Why Research?

The acquisition of new knowledge through research has arguably been one of the greatest achievements in human history. Outcomes such as the industrial revolution led to the unprecedented growth of economies and individual wealth around the world. Because of such technological advancements, humans have massive influence on the global ecosystem.

Unfortunately, economic and technological progress is not universally favorable, and has in fact caused enormous amounts of suffering. Consider, for example, the industrial animal farming, which causes immense suffering to billions of animals every year. The scale of this problem and still-neglected areas such as the suffering of wild animals or the potential for suffering caused by future technological advancements make it abundantly clear that considering the suffering of all sentient beings — not just humans — must be a priority for human society, because we are in control of that suffering. Sentience Politics advocates for impartially investigating how to alleviate and prevent as much suffering as possible, and for working on whichever causes are most promising.

Finding the most effective strategies to reduce suffering requires a focused, transdisciplinary research effort. Through our research agenda and our Research Network, we aim to nourish and guide such an effort.

Join our Research Network!

The Research Agenda

Sentience Politics’s Research Agenda is structured around five focus areas – factory farming and fishing, wild animal suffering, digital sentience, politics and social change, and foundational questions in philosophy and decision theory. The first three topics were selected because empirical evidence1 indicates that they either are — or may in the future be — the largest sources of suffering. The other two are pertinent to how we make progress against these problems. Because we subscribe to a principle of cause-neutrality, these focus areas are subject to revision should our assessments of their strategic significance change. One of Sentience Politics’s sister projects, the Foundational Research Institute, is responsible for making precisely such assessments.

Resources

Note: external sources do not necessarily reflect Sentience Politics’ philosophy. Encyclopedic and non-academic references primarily serve as starting points for establishing comprehensive bibliographies.

Animal Charity Evaluators: Research Library

Faunalytics: Library

Humane Society of the United States: Animal Studies Repository

Centre for Vegan Advocacy: Resources

Animal Ethics: Animals in Nature

Factory farming and fishing

Each year more than 70 billion land animals2 and one trillion fish3 are killed for food. As we do not believe species membership is a sound basis for excluding sentient individuals from consideration, we are concerned about the suffering involved in rearing and slaughtering these animals. Factory farms in particular may be the single largest cause of readily preventable suffering. How can we assess the suffering experienced by the various animals we rear, slaughter, fish or hunt for food? What other ethical considerations and consequences does the exploitation of animals in the agricultural industry have, and what can we do to prevent them? Answering these and similar questions is essential to cause prioritization.

Suffering caused by factory farming

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  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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The future of factory farming

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Government regulation of factory farming

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Compassion in World Farming

The Humane Society (USA)

World Animal Protection

Voiceless (Australia)

Animal Justice (Canada)

Animal Welfare Institute (USA)

SAFE (New Zealand)

Fishing

Plant-based diets

Sources relevant for several of the following research questions can be found in Sentience Politics’ policy paper Sustainable Food.

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Wild animal suffering

The population of wild animals on earth is several orders of magnitude larger than the number of animals used as a means to human ends (e.g. food, scientific research, clothing, entertainment). It is therefore important for us to understand how capable different wild animals are of suffering, as well as how much they do suffer in the wild. Building this understanding now is crucial to developing effective strategies and steering policies on their behalf.

For further research questions see: Research questions for welfare biology, compiled by Brian Tomasik.

Because the suffering of wild animals is still neglected in the animal advocacy movement, in addition to including wild animal suffering (WAS) as a focus area in our Research Agenda, Sentience Politics has established the first WAS research program, led by Brian Tomasik. More information to come.

Ethical implications of wild animal suffering

The present status of wild animal suffering

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The future of wild animal suffering

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Legal status of wild animals

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Digital Sentience

Will sentient digital beings ever exist? (Or do they exist already?) If digital sentience were to exist, it should given moral consideration – denying it that consideration would be tantamount to excluding it based on an unchangeable inherent characteristic that is independent of its ability to suffer. Exploring the ethical implications of digital sentience and how to best prevent its possible future suffering is a significant and still neglected field of research.

Conditions for digital sentience

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Forecasting digital sentience

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Ethical implications of digital sentience

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Politics and social change

The ultimate goal of research on the suffering of sentient beings is to discover the best ways to alleviate and prevent it. The will necessitate a shift in the cultural, social and political attitudes that lead to legal progress. Achieving such a shift will only be possible if we understand the psychological and sociological processes required to accomplish such a shift. For instance, what are the underlying assumptions of speciesism and how can we best address them? How can we effectively promote altruistic policies?

Speciesism studies

 

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Moral psychology

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Suffering-focused law

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The sociology of attitudinal change

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Amelioration and gradualism

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Foundational questions

Research projects focused on reducing as much suffering as possible raise a series of foundational questions in philosophical and decision theory, such as:

  • Why should we care about suffering reduction?
  • What can we say about what it means to suffer?
  • How can we choose between different suffering-reduction strategies when faced with considerable uncertainty about their effects?

Suffering-focused ethics

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Suffering studies

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Altruistic decision analysis

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  1. Animal Charity Evaluators, ‘Prioritising Among Animal Causes’, https://www.animalcharityevaluators.org/research/foundational-research/cause-prioritization/detailed/#fn85-9577; Essays on Reducing Suffering, ‘How Many Wild Animals Are There?’, http://reducing-suffering.org/how-many-wild-animals-are-there/; Open Philanthropy Project, ‘Treatment http://www.openphilanthropy.org/research/cause-reports/treatment-animals-industrial-agriculture.  
  2. A Well-Fed World, ‘Factory Farms- Overview’, http://awfw.org/factory-farms/.  
  3. Fish Count, ‘Fish Count Estimates’, http://fishcount.org.uk/fish-count-estimates.   

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