- I think the current guiding principles of effective altruism created by CEA - Commitment to Others, Scientific Mindset, Openness, Integrity, and Collaborative Spirit - are too difficult to remember for most people off the top of their heads. A reason for this could be because an easy-to-remember and apt acronym cannot be formed out of these principles. This could lead to people finding it harder to remember, explain, and/or abide by these principles.
- As such, I suggest altering the principles so that we can use a more memorable acronym. Having a more memorable acronym could lead to people finding it easier to remember and explain what are the principles or core values of effective altruism.
- I suggest that the acronym we should use is “CHOICE”. After all, what makes the effective altruism community unique is how many of us use evidence and careful reasoning in our choices, especially in our choice of cause, career, or donations.
- To fit the acronym of “CHOICE”, I think the principles we should use are Cause Prioritization, Helpfulness, Open-Mindedness, Integrity, Collaboration, and Effectiveness. I think the loss of the “Scientific Mindset” principle is compensated enough by adding “Cause Prioritization” and “Effectiveness” to the list of principles.
- I am open to hearing comments and feedback on my suggestions. I’m also open to others’ thoughts on better acronyms or better principles to replace the ones I’ve used!
Update, Jan. 12, 2021: Because of the feedback in the comments and the low upvote count here, I don't think CEA should change their guiding principles to form an acronym (or this acronym specifically) anymore. I now realize that the current principles are very carefully chosen, and I saw on their website now that a lot of organizations and people have voiced their support for the current principles. I don't think it's worth changing them to fit this acronym, since that would mean having them run through multiple organizations again, with not a strong reason for doing so.
I still think this idea is worth sharing, and other people are free to experiment in using this acronym to explain what EA is about. I think this could still be useful in explaining EA in a memorable way, and other groups can still use these when creating/drafting their core values or principles. But I wouldn't push for this to replace CEA's guiding principles anymore, or be widely adopted by most groups.
Creating an acronym for my own core values
Recently, I was doing an exercise to develop a set of five-to-seven “core values” for myself. I was able to whittle down my list of core values to six - Self-Respect, Community, Happiness, Authenticity, Impact, and Learning. I tried combining the first letters of each core value to form a memorable acronym. I wasn’t able to form a sensible word, but one acronym I came up with was “SCHAIL”.
I realized that this acronym is quite close to the word “Scale”. This is a word I use in a tentative “life mission” I’ve set for myself, which is to “Help others at scale”.
As such, I decided to change a couple of core values to synonyms so that the new acronym would be “SCALE”. So my new tentative set of core values are Self-Respect, Community, Authenticity, Learning, and Effectiveness. I had to reword “impact” into “effectiveness”, and I had to take out “happiness”. But I can easily incorporate “happiness” again by using this phrase about my values: “By living out the values of SCALE, I will experience happiness.” I thought this was a great way for me to more easily remember my core values.
Applying this process to EA principles
I then thought of doing the same process to create a memorable acronym for the guiding principles of effective altruism created by CEA. I have read these principles quite a few times already, but I still can’t remember what they are without going to the link again. As such, I think it is important to create an acronym to make these principles more memorable.
Currently, the principles are Commitment to Others, Scientific Mindset, Openness, Integrity, and Collaborative Spirit. If we take the first letters of each of these principles, we get CSOIC. Unfortunately, there’s no word that you can form out of those letters, other than the brand “CISCO”. I don’t think the EA community would want to use that acronym.
As such, I thought of coming up with five-to-seven letter words that could also be a great acronym for the principles of EA. I came up with the word “Choice”, which seems like a very apt word to use as an acronym for the principles of EA. After all, effective altruists care a lot about making the right choices, whether it’s in their choice of cause, career, or donation. “Choice” already shared a few letters with the existing acronym “CISCO”. As such, I could keep some of the existing principles, and just come up with new ones to fit the acronym.
CHOICE - a new acronym for EA principles
After some ideation, I came up with these EA principles, which have the acronym CHOICE:
- Cause Prioritization
Here’s another alternative that I came up with, where I switched “Helpfulness” to “Honesty” and “Integrity” to “Impartiality”:
- Cause Prioritization
However, I think it’s not as good because “honesty” isn’t the most appropriate principle for the EA community. This is because of the possibility of creating or disseminating information hazards, or of using “honesty” as an excuse to be too frank, demeaning to, and/or critical of others. I didn’t want to remove the word “Integrity” in the set of principles, since I think integrity is important to help the EA community avoid any risks to its reputation and the community’s health.
Descriptions for each principle
As such, I would like to go with Cause Prioritization, Helpfulness, Open-Mindedness, Integrity, Collaboration, and Effectiveness as the principles. I copied some of the existing descriptions or writing by CEA to create descriptions for all principles except Effectiveness, which I wrote. I then asked for feedback on this post from Aaron Gertler from CEA, who helped revise some of the descriptions below. I’m open to these being re-worded, so feel free to make suggestions.
- Cause Prioritization
- Our goal is to do as much good as we can, and we evaluate ways to do that without committing ourselves at the outset to any particular cause. We are open to focusing our efforts on any group of beneficiaries, and to using any reasonable methods to help them. We expect that some causes are more promising than others. However, because we are often uncertain, and our views differ, we work across a range of different causes, rather than focusing entirely on one.
- We take the well-being of others very seriously, and are willing to take significant personal action in order to benefit others. What this entails can vary from person to person, and it's ultimately up to individuals to figure out what significant personal action looks like for them. In each case, however, the most essential commitment of effective altruism is to actively try to help others as much as we can, and make the world a better place.
- We strive to base our actions on the best available evidence and reasoning about how the world works. We recognize how difficult it is to know how to do the most good, and therefore try to avoid overconfidence, to seek out informed critiques of our own views, to be open to unusual ideas, and to take alternative points of view seriously.
- Because we believe that trust, cooperation, and accurate information are essential to doing good, we strive to be honest and trustworthy. More broadly, we strive to follow those rules of good conduct that allow communities (and the people within them) to thrive. We also value the reputation of effective altruism, and recognize that our actions reflect on it.
- We affirm a commitment to building a friendly, open, and welcoming environment in which many different approaches can flourish, and in which a wide range of perspectives can be evaluated on their merits. In order to encourage cooperation and collaboration between people with widely varying circumstances and ways of thinking, we resolve to treat people of different worldviews, values, backgrounds, and identities kindly and respectfully.
- We aim to figure out which interventions are most effective in solving the problems we prioritize. We have limited time and resources, so we seek out ways to get as much impact as we can for what we are able to give. We consider direct action, career choice, donations, and other options available to us to make large impact.
Possible counter-arguments to the principles chosen
- An argument against using “Cause Prioritization” is that it isn’t really a principle. However, I think it’s a core part of the EA community. I thought of alternatives to Cause Prioritization that also start with “C”, such as “Cause Neutrality” or “Cause Impartiality”. I think that cause neutrality and worldview diversification are important facets of EA. However, I think that cause neutrality as a principle might confuse people who aren’t as familiar with EA, and they could think that we don’t believe some causes are more promising than others. To avoid this, I chose “Cause Prioritization”.
- An argument against using “Helpfulness” is that reading this may lead non-EAs (or people new to the community) to think that EAs will say yes to any call for help, or that we do a lot of kind or helpful acts regularly, such as volunteering for local charities more than non-EAs. But most EAs don’t just say yes to any call for help or donations. I think this is not a strong argument though, since I think Helpfulness still encapsulates what a lot of EAs do, such as donating large amounts of their money, being helpful and considerate to each other, or helping the world in unconventional but potentially high-impact ways.
I am hoping that CEA would consider changing the guiding principles they wrote to fit this new acronym. However, if that is not possible within 2021, then maybe the group I lead (EA Philippines) or other EA groups can choose to use “CHOICE” and these principles as their own set of principles.
After all, student groups are usually asked to come up with a set of core values or principles when registering to be an official group in their university, and I think the principles I wrote with “CHOICE” would be a better set to use than CEA’s current principles. CEA doesn’t tell EA groups to use their guiding principles to be their group’s principles or core values, but I think quite a few groups, including EA Philippines currently, end up using CEA’s guiding principles, or a slightly modified version of it.
It would be good though to standardize the acronym and the words used in it across groups. This would avoid confusion when people from different EA groups talk to each other and end up discussing a different set of principles to each other, or different words under the acronym “CHOICE”. I think it could be good if these new principles and the acronym could be approved and used by CEA. Then, most groups can use these principles when they are explaining what the principles of EA are, or when creating a set of principles or core values for their own chapter.
However, I am also alright with CEA just sticking to their current guiding principles, or refining them in a different way. My suggestions could just be used by other groups who would want to draft a more memorable set of core values or principles for their group, or for people in the EA community who want to more easily remember or explain what the principles of EA are.
I am open to hearing any feedback or comments on my suggestions. I’d like to get others’ thoughts too on if they know any better acronyms or principles than the ones I’ve used. Thanks!
If you want to download a .png and .svg of the graphic, you can do so through this GDrive folder. If you want to modify the graphic on Figma, where I made it, you can access it here. The icons were taken from the Figma plugin called Iconify.* ↩︎
I could imagine a graphic like this being used or tested in an Intro to EA slides presentation to explain what EA is and what its principles are. ↩︎