Does suffering dominate enjoyment in the animal kingdom? An update to welfare biology

Zach Groff, Yew Kwang Ng

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Ng (Biol Philos 10(3):255–285, 1995. models the evolutionary dynamics underlying the existence of suffering and enjoyment and concludes that there is likely to be more suffering than enjoyment in nature. In this paper, we find an error in Ng’s model that, when fixed, negates the original conclusion. Instead, the model offers only ambiguity as to whether suffering or enjoyment predominates in nature. We illustrate the dynamics around suffering and enjoyment with the most plausible parameters. In our illustration, we find surprising results: the rate of failure to reproduce can improve or worsen average welfare depending on other characteristics of a species. Our illustration suggests that for organisms with more intense conscious experiences, the balance of enjoyment and suffering may lean more toward suffering. We offer some suggestions for empirical study of wild animal welfare. We conclude by noting that recent writings on wild animal welfare should be revised based on this correction to have a somewhat less pessimistic view of nature.

Original languageEnglish
Article number40
Number of pages16
JournalBiology & Philosophy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal suffering
  • Animal welfare
  • Effective altruism
  • Evolutionary biology
  • Welfare biology

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