Sentience Research Essay Prize 2016

This post was first published on the blog of our project Sentience Politics.

Sentience Politics is currently accepting submissions for the first Sentience Essay Prize on “effective strategies to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings.” The winner will be awarded $2,000.

Effective altruism asks us to consider the best ways to reduce as much suffering as possible when our resources – time and money – are limited. As non-human animals are sentient, they should be considered when addressing this question; discrimination based on species membership is both arbitrary and unjust. Therefore, we should strive to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings, regardless of the species membership of the individuals affected.

Our decisions affect thousands, perhaps millions, and potentially even billions of sentient beings. Given these stakes, it is critical that we select our approach with rigor and care. If we pursue suboptimal strategies, we could significantly reduce our contribution towards the outcomes we hope to achieve. On the other hand, identifying particularly important leverage points can multiply the impact of our efforts.

These considerations suggest that identifying the most effective strategies for reducing suffering is of utmost importance. The Sentience Essay Prize encourages further research and analysis on this important topic. Submitted essays may approach the issue from various different angles, including:

  • Psychology: What prevents people from recognizing non-human animals as ethically relevant? How can we overcome speciesist biases? How can we increase the likelihood that people will change their attitudes?
  • Sociology: How can we contribute to long-term changes in social norms and attitudes in the most effective way? Which populations are most receptive to changing their attitudes regarding non-human animals, and which populations are most influential in creating long-term changes in social attitudes?
  • History: How did social norms and attitudes change in the past? Which developments have been most impactful in shaping human history, and what does this imply for the reduction of suffering in the future?
  • Technology: Historically, technological progress has enabled factory farming on a massive scale and thereby multiplied human-caused animal suffering. How can we prevent similar developments in the future? Which leverage points could enable us to positively influence future technological developments?
  • Politics: How impactful are political initiatives, compared to other forms of activism? How do political debates change over times, and what is the relationship between politics and social change?
  • Economics: How do economic structures interact with values and attitudes? To what extent and in what ways do economic factors influence the development of future technologies? How can economic incentives be utilized in order to reduce suffering?
  • Philosophy: Which arguments suggest that reducing the suffering of all sentient beings should be our main priority? How does consciousness arise? Which beings are sentient, and what does this imply? Is digital sentience possible?

As this topic can be approached from many angles, writers may choose from a wide range of subjects. We welcome both empirically-based and more speculative essays. Submissions will be judged based on the quality of the argument and the potential impact, such as:

  • Description of an innovative strategic approach that could plausibly be very effective;
  • Progress on an important empirical question that is relevant to reducing suffering;
  • General insight related to the effectiveness of various strategies; or
  • Encouragement of further research on the subject.

Submissions may be written in English or German and must be sent as email attachments to essays@sentience-politics.org, with the subject “Sentience Essay Prize.” By submitting your essay, you are giving us permission to publish the essay on our blog, under your name. We welcome submissions of up to 10,000 words, and the essay must not have been previously published. The deadline is August 31, 2016.

If you have any questions regarding the essay contest, please contact info@sentience-politics.org.

We are looking forward to your submissions!


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