EA Course Syllabus: David Manley's "Changing the World"

by Aaron Gertler3 min read6th Jan 20213 comments

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I'm crossposting this as an example of someone teaching EA concepts in an academic setting, so that I can tag it for later reference. I don't know when this was last taught, so it may not be up-to-date.

Note to other moderators: I've moved this to "Personal Blog" so it won't clutter the frontpage, and I'll do the same with other "posting for later reference" posts.


Course Description

Phil 250: Changing the World

We tend to lead with our hearts when trying to do good. This means we focus on causes that are familiar and local, and we don’t think very hard about which causes matter the most, or try very hard to measure how much of a difference we are actually making.

In this course, we will consider the most pressing global problems, thinking rigorously about how to compare their moral significance as well as their tractability. And we will evaluate how we can best use our own comparative advantage to make greatest possible difference.

We will focus on four areas of concern: (i) global health and poverty, (ii) animal welfare, (iii) environmental preservation, and (iv) the long-term survival of human civilization. Our conceptual tools will be drawn from a variety of disciplines. We will use moral philosophy to help us think about which issues we should care about most; and we will evaluate the efficacy of interventions by drawing from economics, sociology, environmental science, and development studies.

The overarching ethical question will be: what are the most important global causes? This raises many more specific ethical questions, like:

  • Should we care more about people who live nearby than those who live far away? How can we compare the value of various human goods—for example, bodily health and political freedom?
  • Which animals should we care about, and how much? Do species matter in addition to individual animals? What about ecosystems? What is our goal in preserving the natural world?
  • Do the lives of present people matter more than the lives of future people, especially those in the distant future? How much should we care about the possibility that humans could go extinct?

The overarching practical question will be: what are the most effective things we can do? This also breaks down into many questions, such as:

  • How effective are various efforts to improve global health and poverty? What are the comparative benefits, going forward, of improving technology, education, healthcare, and social institutions around the world?
  • How much do farmed and wild animals suffer? What are the most effective ways to reduce animal suffering? What steps can we take to protect the environment with our lifestyles and resources?
  • What are the most significant threats to the long-term survival of human civilization? How can we best ensure that technological advances are safe and beneficial?
  • And finally, for all of these causes, how can a single individual make the most difference on the margin with a career, volunteer work, or donations?

Syllabus

1. The Question of the Course

  • Singer, The Drowning Child and the Expanding Circle

2. Global Inequality & Marginal Utility

3. Motives for Altruism

I. How to be less wrong about the world

4. Mindset

5. What Most Lives are Like

6. Fear & Media Bias

  • Rosling, Factfulness, ch. 4

7. Roots of Apathy 1: Historical Pessimism

8. Roots of Apathy 2: Typical Effectiveness

9. Roots of Apathy 3: Scope Insensitivity

10. Roots of Apathy 4: Neglecting the Future

II. Some important global problems

11. Measuring Badness

12. Communicable Disease

13. Gender Disparities in Global Poverty

14. Air Pollution

15. Factory Farming

16. Micronutrient Deficiency

17. Limits to Free Movement

18. Existential Risk

19. Aging

III. How can we do the most good?

20. Measuring Effectiveness

  • MacAskill, Doing Good Better, ch. 4 & 5
  • Other readings TBA

21. Poverty Traps and Health

  • Banerjee and Duflo, Poor Economics, chs 1 & 3

22. Consumer Choices, Collective Action

23. Careers, Part 1

24: Careers, Part 2

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Note to other moderators: I've moved this to "Personal Blog" so it won't clutter the frontpage, and I'll do the same with other "posting for later reference" posts.

FWIW I'm glad I saw it and don’t consider seeing a "new" EA syllabus as cluttering.

Thanks for the note.

I recently decided to change how I handle this; I've created the account "EA Forum Archives" and will publish archival posts from there. They'll still show up in Recent Discussion, but people will get used to seeing them and be able to skim past them as they see fit.

Sounds good, and if those Archive posts might be novel and useful for enough readers you could consider also adding them to the Frontpage.

Besides, maybe at some point one could also consider enabling users to "unfollow" individual accounts so those don’t even show up in Recent Discussion if one isn't interested.