Efective Altruism Quotes



What with new books on effective altruism out this year, The Most Good You Can Do, by Peter Singer; How to Be Great at Doing Good, by Nick Cooney; and Doing Good Better, by William MacAskill, there is a plethora of new material to mine for sound-bites or excerpts explaining effective altruism. Additionally, with Effective Altruism Global, and so many new organizations and blogs producing great content, there is an abundance of inspiring information to cite. Thus, I'm reviving the effective altruism quotes thread.

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Here's a massive compilation of 170+ EA-relatable quotes I've been gathering for a couple months now (useful for, e.g. social media, writing).

Feel free to add new quotes and categories, make suggestions or link to other quote compilation threads/documents!

Well, that's it, everyone else go home! Matiss wins! Seriously, that's quite impressive. When I have time to brose through it later today or tomorrow I'll pull out what I think are some of the best quotes and post them in this thread on their own if I think they deserve special attention. Feel free to do this yourself, of course, so I don't hog all the karam points ;)

Here is a qoute to an important, awkward, and sometimes neglected question in effective altruism. I think Peter Singer answers it sufficiently and succinctly.

What if one’s act reduces suffering, but in order to act one must lie or harm an innocent person?

In general, effective altruists recognize that breaking moral rules against killing or seriously harming an innocent person will almost always have worse consequences than following these rules. Even thoroughgoing utilitarians, who judge actions to be right or wrong entirely on the basis of their consequences, are wary of speculative reasoning that suggests we should violate basic human rights today for the sake of some distant future good. They know that under Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, a vision of a utopian future society was used to justify unspeakable atrocities, and even today some terrorists justify their crimes by imagining they will bring about a better future. No effective altruist wants to repeat those tragedies.”

These quotes are a bit more general, but I find them deeply inspiring: https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/get-involved/charity-quotations

This made my day. Did you make this? This is amazing.

My suggestion for Givewell's new slogan*: Charity for the Charity God! Evaluation for the Evaluation Throne!

*not really

Mother, my little heart, in truth we are each responsible to all for all, it's only that men don't know this. If they knew it, the world would be a paradise at once.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Man, ethics is hard.

Robert Wiblin, executive director, Centre for Effective Altruism; research director, 80,000 Hours

"Whenever in the course of my life I have come across, in convents for instance, truly saintly embodiments of practical charity, they have generally had the cheerful, practical, brusque and unemotioned air of a busy surgeon, the sort of face in which one can discern no commiseration, no tenderness at the sight of suffering humanity, no fear of hurting it, the impassive, unsympathetic, sublime face of true goodness." ~ Marcel Proust

When it comes to doing good, fat-tailed distributions seem to be everywhere. It’s not always true that exactly 80 percent of the value comes from the top 20 percent of activities—sometimes things are even more extreme than that, and sometimes less. But the general rule that most of the value generated comes from the very best activities is very common.

-- William MacAskill, Doing Good Better

Has anyone else finished Nick Cooney's book? I thought it was excellent, like his others. I'd recommend it as something to give people new to EA.

I haven't read it yet. However, I've only ever encountered praise for Nick Cooney's writing. At first I was surprised, because he focuses on helping animals, and doesn't necessarily specialize in psychology. Alas, he seems to be a bona fide altruism Renaissance man! I'll buy or borrow his new book as soon as I get the chance, on your recommendation.

I'm looking forward to reading it even more than the ones from Dr. Singer or Dr. MacAskill, as a fresh perspective would be pretty cool.

Someone should do a review of it, for instance on the EA Forum

Selected quotes from Scott Alexander's essay Stop Adding Zeroes

On what it means to be an effective altruist:

One of the founding beliefs of effective altruism is that when math tells you something weird, you at least consider trusting the math. If you’re allowed to just add on as many zeroes as it takes to justify your original intuition, you miss out on the entire movement.

This comment on how the whole point of 80,000 Hours' recommendations apply to considerations of marginal* impact, but with appropriate caveats included:

Yes, if everyone becomes a hedge fund manager and no one a doctor, then there will be no one to accept all the wonderful donations.

(except I guess nurses, who are totally people who exist and who I secretly suspect would just keep treating people perfectly well if all the doctors suddenly disappeared).

On the other hand, if everyone became a doctor, then we would all starve to death because there are no farmers to grow food.

Since we are allowed to give the advice “become a doctor” without worrying about everyone starving, we are allowed to give the advice “become a hedge fund manager” without worrying about a total collapse of medical care.

(I guess the short version is that becoming a hedge fund manager is the right decision on the margin, and until effective altruism is WAY bigger than it is right now, the margin is the correct way to look at this)

(also, some effective altruist organizations are moving away from earning to give in favor of becoming things like economists doing development aid for the World Bank, but I think the instructive point between “doctor” and “manager” still holds).

Obviously this is just for the average person. If you are Kanye West, the appropriate thing to do is become a rapper and make millions of dollars that way. Once again, all you can do is transmit statistical facts and tell people to adjust for their own situation.

The challenge for us is this: How can we ensure that, when we try to help others, we do so as effectively as possible?

-- William MacAskill, Doing Good Better