42 karmaJoined Jun 2020


Founder of the Dignity Project (dignityproject.net). Political behaviour, global development, behavioural science - and cricket.


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Hi Tim. Thanks for your comment. I've tried to explain in a little more depth what I mean by dignity in a response above, and there's a deeper discussion in my WIP literature review. But I think your definition is a reasonable approximation - and your closing thought seems about the same level that I would estimate the possible scale of this. Cash transfers seem like a good example of an intervention that is pretty dignity-focused.

I like your point about how the individual might trade-off between respectful treatment and malarial drugs, because it nicely illustrates what we don't know - in that case, the trade-off is probably clear, whereas in the case of for example a disrespectful but otherwise useful entrepreneurship training scheme, the trade-off is much less clear. Without measuring respectfulness, we can't be precise about those trade-offs - but as I said in a response above, this probably has more relevance for the bulk of mid-level development interventions, and less relevance for the most effective interventions that EAs are most concerned about.

Thanks Gordon - I think that's my intuitive sense as well. It also chimes with some of the work by IDinsight about how respondents differently value lives depending on age (putting a very strong emphasis on saving children's lives). I should plan to spend some good time talking with people who work on calculating QALYs to see if there are opportunities to integrate this.

Ishaan, thanks for sharing these thoughts. As you say, cash transfers feel like an opportune one here - I did some thinking to support Jeremy Shapiro's work on cash and recipient preferences right at the start of this project, published here. Extending that to give an overview of how different interventions compare and how their ranking might change sounds like a really productive possible project!

Thanks Sanjay for these responses.

I think your caution on how we could easily overestimate our impact is right. We have good evidence that disrespect is common. In a study with 239 participants from Kibera in Nairobi, a one-unit increase in disrespect score was associated with a reduction on the wellbeing scale of 0.2, and a reduction in the self-efficacy scale of 0.3 (both significant at p=>0.01) - that's suggestive, but not precise enough yet. Something for a wider study at some point!

On tractability, I think I see more promise. Charities are well-practiced at implementing changes to their processes for whatever reason, and well-defined recommendations could be taken up by their teams fairly easily. Even in the admittedly harder case of changing government practice, there are papers suggesting that day-long training sessions can have solid impacts (apologies, can't find the reference this morning).

Neglectedness, as you say, depends on exactly the level of action we are asking for. As you say many would offer a rhetorical commitment to dignity (in a recent survey, 79% of 407 US non-profit professionals personally committed to raising dignity as an issue where they could do better, with their colleagues. My impression though is that this isn't enough to actually change practice - there's a gap between that rhetorical commitment and the frequent experiences of disrespect reported by those who take part in those programs.

Thanks for this very thoughtful response - I think it really clarifies some of the tensions I referred to in my response to DavidMoss above. I framed my original post as one about integration of different interests, but you are right that they proceed from different ethical commitments. As you conclude, many of us here have some personal commitment to both those ethics, but they aren't really integratable

I think some dignity-informed interventions *would* pass a cost-effectiveness test - but probably not at the very top of the effectiveness pyramid. Dignity arguments are unlikely to transform AMF's practice, or lead us to replace AMF with a different charity. They might improve effectiveness for many existing middling programs, through two routes: by providing an additional argument for converting to cash transfers, and by suggesting small welfare-increasing ameliorations to many average programs. We tend to talk about the ideal interventions here, and in terms of directing our own giving that's quite right - this might have more to tell us about the bulk of other aid.

Thanks EdoArad and mwcvitkovic.

Drawing on work by Remy Debes and others, I define dignity as a quality possessed by each person. That quality is characteristic (it is at least part of what defines personhood), inalienable (it cannot be stripped away), and unquantifiable - no one has more or less dignity. This is called a moralized idea of dignity in the literature, and differs from the merit-based definition which says that some people have greater dignity than others.

In recognition of the fact that people have dignity, we have a duty to treat them with respect. We call this Recognition Respect, because it is the basic level of respect due to everyone - we might want to offer additional respect to great athletes or particularly eloquent forum posters. It's this respect that we measure. On the website I propose some metrics for doing so.

Does that help? It's tricky to explain at this level of abstraction!

Thanks Wolf. The reason I think to speak about dignity as a general phenomenon rather than a series of concrete indignities is that there are so many possible different indignities, which are very context dependent - but there is a sufficient similarity between how those different indignities are experienced to make them worthwhile capturing under one category. Therefore we can offer measures that are appropriate to many situations without having to come up with different specific survey questions for every different possible indignity.

To your second point, I would argue for including measures of respect not because we should always and everywhere maximize respect at the expense of other goals, but rather because by measuring it we can make informed judgments about those tradeoffs. My prior is that we would find ways of being more respectful that did not sabotage other goals, but we won't know until we measure.

This is a fair point. I've treated dignity as equivalent to a cause area here, but that's not really what it is. I think in part I'm borrowing INT because I'm not sure how philosophers make arguments over fundamental values - the empiricist in me wants to root it in some sort of popularity/preferences survey. There's definitely an unresolved tension in my thinking between regarding dignity as an end, and regarding it as a promising strategy for promoting welfare.

It's something I'll do some reading on, but if anyone has recommendations for reading on how philosophers arrive at understandings of fundamental values, I'd love to read them.

I'm emerging from hibernation. Apologies for taking so long to reply.

A quick post to thank everyone for this thoughtful feedback. Personal life has kept me from responding as fully as I'd like so far, but I'll be back soon to do so properly.

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