Comment author: Cerulean 04 June 2016 02:58:13PM *  3 points [-]

Can I also suggest though that this tendency should be balanced by the potential positive impact of owning a pet. Jonathan Safran Foer quotes Oxford historian Sir Keith Thomas:

the spread of pet-keeping... created the psychological foundation for the view that some animals at least were entitled to moral consideration.

I've no idea about whether studies of this have been done, but it seems plausible at least that a child in a pet-owning family is more likely to develop some level of empathy for animals, and more likely to question the hypocrisy of treating cats and dogs so well and other animals so abysmally.

In pre- domestic pet societies such as most of the second and third worlds today, empathetic attitudes towards animals are often non-existent (except when there are religions focussed on alleviation of suffering such as in India). There's just little basis at all for caring about the experience of animals. Thus pets may help train moral consideration for animals, and may be worth the meat-consumption tradeoff that they require.

But that's a very tentative may... the likelihood of children in pet-owning families becoming vegetarian or making pro-animal interventions is probably so marginal that it doesn't counteract all the extra chickens that their cat or dog needs.

Comment author: DavidMoss 05 June 2016 08:59:12AM 4 points [-]

You're in luck, there is a study on this:

Results from 273 individuals responding to a survey on an internet platform revealed that participants with greater childhood attachment to a pet reported greater meat avoidance as adults, an effect that disappeared when controlling for animal empathy. Greater childhood pet attachment was also related to the use of indirect, apologetic justifications for meat consumption, and this effect too, was mediated by empathy toward animals. Child pet ownership itself predicted views toward animals but not dietary behavior or meat-eating justifications. The authors propose a sequence of events by which greater childhood pet attachment leads to increased meat avoidance, focusing on the central role played by empathy toward animals

http://vegstudies.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user_upload/p_foodethik/Rothgerber__Hank_2014._Childhood_pet_ownership__attachment_to_pets__and_subsequent_meat_avoidance.pdf

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 03 June 2016 03:59:41PM 0 points [-]

Surely layer hens are much worse off than the worst-off humans? If we want to help the worst off then we should help factory farmed animals, especially layer hens and veal calves.

Certainly there are plausible arguments for supporting global poverty rather than animal advocacy, but we have to remember that chickens matter too, and it's just not true that the global poor are the worst-off individuals. Maybe this seems like a minor point, but factory farming is the greatest atrocity in the world and I don't think you can fairly claim to be helping the worst off individuals if you're ignoring everyone who's not a human.

Comment author: DavidMoss 04 June 2016 10:41:04AM 1 point [-]

That makes perfect sense if you're a welfarist of some kind- then you'll be interested in the "worst off" simply defined in terms of which individuals have the lowest welfare.

If you're interested in "fairness and equity" (which perhaps you shouldn't be), then considering the "worst off" will likely pull you in different directions. For example, the worst off within a (political) community being worse off than others, may be a great inequity, but people being worse off outside the community may not be an inequity or unfair, merely a moral tragedy. For example, some aliens I've never encountered being very badly off is not unfair or unjust, on most views, and helping them is a matter of benevolence, not justice. This is part of why some political animal rights theorists try to establish that animals are in (relations to) our communities. But of course, that line of argument rules in factory farmed animals, but rules out most wild animals- plausibly a much greater atrocity.

Comment author: DavidMoss 04 June 2016 08:22:32AM 8 points [-]

I agree, but one other consideration: the average lifetime cost of a dog is apparently >£15,000/$20,000. I'm sure you can keep a pet much more cheaply, but still, healthcare costs, of pets, alone are notoriously expensive. It seems like the expense (which could buy a lot of bednets or save/prevent a lot of farmed animal lives (http://effective-altruism.com/ea/pj/at_what_cost_carnivory/)) would dwarf the moral importance of the pets consuming meat directly.

Comment author: redmoonsoaring 10 May 2016 03:35:48AM *  7 points [-]

I think the difference in cost per pledge could also be from a large number of existing vegetarians who just wanted the additional information. Also the former vegetarians probably consumed fewer animal foods, which would make converting one to vegetarianism less impactful.

Comment author: DavidMoss 10 May 2016 09:30:00AM 6 points [-]

Also, even assuming that this did successfully target recidivists (rather than just getting vegetarians to download resources on vegetarianism) we should presumably expect recidivists to be more likely to relapse or be less than 100% vegetarian, thus further reducing the impact.

Comment author: JesseClifton 24 April 2016 05:06:28PM 1 point [-]

I think adopting and spreading some deontic heuristics regarding the exploitation of animals is good from a consequentialist perspective. Presumably, EAs don't consider whether enslaving, murdering, and eating other humans "is for the greater good impartially considered". Even putting that on the table would make EA look much more heartless and crazy than it already does, and risk spreading some very dangerous memes. Likewise, not taking a firm stand against animal exploitation as a development tool makes EA seem less serious about helping animals, and reinforces the idea that animals are here to benefit humans.

Comment author: DavidMoss 24 April 2016 07:08:35PM 0 points [-]

It's true that we should promote certain heuristics after careful consideration of the consequentialist impact of doing so. That's not what's going on here. Assuming Zach is defending the deontic side constraint picture, no consequentialist case for being deontic has been made for this.

It's true we should follow certain heuristics in cases where we cannot properly assess the consequentialist case (per two level consequentialism) e.g. we should eschew lying to and stealing from our friends as a default rule, even when it might appear in a given case that it's consequentially justified, because we can't do a consequentialist calculation about everything all the time and if we try, in certain areas, it'll lead to disaster. That's not what's happening here, because the case in question is an abstract discussion of a huge policy question regarding what stance we should take in the future, with little time pressure. These are precisely the areas where we should be consequentialist if ever we should be.

If we're actually consequentialists then the effects of the policy on the non-humans and the humans actually needs to be weighed and taken account. That's not what the OP seems to be doing. On the second interpretation, it seems to be saying we should never allow animals to be used in this way, regardless of the costs and benefits.

As to the two considerations you mention:

EAs don't consider whether enslaving, murdering, and eating other humans "is for the greater good impartially considered". Even putting that on the table would make EA look much more heartless and crazy than it already does, and risk spreading some very dangerous memes.

I don't find this to carry much weight. For almost everyone in the world, eating other humans is viewed very differently to eating animals and a fortiori to members of the global poor owning and raising a small number of animals. So the worry about "heartless and crazy" does not transfer from the human cannibalism to allowing the very poor to own livestock as assets, nor does it seem like this risks shifting people's norms (since almost everyone not on this forum endorses this anyway).

not taking a firm stand against animal exploitation as a development tool makes EA seem less serious about helping animals, and reinforces the idea that animals are here to benefit humans.

I find it very unlikely that this is a serious consideration. Almost everyone is not a vegan, so purely in terms of considering signalling, I doubt that we are well-advised to insist that people in the developing world cannot should not own animals as assets (regardless of the balance of cost and benefits).

Comment author: DavidMoss 24 April 2016 10:28:15AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: DavidMoss 22 April 2016 04:19:44PM *  5 points [-]

It seems slightly ambiguous to me which of two different conceptions of "anti-speciesism" are being used here (unfortunately the term allows/encourages this confusion):

(1) "Neutral anti-speciesism": count persons of different species' interests no more/less than those of any other species, and maximise all interests impartially (basically utilitarianism)

(2) "Side-constraint anti-speciesism": just as we would never discriminate, disrespect, exploit or harm black people in certain ways (even if it was for the greater good) so too we shouldn't do analogous things to members of certain species because that would be speciesist, and we shouldn't be racist, speciesist etc. even if it is for the greater good, impartially considered.

If anti-speciesism is being used in sense (1), i.e. in a utilitarian way which means simply not weighting person's interests differently based on species-membership, then whether we should permit or promote the very poor owning livestock depends entirely on empirical questions about whether this is for the greater good impartially considered. So based on everything said in this post, the poor owning more livestock could be a great thing.

If anti-speciesism is being used in sense (2), then sure, we should not allow the poor to own livestock no matter the suffering averted and benefits to persons impartially considered. But I don't find that view very attractive.

Comment author: zdgroff 12 April 2016 02:59:07PM 0 points [-]

What's the distinction between EAGx and EAG? I saw an EAGx is happening in Boston and had not heard of it.

Comment author: DavidMoss 14 April 2016 09:13:13AM 1 point [-]

I assume it's like TED and TEDx where TED is the main event and then there are events run independently by organisers in different locales.

Comment author: DavidMoss 20 March 2016 11:06:54AM 2 points [-]

How much money/volunteered skilled labour would be needed to expand Shop for Charity to make it ready for Dylan Matthews to write a Vox article on it? I'm wondering whether, if it was a relatively small amount and people knew this, someone might be interested in investing in it. Think of the counterfactual impact one could claim!

Comment author: RobertFarq 29 January 2016 03:13:40AM *  0 points [-]

David,

Again, this is fantastic. Thank you.

"Nor are actual moral judgements simply about conscious experience. Almost everyone values many things other than conscious experience."

Without getting too far into this, (I simply want to assume consequentialism, as most EA's would be some variety of that) I think you've misread us here. At root, the other things get imbued with value only by derivation from consciousness. The implicit claim here is that a universe void of consciousness is a universe similarly void of value - there would be nothing around to make value judgements.

Moral judgements aren't simply about consciousness, but they reduce ultimately to how they move the character of conscious experience, including in a broad sense. Valuing my car isn't simply about my conscious experience in the moment, but about how it makes my life easier; I can be more economically productive getting around faster etc. These other goals all affect the character of my conscious experience, however. Being prosperous vs impoverished, freedom of mobility etc., these are all felt experiences.

Even theistic moral claims, homosexuality is bad etc., are about making sure your conscious experience stays positive, or more positive. Those experiences just happen to be a) in the next life, or b) in God's mind, i.e. his approving of you and your piety is a conscious experience. This is all we mean by saying all moral judgements come down to changes in conscious experience. In terms of language, I could have made that clearer and maybe hedged it a bit more.

This looks like non-scientific, non-physical claim. How would you cash this out in purely naturalistic, non-normative terms and once you have done so, why should we care about it?

I think you're confused about consciousness, and maybe about what we're saying about consciousness. If you don't agree that there is a Nagelian "what it is like" inherently present in conscious experience, I don't know how to convince you. But that's all we mean by "coloured" already with a kind of character; consciousness has a feeling about it. Similarly, if you're problem is with the claim that some "colours" are inherently bad, I don't know how to convince you. Hence the line in the essay, if you think the manner in which suffering forever is bad is somehow on par with judgements of taste, e.g. "I like vanilla over chocolate", I don't think you're playing the same game, or with enough seriousness.

Following from this, I'm glad you're familiar with the literature so again, we're assuming some form of physicalist metaphysics. Personally, I favour materialism (e.g. 'Scientific Materialism' of Mario Bunge), as it is not ruthlessly reductive. Bracketing that can of worms, consciousness is, under this image, just another material thing. Granted, we don't have a full science of it yet, but we know there are neural correlates of consciousness. So the "what it is like", the colour of consciousness, is nonetheless material, and amenable to scientific inquiry. The representational theory of mind, for example, posits that the character of consciousness is exhausted by the representational contents therein. Again, if representational contents are going to be reducible (in some sense) to neural structures or emergent features of such structures, then the claim about conscious experience is entirely scientific. The experience of consciousness is a natural phenomenon.

I can see a merit in moving myself closer to the worst possible misery in lots of circumstances. For example, I can reasonably prefer to starve myself to death in pursuit of other goals which have nothing to do with conscious experience (of myself or others).

We can concede that there could be consequential merits in starving, in certain circumscribed situations. Hunger strikes, for example, allow you to reach a political goal, or you want to sacrifice your food to save a number of other people from dying. However, that does have lots to do with the conscious experience of you or others, i.e. you want increased pay, freedom from oppression, or to save their lives so they can continue having conscious experiences. These all make reference to experiential changes in consciousness. I'd be interested to know a worthwhile goal, that has nothing to do with the conscious experience of anyone, which starving yourself to death allows you to reach.

We did stipulate forced starvation, however, alluding to the non-voluntary nature of suffering in the developing world. And the point was more about conscious merit, not consequential merit. Find something intrinsically okay with the experience of forced starvation, as in the experience itself, without reference to secondary goals or outcomes. This is about the initial point that experiences in consciousness aren't merely subjective, like judgements of taste.

It seems for your purposes you are committed to insisting that there's a simple single answer to the question of which is better, lest you end up being relativists about plumbing. But why think this is the case?

Absolutely not. There's an entire section about pluralism and objectivity vs relativism and absolutism where we say this explicitly. There are innumerable trade-offs to evaluate, but that doesn't prevent you from commenting objectively about those trade-offs, and that will involve reference to material facts. Should I eat an entire jar of nutella right now? It might make me extremely happy, but then there are trade-offs about sugar intake on my health to take into account. There might not be an answer to this trade-off involving long/short-term health risk of nutella vs conscious delight, but that doesn't change the biochemical facts about sugar intake on human health, or my root assumption that I shouldn't eat poison. If I was on the verge of diabetes, and we could determine that one more sugar binge would throw me over the edge, then we'd need to update based on these material facts. The trade-off has become clearer now.

There is no single simple answer sometimes, that doesn't change the fact that at root there are simple assumptions about health and longevity though, and the material facts will constrain how you can objectively move towards or away from them. Similarly, new facts will shed light on those currently difficult or trivial scenarios. Just like the cucumber and celery example, it could turn out that in the future we discover that cucumbers inhibit some kind of protein synthesis and reliably increase cancer risk. The answer about which one to eat will immediately become nontrivial in that case, they're no longer just as good as each other. You ought not to eat cucumber if you want to avoid cancer now.

There is no doubt an infinite number of ways to have equally good plumbing arrangements, almost every house will be idiosyncratic in how it balances those considerations you listed. That doesn't stop us from saying there are objectively bad ones. Lead pipes are bad, for example. Pipes that leak and therefore don't get water to their respective taps are bad. That's all we have to admit. Balancing the rest could be completely trivial, until we discover evidence to suggest that it's not. We're pluralists about plumbing, not relativists.

Comment author: DavidMoss 29 January 2016 04:35:22PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the reply Robert.

Moral judgements aren't simply about consciousness, but they reduce ultimately to how they move the character of conscious experience, including in a broad sense... Even theistic moral claims, homosexuality is bad etc., are about making sure your conscious experience stays positive, or more positive.

This is the claim I deny. People value many things other than conscious experience and make moral judgements based on things other than conscious experience (not even indirectly about conscious experience). If you want to argue that actually, despite appearances, all valuations are indirectly about conscious experience, this needs further argument.

I don't think "homosexuality is wrong" can be plausibly analysed as derivatively about changes in conscious experience. That's just not what people's moral judgements are about. But here are some other examples: -On the whole people strongly disvalue experience machines or wireheading -In Haidtian/dumbfounding cases, people disvalue things even when it is made very clear there is no negative result for anyone's conscious experiences. -People care non-derivatively about their projects being fulfilled even if this results in no change to their or anyone else's conscious experience at all -People can, without contradiction, value an empty consciousness-free universe that is pretty more than one that is ugly -People judge that wrongdoers should have (often intense) negative experience; this is not plausibly accounted for as derivatively about their own positive experience about the fact that wrongdoers suffer- that's just not what they are making judgements about. -People will routinely endorse trading off infinite or near infinite positive/negative experience for things which are totally unrelated to conscious experience- it is hard to make sense of this as simply ultimately about caring about conscious experiences.

RF: If you think that pain, misery, and suffering, are merely subjective tastes, and are unsure why you shouldn’t value those states instead of things like love, laughter, and satiety, you’re thoroughly confused. Conscious experience is, by its very nature, already and immediately coloured with a certain kind of character. DM: This looks like non-scientific, non-physical claim. How would you cash this out in purely naturalistic, non-normative terms and once you have done so, why should we care about it? RF: I think you're confused about consciousness, and maybe about what we're saying about consciousness. If you don't agree that there is a Nagelian "what it is like" inherently present in conscious experience, I don't know how to convince you.

What's my confusion? Whether or not I should introspectively recognise that I am conscious and that it has an inherent qualitative (and normative, and valenced!) character, this is not a scientific argument: it's a philosophical argument based on appeal to people introspecting and finding our certain normative truths about their qualia.

Bracketing that can of worms, consciousness is, under this image, just another material thing. Granted, we don't have a full science of it yet, but we know there are neural correlates of consciousness. So the "what it is like", the colour of consciousness, is nonetheless material, and amenable to scientific inquiry... the claim about conscious experience is entirely scientific."

Firstly, this seems to be making things too easy for yourself. You can't just say 'We all know we have intrinsically valenced phenomenal consciousness and these intrinsically valenced conscious experiences are all purely material... IOU one account of the relation between private conscious experiences and material science.'

But the main point here is that the claims about consciousness that your argument relies on are not "entirely scientific", I'm not sure they're even at all scientific. It's not clear at all how you would translate "good"/"bad"/"value" into material, scientific terms. Note that this is a distinct point from saying that you lack an account of how representational content reduce to neural structures- the point here is that the terms contained in your claim about consciousness are all entirely non-scientific.

I'd be interested to know a worthwhile goal, that has nothing to do with the conscious experience of anyone, which starving yourself to death allows you to reach.

See my first and second responses above. I don't think freedom from oppression are simply derivatively valued based on their implications for positively valenced conscious experience. One can have more positive conscious experience under conditions of oppression, injustice, lack of freedom etc. and yet prefer to be free of oppression etc. Likewise retribution or desert judgements are not about conscious experience (indeed they're sometimes about solely worsening conscious experience). Similarly judgements about fairness are non-reducible to judgements about conscious experience. It is commonplace for the fair thing to diverge from the positive conscious experience promoting thing. Scientific investigation of conscious experiences doesn't even begin to tell us why it's unjust to keep someone in a perpetually drugged state so that a gang of people can have their way with them.

There is no doubt an infinite number of ways to have equally good plumbing arrangements, almost every house will be idiosyncratic in how it balances those considerations you listed. That doesn't stop us from saying there are objectively bad ones. Lead pipes are bad, for example. Pipes that leak and therefore don't get water to their respective taps are bad. That's all we have to admit... We're pluralists about plumbing, not relativists.

How do you avoid relativism? Suppose Bill and Ben share a house, and Bill says that the reliable but hard to repair (and so on) plumbing option is best and Ben says the less reliable but easy to repair (and so on) plumbing option is best. A plausible analysis of such cases is that which plumbing solution is "best" makes sense only relative to the values of Bill, Ben or some other imagined valuer. What scientific investigation settles which is the best plumbing option or whether they are both (by chance) exactly equally good plumbing solutions? Of course, one can be a pluralist non-relativist, but I don't see the motivation for the view in cases like this. It's all very well to say "When my faucet spews water I don’t tell guests, “Who are you to say your plumbing is better than mine?" (after all, few people value maximising water leaks) but the same rhetorical force does not extend to things like the Bill/Ben case. Indeed it strikes me as weird to think that there is a determinate and objective "best" plumbing solution (or multiple solutions identically tied for best) and successful plumbing certainly doesn't require it.

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