TruePath comments on Where can I donate to support insect welfare? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: TruePath 31 December 2017 08:17:13AM 2 points [-]

While this isn't an answer I suspect that if you are interested in insect welfare one first needs a philosophical/scientific program to get a grip on what that entails.

First, unlike other kinds of animal suffering it seems doubtful there are any interventions for insects that will substantially change their quality of life without also making a big difference in the total population. Thus, unlike large animals, where one can find common ground between various consequentialist moral views it seems quite likely that whether a particular intervention is good or actually harmful for insects will often turn on subtle questions about one's moral views, e.g., average utility or total, does the welfare of possible future beings count, is the life of your average insect a net plus or minus.

As such simply donating to insect welfare risks doing (what you feel is) a great moral harm unless you've carefully considered these aspects of your moral view and chosen interventions that align with them.

Secondly, merely figuring out what makes insects better off is hard. While our intuitions can go wrong its not too unreasonable to think that we can infer other mammals and even vertebrates level of pain/pleasure based on analogies to our own experiences (a dog yelping is probably in pain). However, when it comes to something as different as an insect its unclear if its even safe to assume an insect's neural response to damage even feels unpleasant. After all, surely at some simple enough level of complexity, we don't believe those lifeform's response to damage manifests as a qualitative experience of suffering (even though the tissues in my body can react to damage and even change behavior to avoid further damage without interaction with my brain we don't think my liver can experience pain on its own). At the very least to figure out what kinds of events might induce pain/pleasure responses in an insect would require some philosophical analysis of what is known about insect neurobiology.

Finally, it is quite likely that it will be the indirect effects of any intervention on the wider insect ecosystem rather than any direct effect which will have the largest impact. As such, it would be a mistake to try and engage in any interventions without first doing some in depth research into the downstream effects.

Point of this all is that with respect to insects we need to support academic study and consideration more before actually engaging in any interventions.

Comment author: Brian_Tomasik 31 December 2017 01:51:09PM 3 points [-]

Nice points. :)

it seems doubtful there are any interventions for insects that will substantially change their quality of life without also making a big difference in the total population

One exception might be identifying insecticides that are less painful than existing ones while having roughly similar effectiveness, broad/narrow-spectrum effects, etc. Other forms of humane slaughter, such as on insect farms, would also fall under this category.