might object that this is impossible with current scientific theories, but the conclusion goes through no matter how small the probability is. Surely there is a 1/Ackerman(1000) chance that our current understanding of physics is wrong?
The fish numbers for suffering only include farm fish, not wild-caught fish if I understand correctly? Regarding the elephant example, it seems a lot of the elephant neurons are in the cerebellum, not the celebral cortex. Humans apparently have three times more neurons in the cortex than elephants, explaining our superior cognitive capacities, and possibly indicating we have more capacity for pain and pleasure.
On 80000 hours webpage they have a profile on factory farming, where they say they estimate ending factory farming would increase the expected value of the future of humanity by between 0.01% and 0.1%. I realize one cannot hope for precision in these things but I am still curious if anyone knows anything more about the reasoning process that went into making that estimate.
I think of welfare reforms as being excellent complements to work on cultured meat. By raising prices, and drawing attention to the issue of animal welfare, they may increase demand for cultured meat when it becomes available.
Like the author of the OP I am excited about the possibility of cultured meat to reduce animal cruelty. If we want people to switch to vegetarian diet on a large scale it seems the most realistic way. Now, I am perhaps more optimistic than the author about the possibility of humane farms. The country where I live has stronger animal welfare laws than the US, and indeed than almost all of the world, and I do think that a non-trivial portion of the meat eaten in my country has been ethically produced. In longer-term, to avoid back-sliding of the standards, cultured meat seems like clearly the best solution anyway.
(In making that judgement I of course am saying that I think raising and killing animals for meat is morally acceptable in principle. I have given the matter some thought, and while I am not 100% convinced that is the case I certainly lean towards that view.)
Thank you. That is rather different from my view of sentience in some ways, I appreciate the clarification.
Conditional on invertibrates being sentient, I would upgrade my probability of other things being sentient. So maybe bivales are sentient, some existing robots, maybe even plants. I would take the case for hidden qualia in humans seriously as well. Do you agree, and if so, would this have any impact on good policies to pursue?
Hello everybody, I have been lurking on the forum for a while and thought I would introduce myself. I encountered EA earlier this year and while I am not as altruistic as many of you, I have become more altruistic than I was before. I have increased my donations, and reprioritized them to hopefully more effecient causes. I have also become almost vegetarian, a lifestyle change I never thought I would attempt.
I have no overaching moral theory. I am attracted to utilitarianism, but I also think there are lots of practical and theoretical problems with it so I am not going to pretend I am committed to it.
I have been very struck by the arguments for the importance of animal welfare. I have a lot of moral uncertainy on the topic, since any attempt to formulate ethical rules involving animals raises difficult questions in the philosophy of consciousness, utilitarianism versus other ethical theories, the inter-individual comparison of utilities and population ethics. Still, my intuition says that industrial scale animal cruelty is bad, and nothing in my attempts to philosophize makes me think that intution is wrong.