A new paper on animals and longtermism published with funding by Animal Ethics

A new paper on animals and longtermism published with funding by Animal Ethics

19 Feb 2024

We are happy to announce that a new paper on animals and longtermism has been published. The paper is authored by Gary O’Brien and was made possible by funding from Animal Ethics. It appears in one of the most important academic journals of ethics, the Journal of Moral Philosophy. O’Brien works at Lingnan University and the Hong Kong Catastrophic Risk Centre, in addition to writing for Animal Ethics.

You can read here:

The case for animal-inclusive longtermism

Influencing discussion in academia contributes to transforming the future by helping to shape new ideas that spread through society as a whole. This is why Animal Ethics works on initiatives to increase concern in academia about under-addressed issues in animal advocacy.

Why longtermism implies considering all future sentient beings

Longtermism emphasizes the significance of our current actions in shaping the trajectory of the far future. The underlying assumptions to support this view are well-founded. First, it seems reasonable to say that no matter when something good or bad happens, it should matter the same. The suffering of someone who will live far from now should not matter less than that of someone who will live very soon. Second, the long-term future has the potential to be astronomically large. This means that many more sentient individuals (vast numbers, in fact) will live in the future than right now. Third, we should try to improve things as much as possible when we can. This means that if we can prevent a very large number of individuals from being harmed, we should. And, fourth, what we do now can make things better in the future. All this gives us good reason to work to prevent bad scenarios from happening in the future.

Traditionally, longtermism has been centered around mitigating global challenges and risks for human beings. However, the arguments against speciesism are overwhelming in showing that all sentient beings should matter and receive full moral consideration. Accordingly, this paper argues that a longtermist approach must take into account all sentient beings. Not doing so would mean making it possible for them to suffer at massive scale and in massive numbers.

To defend all sentient beings, we need a longtermist approach

Therefore, animal advocates should adopt a longtermist perspective. Unfortunately, for the most part, animal advocacy is focused on the present situation of nonhuman animals. This means little work is done to prevent potentially very bad future scenarios for animals.

Something like this has already occurred in history: the ways animal exploitation have expanded in the last few decades were not considered beforehand by animal advocates the past. Things like factory farming weren’t addressed even when their development was imminent. This is happening again, right now, with the development of invertebrate farming.

There are multiple ways this could continue to occur in the future:

Other forms of animal exploitation may develop that we could have prevented, because we continue to have the same neartermist approach.

In addition, wild animal suffering may expand as well, or fail to be prevented even if we have the means to do it. This could happen due to a lack of concern for wild animals, or because of the misconception that animals in the wild live good lives and don’t need our help.

There may also be new forms of sentience and suffering in the future that we are not currently considering even though we can foresee their possibility. This could lead to huge amounts of suffering that we could have prevented if we had considered future risks.

These and other potentially harmful future scenarios are completely realistic. Preventing them may require targeted work when they become imminent. But there’s something we can do now. By spreading concern about all sentient beings at this point, we could prevent such bad scenarios from happening. However, this is not occurring yet due only to lack of awareness and lack of concern.

In light of all this, we expect this paper to make an important contribution to raising awareness about this crucial issue.

Learn more

If you want to learn more about animals and longtermism, there is a growing amount of literature on this issue. To start, we recommend you take a look at these materials:
Animal Ethics’ webpage about the importance of the future

Our video about wild animal suffering and the long-term future, whose content is expanded in our ebook Introduction to wild animal suffering: A guide to the issues and our YouTube channel

You can also watch this seminar about a longtermist approach in animal advocacy.