A philosophical introduction to effective altruism

by William_MacAskill1 min read10th Jul 20199 comments


EA Philosophy

This is the second post in a short series where I share some academic writing on effective altruism I've done over the last couple of years.

I’ve written a short and accessible philosophical introduction to effective altruism for the Norton Introduction to Ethics, available here. It's pretty standard stuff, but it puts together some of the core ideas in a way that I don't believe is done elsewhere. I’m hoping that it could be useful for university or high school courses on effective altruism. 

In the introduction, I make the case for two claims:

Duty of Beneficence:​ Most middle or upper class people in rich countries have a duty to make helping others a significant part of their lives. 

Maximising Beneficence:​ With respect to those resources that we have a duty of beneficence to use to improve the world, and subject to not violating anyone’s rights, it is imperative that we try to use our resources to do the most good, impartially considered, that we can.

I take some time to argue against the idea that it's permissible to be partial to particular cause-areas on the grounds of personal attachments. I then give a short summary of the scale, neglectedness and tractability framework, and a short overview of the causes of farm animal welfare, global health and development, and existential risk reduction.

I've written two other encyclopedia entries, too: one for the Palgrave Handbook of Public Policy, and another (forthcoming, co-authored with Theron Pummer) for the International Encyclopedia of Ethics. They cover much of the same ground, but I don’t think these will be as generally useful as the Norton Introduction, which is both shorter and a bit clearer.