Week 7: What Might We be Missing?
Responses to The Logic of Effective Altruism (~20 min, pick a few to read)
Peter Singer’s response
How to view these: click each name under “With Responses from”
Pascal’s Mugging (~5 min)
Critique of the application of expected value theory. How do you deal with very low probability events that would be disastrous if they took place?
Beware Systemic Change (~15 min)
Critique of pursuing systemic change. How hard is it to figure out what systemic changes will make things better?
This is partly an expression of disagreement with others in EA who have embraced systemic change, which was itself partly a response to criticisms like those in the Boston Review
A critique of effective altruism – A thorough criticism of EA written by an effective altruist trying to challenge their own ideas. (11 mins.)
Another Critique of Effective Altruism – Written in the same vein as the above, but covering a few points the other post may have missed. (5 mins.)
Disagreeing about what’s effective isn’t disagreeing with effective altruism – Rob Wiblin delineates the difference between critiques of Effective Altruism as a concept and critiques of the ways EAs attempt to apply this concept. (5 mins.)
Effective altruists love systemic change – Robert Wiblin argues why EA does not, in fact, neglect systemic change. (13 mins.)
More to explore
Why we can’t take expected value estimates literally (even when they’re unbiased) – Holden Karnofsky explains why he takes issue with using expected value estimates of impact. (35 mins. – skimmable)
The Repugnant Conclusion – A conclusion that total utilitarianism leads to (maximizing overall wellbeing over all beings requires that many many beings with infinitesimally positive wellbeing to be preferred to a smaller number of beings that are all extremely well off, which doesn’t seem intuitive). (6 min. video)
Ethical Systems – Check out other ethical systems not discussed yet in the program. Which ones resonate most with you? (Varies)
How not to be a “white in shining armor” – How GiveWell (as of 2012) tries to avoid “developed-world savior” interventions that don’t take into account local context (3 min)
AI alignment, philosophical pluralism, and the relevance of non-Western philosophy – Short talk (18 min)
Making decisions under moral uncertainty – Placing credence in multiple ethical systems leads to questions of moral uncertainty, when the two ethical systems disagree. This post summarises the problem and suggests ways to resolve such issues. (16 mins.)
Utility monster – Another thought experiment suggesting that trying to maximize well-being may have counterintuitive implications
The bullet-swallowers – Scott Aaronson describes how some theories (like EA) force you to either swallow some tough conclusions or dodge them by contorting the theory. (2 min)
Some blindspots in rationality and effective altruism – An EA forum blog post that discusses some common pitfalls for rationalists and effective altruists, as well as some meta-considerations (12 min)
Exercise (10 mins.)
Over the last few weeks we’ve covered a lot of material. Ethical and moral philosophy foundations of effective altruism, ways of thinking and frameworks for comparing between causes and determining the best way to direct our resources and actions, and some top priority causes using the EA framework.
What are your biggest questions, concerns, and criticisms based on what we’ve discussed so far? These can be about the EA framework/community, specific ideas or causes, anything you’d like!
Please bring them up and discuss them at your next meeting!
Week 8: Putting it into Practice
A guide to using your career to solve the world’s most pressing problems – 80,000 Hours (1 hour* – Read the sections that seem most relevant)
We also recommend you read a career or cause area review based on your interests
About Us – Giving What We Can (1 min.)
A (free) weekly career planning course for positive impact – 80,000 Hours (8 weeks)
More to explore
‘I give away half to three-quarters of my income every year’ – The Guardian – A lifestyle piece about one of Giving What We Can’s members. You might also want to read these member profiles from Giving What We Can – Jo, Arvind, and Catherine (5 mins.)
For the exercise this week will take some time to reflect on the past weeks, and try to form a plan for how you can put these ideas into practice for your altruistic efforts.
You’ve covered a lot over the past weeks! We hope you found it an interesting and enjoyable experience. There are lots of major considerations to take into account in trying to do the most good you can, and lots of ideas may have been new and unfamiliar to you. This week we’d like you to reflect back on the Program with a sceptical and curious mindset.
To recapitulate what we’ve covered:
“Over the course of Week 1 and 2 we aim to introduce you to the core principles of Effective Altruism. This week we’ll investigate what opportunities to do good we have available to us; come to terms with the tradeoffs we face in our altruistic efforts; and explore tools that can help us find unusually high impact opportunities.”
“In Week 2 we continue to explore the core principles of Effective Altruism. We focus on giving you tools to quantify and evaluate how much good an intervention can achieve; introduce expected value reasoning; and investigate differences in expected cost-effectiveness between interventions.”
“This week focuses on your own values and the practical implications that these views have. During Week 3 we explore who our moral consideration should expand to, with a particular focus on farmed animals as a case example.”
“In Weeks 1 and 2 we discussed attempting to quantify the impact of altruistic interventions. However, most cost-effectiveness analyses can only take into account the short-run effects of the interventions, and struggle to take into account long-run knock-on effects and side effects. This criticism has been made forcefully against early effective altruist attempts to evaluate interventions based on cost-effectiveness.”
This week we’ll explore a different approach to finding high-impact interventions – ‘longtermism’ – which attempts to find interventions that beneficially influence the long-run course of humanity.”
“This week we’ll cover the definition of an existential risk; examine why existential risks might be a moral priority; and explore why existential risks are so neglected by society.”
“One way to look for opportunities to accomplish as much good as possible is to ask “which developments might have an extremely large or irreversible impact on human civilisation?” During this week, we’ll explore a few technological trends which might have relevance for existential risk. This week, understandably, can’t cover all the major considerations for what the future will be like, but we aim to cover two key emerging technologies that might be less well known – transformative artificial intelligence and advances in biotechnology.”
Week 7: What Might We be Missing?
“This week, we’ll read and discuss criticisms of effective altruism and criticisms of how some people try to implement effective altruism. We are dedicating a week to this because, to whatever extent we are wrong, it would be good to know. Honestly reckoning with strong counter arguments (from both within and outside of the EA community) can help us avoid confirmation bias and groupthink, and get us a little closer to identifying the most effective ways to do good.”