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By Gus Docker

In-depth conversations about science and philosophy from a utilitarian perspective. Website: Contact me:
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Creating Utopia - Joseph Carlsmith

UtilitarianJul 27, 2021

Samo Burja on the War in Ukraine

Samo Burja on the War in Ukraine

In this shorter episode of the Utilitarian Podcast, I talk with Samo Burja about the war in Ukraine. Samo is the founder of the geopolitical analysis firm Bismarck Analysis.

We talk about Western sanctions and their effects of Russias relationship to China, what a remilitarization of Europe will mean, whether Putin will be able to control Ukraine, avoiding nuclear war, possible tactics for winning the war, potential diplomatic solutions, the longer term implications of this war, and the importance of European energy independence.


[00:00:47] Overview of the situation

[00:04:14] Sanctions - Russia and China

[00:06:33] A remilitarized Europe

[00:10:42] Will Putin be able to control Ukraine?

[00:14:33] Insurgencies in Ukraine

[00:16:23] Tactics for winning the war

[00:22:23] Potential diplomatic solutions

[00:24:12] Longer term implications

[00:28:18] Energy independence

Mar 11, 202229:51
Big Ideas - Bryan Caplan

Big Ideas - Bryan Caplan

On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast, I talk with Bryan Caplan. Bryan is a professor of economics at George Mason University. His latest book is Labor Econ Versus the World: Essays on the World's Greatest Market.

We talk about some of Bryan’s big ideas (like open borders and housing deregulation), whether incremental change is better than big ideas and why people disagree with Bryan.

We also discuss economic policy in poor countries, and whether trying to improve such policy is more cost-effective than buying bed nets to prevent malaria.

I also make Bryan give an estimate of how much richer the world could be with optimal economic policy.

We discuss automation and universal basic income, whether a world government is a good idea, risks from AI and engineered pandemics, Bryan’s objections to utilitarianism and the labor economics of worker wellbeing improvements and marriage.

This podcast has timestamp chapters in the description, which is supported on some podcast players. And as always, I can be contacted by email at


[00:01:21] Elevator pitch: Open borders

[00:04:39] Big ideas VS incremental change

[00:06:27] Why people disagree with Bryan

[00:09:08] A careful attitude?

[00:11:55] Economic policy in poor countries

[00:13:03] Bed nets or policy?

[00:15:54] How much richer could the world be?

[00:19:27] Automation and UBI

[00:26:52] Totalitarianism VS other risks

[00:31:00] Totalitarianism

[00:33:43] Engineered pandemics

[00:35:13] Fanciful scenarios

[00:37:18] Prediction markers for disasters

[00:40:05] Objections to utilitarianism

[00:48:57] Predicting future morality

[00:51:55] Economic thinking

[00:58:48] Labor economics

[01:02:40] Worker wellbeing improvements

[01:05:02] Economics of marriage

Feb 22, 202201:10:14
Ethics and World Government - Neil Sinhababu
Feb 02, 202202:17:34
How Can We Best Reduce Suffering? - Magnus Vinding
Nov 21, 202102:00:19
Moral Uncertainty - Krister Bykvist

Moral Uncertainty - Krister Bykvist

On today’s episode of the Utilitarian Podcast, I talk with Krister Bykvist. Krister is a Professor of Philosophy at Stockholm University and Institute for Futures Studies.

We talk about the approach to moral uncertainty laid out by Krister and his co-authors in a recent book. We discuss whether we can gain evidence for moral theories, whether moral uncertainty leads to an infinite regress, the metaethical and practical implications of moral uncertainty and how to think about moral information.

We briefly touch upon whether the philosophy and mathematics of moral uncertainty might be interesting for AI safety research.

Then we move on to discussing future lives, impossibility theorems in population ethics and metaethics more generally.

This is a nerdy philosophical discussion, so I do my best to introduce unfamiliar terms throughout the conversation.

Oct 21, 202102:42:34
Creating Utopia - Joseph Carlsmith

Creating Utopia - Joseph Carlsmith

On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast, I talk with Joseph Carlsmith. Joseph is a research analyst at Open Philanthropy and a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. His views and opinions in this podcast are his own, and not necessarily those of Open Philanthropy.

Our conversation has three main themes. We talk about the long-term future, including the possibility of actually creating utopia. We talk about Joseph’s work on the computational power of the brain. And we talk about meta-ethics and consciousness, including discussions of illusionism and the effects of meditation.

The Utilitarian Podcast now has a dedicated website, at At the site, you’ll find full transcripts of selected episodes, including this one. These transcripts have been generously funded by James Evans. I’ve also set up an email, which is where you can send criticism, questions, suggestions and so on.

Jul 27, 202103:15:47
The Ethics of Aliens - Milan Cirkovic

The Ethics of Aliens - Milan Cirkovic

On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast I talk with Milan Cirkovic. Milan is an astrophysicist at the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade and a researcher at The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. We talk about an effective altruist framework for thinking about aliens, astrobiology, the generalisability of physics and evolution, the Drake equation and the Fermi paradox, civilizations at different Kardashev levels, the current search for extraterrestrial life, the sociology of alien civilizations, the risk of spreading suffering in the universe, and the more near-term search for microbial life on Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa. 

May 07, 202103:03:46
Building a Worldview - Michael Huemer

Building a Worldview - Michael Huemer

On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast I talk with Michael Huemer. Michael is a professor of philosophy at the university of Colorado. We talk about how to build a worldview, epistemology and intuitions, metaethics and consciousness, utilitarianism and effective altruism, belief clusters and rationality, the value of philosophy, infinite ethics and whether there can be experience without a self.

Mar 27, 202103:06:19
The Science of Pleasure - Kent Berridge

The Science of Pleasure - Kent Berridge

On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast I talk with Kent Berridge about the science of pain and pleasure. Kent Berridge is a professor of neuroscience at the University of Michigan and the leader of the Berridge Lab for Affective Neuroscience & Biopsychology. His more than 200 academic publications have collectively been cited 69.000 times.

I ask Kent about the difference between wanting, liking and learning, whether all pleasures share a common brain basis, whether there is a pain-pleasure spectrum, how there can be wanting without liking, how we come to associate things with pleasure through learning, how advanced our understanding of pleasure and pain is and what the biggest opportunities for applications might be.

Mar 22, 202152:42
The Future of Consciousness - Andrés Gómez Emilsson

The Future of Consciousness - Andrés Gómez Emilsson

On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast, I talk with Andres Gomez Emilsson who is co-director of research at the Qualia Research Institute.

The Qualia Research Institute is a non-profit whose goal is to study consciousness in a scientifically rigorous way.

This podcast begins with a presentation that Andres gave to a group at The Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London

The presentation is about the Symmetry theory of valence, which is a possible explanation of why experiences feel good or bad.

If you’d like to skip straight to my conversation with Andres, you can skip forward approximately an hour and 2 minutes.

In this conversation, we briefly sketch the Symmetry Theory of Valence, and discuss valence as the basis for morality. I ask Andres a number of critical questions about studying consciousness scientifically - isn’t consciousness extremely vague, how did consciousness evolve, how do we rely on people’s reports about their experiences.

We also talk about the connection between the value that we assign to objects in the world, and how we might be misleading ourselves by doing do.

Then we talk about how we might improve valence in the future, and Andres mentions an exciting project they’re working on at Qualia Research Institute.

We talk about the long-term future of valence in the universe, and the influence of AI.

Finally, we discuss a comprehensive world view involving conflict between consciousness and what Andres calls pure replicators - during which we also discuss the nature of personal identity.

If you find these ideas interesting, I encourage you to donate to Qualia Research institute, at Among other things, this would help them empirically test the Symmetry Theory of Valence.

Jan 30, 202104:15:33
Knowing What We Should Do - Simon Rosenqvist

Knowing What We Should Do - Simon Rosenqvist

Simon Rosenqvist recently completed his PhD in philosophy at Uppsala University and we cover his conclusions in this podcast.

We talk about consciousness in humans, animals and machines

We discuss the best formulation of utilitarianism

And we talk about two problems for utilitarians: the problem of conflicts between the utilitarian judgements and moral intuitions and the problem of action guidance, which is roughly the problem that utilitarianism is not useful when deciding what we should do, since what we should do depends on the consequences of our actions millions of years into the future. 

Dec 14, 202002:16:11
Utilitarian Intuitions - Torbjörn Tännsjö

Utilitarian Intuitions - Torbjörn Tännsjö

I talk with Torbjörn Tännsjö about his personal relation to moral philosophy and utilitarianism, moral methodology and the role of intuitions in ethics, moral realism, nihilism and religion, the repugnant conclusion and factory farming, the standing of utilitarianism in academic philosophy and the biggest challenges of the future. 

Nov 24, 202002:50:32
Grand Futures - Anders Sandberg

Grand Futures - Anders Sandberg

Sandberg tells us about the current human situation, possible future trajectories, the explanation for the undersupply of efforts to reduce catastrophic risks, humanity's wisdom and coordination, the risks posed by nation states, the methodology of exploratory engineering, whether metaphors can help us understand the vastness of the future populations, how grand the universe could be if we stayed on Earth versus if we expand into the universe - and whether we should expand before we have solved ethics, artificial general intelligence scenarios, the poetry of GTP-3, consciousness and ethics, authenticity and the self, AI assistants, mind-enhancing drugs, direct brain stimulation, mind-uploading, self-replicating space probes, terraforming, the possibility of aliens, the ultimate limits of complexity and consciousness in the universe and how much of this picture might change with our evolving understanding of physics.
Oct 06, 202003:00:21
The Feeling of Value - Sharon Hewitt Rawlette

The Feeling of Value - Sharon Hewitt Rawlette

Sharon Hewitt Rawlette and I discuss the metaethical thesis of her book The Feeling of Value, which centers around normative qualia. We touch upon perspectival bias, pain and pleasure, how to construct a robust moral realism, the is-ought distinction, the open question argument, evolutionary debunking arguments, the experience machine, the repugnant conclusion, the best argument against utilitarianism and whether we have made moral progress all things considered.
Aug 29, 202001:59:18