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I am writing about decision making when allocating charity resources, and I need a bit of background on deciding between improving lots of lives for animals with, let's say, average welfare (that needs to be improved, but they're not in dire straights) versus a small number of animals with severe welfare needs.

Are there any theories / authors, etc etc, that discuss this topic? I've found bits on 'are the needs of many equal to the needs of the few', but nothing peer reviewed, and nothing that covers the angle of differences in the number of animals reached. Would this be a form of utilitarianism?? (showing my ignorance here, I'm not a philosopher!!)

So, I'm not after an answer as such, more a direction to some literature!

Many thanks

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  • total opinion, but IME as a human one has to go for the extreme circumstances.
    – user38026
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 16:40
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    I am not aware of such analysis for animals, but the ethics of resource allocation, including the issue of maximizing the average vs prioritizing the neediest, or utilitarianism vs prioritarianism as they are called, is discussed in Utilitarianism and the ethical foundations of cost-effectiveness analysis by Marseille and Kahn. They mention Singer's Practical Ethics that does deal with animal ethics.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 22:25
  • Thanks for the paper, just what i was looking for.
    – Lau99
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 10:31

2 Answers 2

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One place to look for those considering questions of how to optimize charitable resources directed toward both humans and animals in general would be in the writings of Peter Singer.

This is how Wikipedia describes his ethical position. I have placed in bold the labels describing his philosophy:

He specialises in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, utilitarian perspective. He is known in particular for his book Animal Liberation (1975), in which he argues in favour of veganism, and his essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", in which he argues in favour of donating to help the global poor. For most of his career, he was a preference utilitarian, but he stated in The Point of View of the Universe (2014), coauthored with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek, that he had become a hedonistic utilitarian.


Wikipedia contributors. (2019, August 11). Peter Singer. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:26, August 16, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Peter_Singer&oldid=910408359

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  • Fantastic, thanks Frank! I'll look him up.
    – Lau99
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 16:59
  • @Lau99 On a more practical note, Peter Singer even founded an organization called The Life You Can Save, that helps people looking to donate money find charities have the most impact per dollar spent. Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 17:37
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This question applies to humans as well. With utilitarianism you have to consider an infinity of factors, however if we consider the individuals as strictly equal in all things, then yes there is a balance between improving a little for many and improving a lot for a few.

EDIT Here is my better answer from a similar question

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