1556 karmaJoined Jun 2020


Contractor RA to Peter Singer, Princeton


Thank you for the post!

What concerns me is that I suspect people rarely get deeply interested in the moral weight of animals unless they come in with an unusually high initial intuitive view.

I also suspect this, and have concerns about it, but in a very different way than you I speculate. More particularly, I am concerned by the "people rarely get deeply interested in the moral weight of animals " part. This is problematic because for many actions humans do, there are consequences to animals (in many cases, huge consequences), and to act ethically, even for some non-conseuquentialists, it is essential to at least have some views about moral weights of animals.

But the issue isn't only most people not being interested in investigating "moral weights" of animals, but that for people who don't even bother to investigate, they don't use the acknowledgement of uncertainty (and tools for dealing with uncertainty) to guide their actions - they assign, with complete confidence, 1 to each human and 0 to almost everyone else. 

The above analysis, if I am only roughly correct, is crucial to our thinking about which direction to move people's view is a correct one. If most people are already assigning animals with virtual 0s, where else can we go? Presumably moral weights can't go negative, animals' moral weights only have one place to go, unless most people were right - that all animals have moral weights of virtually 0.

"I would expect working as a junior person in a community of people who value animals highly would exert a large influence in that direction regardless of what the underlying truth."

For the reasons above, I am extremely skeptical this is worthy of worry. I think unless it happens to be true that all animals have moral weights of virtually 0, it seems to me that "a community of people who value animals highly exerting a large influence in that direction regardless of what the underlying truth" is something that we should exactly hope for, rationally and ethically speaking. (emphasis on "regardless of what the underlying truth" is mine)


P.S. A potential pushback is that a very significant number of people clearly care about some animals, such as their companion animals. But I think we have to also look at actions with larger stakes. Most people, and even more so for a collection of people (such as famailies, companies, governments, charities, and movements), judging from their actions (eating animals, driving, animal experiments, large scale constructions) and reluctance to adjust their view regarding these actions, clearly assign a virtual 0 to the moral weights of most animals - they just chose a few species, maybe just a few individual animals, to rise to within one order of magnitude of difference in moral weight with humans. Also, even for common companion animals such as cats and dogs, many people are shown to assign much less moral weight to them when they are put into situations where they have to choose these animals against (sometimes trivial) human interests. 

Ah, interesting! I like both the terminology and and idea of "adversarial collaboration". For instance, I think incorporating debates into this research might actually move us closer to the truth.

But I am also wary that if we use a classical way of deciding who wins debate, the losing side would aljmost always be the group who assigned higher (even just slightly higher than average) "moral weights" to animals (not relative to humans, but relative to the debate opponent). So I think maybe if we use debate as a way to push closer to the truth, we probably use the classical ways of deciding debates.


There are a ton of judgement calls in coming up with moral weights.I'm worried about a dynamic where the people most interested in getting deep into these questions are people who already intuitively care pretty strongly about animals, and so the best weights available end up pretty biased

I agree there's such a problem. But I think it is important to also point out that there is the same problem for people who tend to think they "do not make judgement calls about moral weights", but have nonetheless effectively came up with their own judgement calls when they live their daily lives which "by the way" affect animals (eat animals, live in buildings that require constructions that kill millions of animals, gardening, which harms and give rise to many animals, etc).

Also, I think it is equally, maybe more, important to recognize those people who make such judgement calls without explicitly thinking about moral weights, let alone go into tedious research projects, are people who intuitively care pretty little about animals, and so their "effective intuition about moral weights" (intuitive because they didn't want to use research to back it up) backing up their actions end up pretty biased.

I think I intuitively worry about the bias of those who do not particularly feel strongly about animals' suffering (even those caused by them), than the bias of those who care pretty strongly about animals. And of course, disclaimer: I think I lie within the latter group.


Thank you for the post, and congratulations on the good work you are doing. I am excited to see your influence grow globally!

Wow this is so big! Congratulations! Thank you for doing this.


Thank you very much for the post! Very useful information.

For people who are working on or interested in animal welfare in Africa, this post might useful too: 

The Epidemic of Second-Hand Battery Cages Being Imported into Africa: What does this mean for the cage-free movement in Africa? — EA Forum (effectivealtruism.org)

I feel much better hearing this! And I do actually agree with you. Thank you!

I would add that besides PB paste. Another option is to use CM shrimp tissues to make the pastes.


Thank you for sharing these important information. It is important to remind people how important this issue is.

My extra worry about the consumption of aquatic animals is that they seem to be much less replaceable than terrestrial animal meats and eggs and milk by plant-based mock meat or cultivated meat (PB/CM). In fact for some popular shrimp dishes I just can't see how PB/CM will ever replace the shrimps there in large scale, such as live shrimp salad, shrimp sashimi (traditionally served with the tails intact, sometimes even the heads), Chinese style steamed and fried shrimps, and hotpots with shrimps

It seems to me the solution of some forms of meat eating has to be other than PB/CM. 


Rob Long (@rgb) and co-author Jeff Sebo (@jeffsebo) recently participated in a panel discussion on their paper 


I tried to look at the author list. It seems to me that Jeff isn't one of the authors. Maybe you meant Jeff was the chair of the panel, and some others are the co-authors?

Thank you for the post! 

I wonder what a better slaughter of "small rainbow trout" looks like? It seems to me small fish are hard to handle and there are therefore bigger economic incentives for practitioners to refuse.

Load more