Here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the summary:
William joined Tyler to discuss why the movement [Effective Altruism] has gained so much traction and more, including his favorite inefficient charity, what form of utilitarianism should apply to the care of animals, the limits of expected value, whether effective altruists should be anti-abortion, whether he’d would side with aliens over humans, whether he should give up having kids, why donating to a university isn’t so bad, whether we are living in “hingey” times, why buildering is overrated, the sociology of the effective altruism movement, why cultural innovation matters, and whether starting a new university might be next on his slate.
And an excerpt:
COWEN: Of all the inefficient things, which is the one you love most?
COWEN: If we’re assessing the well-being of nonhuman animals, should we use preference utilitarianism or hedonistic utilitarianism? Because it will make a big difference. We’re not sure all these animals are happy. They may live lives of terror, but we’re pretty sure they want to stay alive.
MACASKILL: It makes a huge difference. I think the arguments for hedonism as a theory of well-being, where that saying that well-being consists only in conscious experiences — positive ones contribute positively, negative conscious experiences contribute negatively — I think the arguments for that as a theory of well-being and the theory of what’s good are very strong. It does mean that when you look to the lives of animals in the wild, my view is it’s just very nonobvious whether those lives are good or not.
That’s me being a little bit more optimistic than other people that have looked into this, but the optimism is mainly drawing from just lack of — I think we know very little about the conscious lives of fish, let alone invertebrates. But yes, if you have a preference satisfaction view, then I think the world looks a lot better because beings, in general, want to keep living.
Actually, when we look to the future as well, I think if you assess how good is the future going to be on a hedonist view, well, maybe it’s quite fragile. You could imagine lots of future ways that civilization could go, where they just don’t care about consciousness at all, or perhaps the beings that will, are not conscious. But probably, beings in the future will have preferences, and those preferences will be being satisfied. So, in general, moral reality looks a lot more rosy, I think, if you’re a preference satisfactionist.
COWEN: But it’s possible, say, in your view, that human beings should spend a lot of their time and resources going around destroying nature, since it might have negative net expected utility value.
MACASKILL: I think it’s a possible implication. I think it’d be very unlikely to be the best thing we could be doing because once —
COWEN: But there’s a lot of nature. We have very effective bombs, weapons. We could develop animal-killing weapons if we set our minds to it.
And from me:
COWEN: I worry a bit this is verging into the absurd, and I’m aware that word is a bit question-begging. But if we think about the individual level — like what do you, Will, value? — you value, in part, the inefficient. It’s very hard to give people just pure utilitarian advice, because they’re necessarily partial.
At the big macro level — like the whole world of nature versus humans, ethics of the infinite, and so on — it also seems to me utilitarianism doesn’t perform that well. The utilitarian part of our calculations — isn’t that only a mid-scale theory? You can ask, does rent control work? Are tariffs good? Utilitarianism is fine there, but otherwise, it just doesn’t make sense.
Fascinating throughout. Don’t forget Will’s excellent new book What We Owe the Future.