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Totalism, Animals, and the Repugnant Conclusion
(forthcoming in Utilitas)

ABSTRACT: Totalism states that one population is better than another iff it has higher total welfare. One counterintuitive consequence is the Repugnant Conclusion (RC). Totalism also entails that a very large population of animals with lives barely worth living is better than a smaller population of happier humans. Furthermore, the strategies that have been used to avoid the troubling normative implications of the RC don’t work in the animal case, so we may have reason to bring about such a population. I introduce the notion of ‘Efficiency of Welfare Production’ -  that animals of different species vary in the efficiency with which they convert resources into welfare. If we want to maximize total welfare, without any speciesist bias, we should identify which species is most efficient and try to maximize the population of that species. This has counterintuitive implications whether we accept hedonism or a more sophisticated theory of welfare.

​The Case for Animal-Inclusive Longtermism
(forthcoming in the Journal of Moral Philosophy)

ABSTRACT: Longtermism is the view that positively influencing the long-term future is one of the key moral priorities of our time. Since the future has the potential to be truly vast, both in terms of duration and the number of people who will ever live, it is plausible that the long-term future might be extremely valuable, or extremely disvaluable. If we care about impartially doing good, then we should be especially concerned about ensuring that the long-term future goes well, assuming it is within our power to do so. Most longtermists have focused their attention on humans, and neglected animals. In this paper I will argue that, because of their numbers, their capacity for suffering, and our ability to influence their futures, animals ought to be a central concern of longtermists. Furthermore, I will suggest that those who care about animals have reason to be concerned about the long-term future too


On Our Moral Entanglements with Wild Animals
Food Ethics 8(15): 2023

ABSTRACT: In Just Fodder Milburn argues for a relational account of our duties to animals. Following Clare Palmer, he argues that, though all animals have negative rights which we have a duty not to violate, we only gain positive obligations towards animals in the contexts of our relationships with them, which can be personal or political. He argues that human beings have collective positive duties towards domesticated animals, in virtue of the kind of relationship between us established by domestication. However, when it comes to wild animals he argues that we have no such morally relevant relationships, and so we have only negative duties towards them. I argue that throughout history and even prehistory human beings have morally entangled themselves with wild animals sufficiently that we do in fact have collective positive duties towards many, if not all, wild animals.

The Definition of Consequentialism: A Survey 

with Oscar Horta and Dayron Teran
Utilitas 34 (4): 368 -385. 2022 - (link to PhilPapers)

ABSTRACT:  There are different meanings associated with consequentialism and teleology. This causes confusion, and sometimes results in discussions based on misunderstandings rather than on substantial disagreements. To clarify this, we created a survey on the definitions of ‘consequentialism’ and ‘teleology’, which we sent to specialists in consequentialism. We broke down the different meanings of consequentialism and teleology into four component parts: Outcome-Dependence, Value-Dependence, Maximization, and Agent-Neutrality. Combining these components in different ways we distinguished six definitions, all of which are represented in the philosophical literature. We asked the respondents which definition is best for consequentialism and for teleology. The most popular definition of consequentialism was the one which accepted value-dependence, but not maximization and agent-neutrality. We therefore recommend the use of this meaning to avoid misunderstandings. The results for teleology were more problematic, with several respondents claiming they never use the term, or indicating that it is confusing.

Directed Panspermia, Wild Animal Suffering, and the Ethics of World‐Creation

Journal of Applied Philosophy 39 (1): 87-102. 2022. - (link to PhilPapers)

ABSTRACT: Directed panspermia is the deliberate seeding of lifeless planets with microbes, in the hopes that, over evolutionary timescales, they will give rise to a complex self-sustaining biosphere on the target planet. Due to the immense distances and timescales involved, human beings are unlikely ever to see the fruits of their labours. Such missions must therefore be justified by appeal to values independent of human wellbeing. In this paper I investigate the values that a directed panspermia mission might promote. Paying special attention to the outcome in which sentient animals evolve, I argue that we have strong reasons to believe the value of a mission would be negative. Research on wild animal suffering has shown that there is a huge amount of suffering among wild animals on Earth. I argue that there are structural features of evolution by natural selection which explain the prevalence of suffering on Earth, and make it predictable that suffering would prevail on the target planet too. Finally, using insights from procreative ethics I argue on non-consequentialist grounds that creators have duties to their sentient creations which cannot be met in directed panspermia missions.

Beneficence, Non-Identity, and Responsibility: How Identity-Affecting Interventions in Nature can Generate Secondary Moral Duties

Philosophia 50 (3): 887-898. 2021.- (link to PhilPapers)

ABSTRACT: In chapter 3 of Wild Animal Ethics Johannsen argues for a collective obligation based on beneficence to intervene in nature in order to reduce the suffering of wild animals. In the same chapter he claims that the non-identity problem is merely a “theoretical puzzle” (p.32) which doesn’t affect our reasons for intervention. In this paper I argue that the non-identity problem affects both the strength and the nature of our reasons to intervene. By intervening in nature on a large scale we change which animals come into existence. In doing so, we enable harmful animals to inflict harms on other animals, and we put other animals in harm’s way. The harms that these animals will inflict and endure are foreseeable. Furthermore, since non-human animals aren’t moral agents, harmful animals cannot be morally responsible for their harmful actions. I argue therefore that by causing animals to exist, knowing that they will inflict and suffer harms, we become morally responsible for those harms. By engaging in identity-affecting actions then we take on secondary moral duties towards the animals we have thereby caused to exist, and these secondary moral duties may be extremely demanding, even more so than the initial costs of intervention. Finally, these duties are duties of justice rather than duties of beneficence, and as such are more stringent than purely beneficence-based moral reasons. Furthermore, this conclusion flows naturally from several plausible principles which Johannsen explicitly endorses.



All Play and No Work? AI and Existential Unemployment

(under review)

ABSTRACT: Recent developments in large language models and image generation software raise the possibility that AI systems might be able to replace humans in some of the intrinsically valuable work through which humans find meaning in their lives – work like scientific and philosophical research and the creation of art. If AIs can do this work more efficiently than humans, this might make human performance of these activities pointless. This represents a threat to human wellbeing which is distinct from, and harder to solve, than the automation of merely instrumentally valuable activities. In this paper I outline the problem, assess its seriousness, and propose possible solutions. I argue that AI could reduce our incentives to perform such work, and this might result in a great deskilling of humanity. Furthermore, even if humans continue to do such work, the mere existence of AI systems would undermine its meaning and value. I critique Danaher’s (2019a) and Suits’ (1978) arguments that we should embrace the total automation of work and retreat to a ‘utopia of games’. Instead, I argue that the threat to meaning and value posed by AI gives us a prima facie reason to slow down its development. 

Bully For You? Breed-Specific Legislation and Dangerous Dog Breeds

(in preparation)


How to live a (virtually) good life in the experience machine

with Rhys Borchert
(in preparation)

ABSTRACT: We argue that it is possible to live a good life in the experience machine even if experientialism is false, though the conditions for doing so in the machine differ from those in physical reality. We then offer a revised interpretation of Nozick’s thought experiment which isn’t vulnerable to evidentiary debunking arguments that have been made against it in recent years, and thus constitutes a much stronger challenge to experientialism.

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