Comparisons of Capacity for Welfare and Moral Status Across Species—Jason Schukraft, 2020
Preliminary thoughts on moral weight—Luke Muehlhauser, 2018
Should Longtermists Mostly Think About Animals? - Abraham Rowe, 2020
2017 Report on Consciousness and Moral Patienthood—Luke Muehlhauser, 2017 (the idea of “moral weights” is addressed briefly in a few places)
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this is a very small collection. I intend to add to it over time. If you know of other relevant work, please mention it in a comment.
(ETA: The following speculation appears false; see comments below.) It also appears possible this term was coined, for this particular usage, by Muehlhauser, and that in other communities other labels are used to discuss similar concepts. Please let me know if you have any information about either of those speculations of mine.
See also my collection of sources relevant to moral circles, moral boundaries, or their expansion and my collection of evidence about views on longtermism, time discounting, population ethics, etc. among non-EAs.
A few months ago I compiled a bibliography of academic publications about comparative moral status. It’s not exhaustive and I don’t plan to update it, but it might be a good place for folks to start if they’re interested in the topic.
Ah great, thanks!
Do you happen to recall if you encountered the term “moral weight” outside of EA/rationality circles? The term isn’t in the titles in the bibliography (though it may be in the full papers), and I see one that says “Moral status as a matter of degree?”, which would seem to refer to a similar idea. So this seems like it might be additional weak evidence that “moral weight” might be an idiosyncratic term in the EA/rationality community (whereas when I first saw Muehlhauser use it, I assumed he took it from the philosophical literature).
The term ‘moral weight’ is occasionally used in philosophy (David DeGrazia uses it from time to time, for instance) but not super often. There are a number of closely related but conceptually distinct issues that often get lumped together under the heading moral weight:
Capacity for welfare, which is how well or poorly a given animal’s life can go
Average realized welfare, which is how well or poorly the life of a typical member of a given species actually goes
Moral status, which is how much the welfare of a given animal matters morally
Differences in any of those three things might generate differences in how we prioritize interventions that target different species.
Rethink Priorities is going to release a report on this subject in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for more details!
Thanks, that’s really helpful! I’d been thinking there’s an important distinction between that “capacity for welfare” idea and that “moral status” idea, so it’s handy to know the standard terms for that.
Looking forward to reading that!