Jul 6 20221 min read 2



“It is one of the unfortunate truisms of the human condition that there is hardly a good idea, noble impulse, or sound suggestion that can't be (and isn't eventually) adopted and bastardized by zealots… One iteration of this tendency is in the idea of “effective altruism.”

- K. Berger & R. M. Penna

In this chapter, we’ll give you time to reflect on what you think of effective altruism, and of the specific potential priorities you’ve heard about so far. 

We are dedicating a section to this because, to whatever extent we are wrong, realizing and correcting our mistakes will allow us to do more good. Honestly reckoning with strong counterarguments (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. 

Such critiques have led to important changes in what many EAs do. For example, GiveWell received some criticisms for making moral tradeoffs on behalf of the people they were trying to help. In response, they reached out to a sample of people demographically similar to the people affected by their analysis, and asked them how they would make moral tradeoffs.

A key concept here is the importance of forming independent impressions. In the long run, you’re likely to gain a deeper understanding of important issues if you think through the arguments for yourself. But (since you can’t reason through everything) it can still sometimes make sense to defer to others when you’re making decisions.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:28 PM

"Such critiques have led to important changes in what many EAs do: for example, GiveWell polled a sample of people demographically similar to recipients of programs it supports on how they would make moral tradeoffs in response to criticisms that it shouldn’t make moral tradeoffs on behalf of the people its recommended charities benefit."

This is a very interesting fact! However, it is really a long and awkward sentence to parse. Friendly suggestion from a reader: maybe split this up into multiple sentences?

Thanks! I edited - does it seem clearer now?