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For the exercise in this chapter, we will take some time to reflect on the ideas we’ve engaged with over the past chapters. Our goal is to take stock and to identify our concerns and uncertainties about EA ideas. 

What are your concerns about EA? (15 mins.)

We’ve covered a lot over the last few chapters: the philosophical foundations of effective altruism, how to compare causes and allocate resources, and a look at some top priority causes using the EA framework. 

What are your biggest questions, concerns, and criticisms based on what we’ve discussed so far? These can be about the EA framework/community, specific ideas or causes, or anything you’d like!

Reflecting back (45 mins.)

You’ve covered a lot so far! We hope you found it an interesting and enjoyable experience. There are lots of major considerations to take into account when trying to do the most good you can, and lots of ideas may have been new and unfamiliar to you. In this chapter we’d like you to reflect back on the program with a skeptical and curious mindset.

To recapitulate what we’ve covered:

Chapter 1: The Effectiveness mindset

Over the course of Chapters 1 and 2, we aim to introduce you to the core principles of effective altruism. We use global health interventions, which has been a key focus area for effective altruism, to illustrate these principles, partly because we have unusually good data for this cause area.

Chapter 2: Differences in impact

In Chapter 2 we continue to explore the core principles of effective altruism, particularly through the lens of global health interventions because they are especially concrete and well-studied. We focus on giving you tools to quantify and evaluate how much good an intervention can achieve; introduce expected value reasoning; and investigate differences in expected cost-effectiveness between interventions. 

Chapter 3: Radical empathy

The next section focuses on your own values and their practical implications. During Chapter 3 we explore who our moral consideration should include. We focus especially on farmed animals as an important example of this question.

Chapter 4: Our final century?

In this chapter we’ll focus on existential risks: risks that threaten the destruction of humanity’s long-term potential. We’ll examine why existential risks might be a moral priority, and explore why existential risks are so neglected by society. We’ll also look into one of the major risks that we might face: a human-made pandemic, worse than COVID-19.

Chapter 5: What could the future hold? And why care? 

In this chapter we explore what the future might be like, and why it might matter. We’ll explore arguments for “longtermism” - the view that improving the long term future is a key moral priority. This can bolster arguments for working on reducing some of the extinction risks that we covered in the last two weeks. We’ll also explore some views on what our future could look like, and why it might be pretty different from the present.

Chapter 6: Risks from artificial intelligence

Transformative artificial intelligence may well be developed this century. If it is, it may begin to make many significant decisions for us, and rapidly accelerate changes like economic growth. Are we set up to deal with this new technology safely?

Now, trying answering the following questions:

What topics or ideas from the program do you most feel like you don’t understand?

What seems most confusing to you about each one? (Go back to that topic/idea and see if there are any further readings you can do that would help you address your uncertainties and explore any concerns. Do those readings. Consider writing notes on your confusion, stream-of-consciousness style.)

List one idea from the program that you found surprising at first, and which you now think more or less makes sense and is important? How could this idea be wrong? What’s the strongest case against it?

List one idea from the program that you found surprising at first, and think probably isn’t right, or have reservations about. What’s the strongest case for this idea? What are your key hesitations about that case?





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Concerns about EA

The focus of creating as much value as possible in the Expected Value calculation is one I am not very sure about. I understand the concept, but as someone who works with data, I’d be more drawn to causes that have been proven to have high value already. Thus, the idea of fringe ideas would not be one of my immediate concerns. I always feel that there are more pertinent issues which are visible and measurable that we should focus on currently. This is the same thought process I hold behind not being an advocate of longtermism. I believe we already have very many important causes right now that I’d rather we focus on.

Another area I’m a bit skeptical about is the expansion of the empathy circle. For most of my life I’ve not had a lot of empathy towards non-human animals. I would not want them tortured, but I would not say that they deserve as much empathy as human beings. Again, I feel like our circle of empathy still has a long way to go in dealing with humans so conversations on expanding it to other sentient beings (and stretching the idea as far as algorithms) is not a cause I feel holds that much importance to me.

Finally, one of my biggest concerns is the urgency placed on climate change in the community. When talking of the most important causes, I feel like climate change is under-ranked as a massive danger to the future of our world. I find it misleading to place speculative causes such as AI risks, catastrophic pandemics, nuclear war, and great power conflicts ahead of climate change in importance because climate change is something we are currently experiencing and it’s only bound to get worse. In my opinion, climate change is the top risk as it promises to destabilise society in the next few compared to some other risks (the warming targets we have set are on course to be missed as soon as 2030). The more we continue sliding into worse climate scenarios, the more social issues shall arise and they shall very possibly lead to the rise of all these other risks - AI/nuclear/biological wars triggered by the race for resources such as water, higher land away from the rising oceans, productive soil, and many more. Thus, I believe the cause prioritization should be reconsidered to account for these second factor effects of climate change.


You might wanna review the idea of neglectedness to asses impact. The idea isn't necessarily that climate change is less important than other causes. Just that there are already a ton of resources being put into work on climate change so adding more resources there will have less impact.

This article addresses neglectedness among other things.


I'm going to share my answers. Please keep in mind that they might have been already tackled by other people elsewhere. In any case, those are the critiques I have so far.

Superficial references problem:
The handbook almost never recommends books on the subjects (except those written by MacAskill, Ord, Singer, etc), but instead they tend to recommend blog posts, Wikipedia, other EA-aligned webpages, or, at best, philosophy papers. In my opinion, there could be recommendations of textbooks on cost-effectiveness analysis, cause prioritization, economics, ethics, statistics, cognitive biases, etc. Since webpages and standalone papers are not nearly as good as textbooks to learn a subject, I believe recommendations of books are definitely warranted, otherwise we can get the impression that all the theoretical background that EAs have are those shallow references.

The neglectedness problem:
First, it's not clear how to distinguish between these two scenarios: (1) The cause is unfairly neglected, that is, much more neglected than it ought to be, considering its scale and tractability; and (2) The cause is neglected because it's really a bad cause to work for (due, for instance, to low scale or low tractability), in which case it being neglected is actually a sign that we shouldn't work on it. In order to help us sort out what's the underlying scenario, I think we should see whether other institutions/researchers have attempted to work on the issue in the past, and not just look at the absolute numbers of funding/researchers that are going to that cause in the present. I don't remember seeing this historical analysis being done. And maybe we should employ other strategies besides this historical analysis to sort things out.

Second, there's another shortcoming of just assessing neglectedness by looking at the amount of dollars being poured into a cause. People might be working to solve a problem and pouring lots of money into it using an inefficient method. For instance, suppose that we lived in a world where hundreds of billions of dollars were being spent on leafletting about the animal cause, and suppose that it is the case that leafletting is a very inefficient method to promote concrete changes to animal well-being. Then even though there are hundreds of billions of dollars being put into the Animal Cause, there would still be a low-hanging fruit, if we assume that, for instance, corporate campaigns are a hundred times more efficient than leafletting. So just looking at the sheer number of donated dollars to the Animal Welfare cause could be very misleading because even though it's not "numerically" neglected, we're not making use of the most effective methods.

Third, I'm not convinced that the curve of improvement as a function of funding/researching has a log shape (or any curve that implies diminishing marginal returns)

Fourth, even if it has a log shape, in order to infer that an additional person/dollar of funding would have a greater impact on cause A compared to cause B, we would need to know the parameters of the log curve for cause A and cause B, which we don't. For example, check www.desmos.com/calculator/ohwiagg7zi. Here we have two causes with a log curve, but with different parameters (hence, different shapes), and we can see that even though cause red is receiving more funding than cause green, the marginal return of cause red is still higher than the marginal return of cause B, which makes comparisons between different cause with regards to neglectedness very hard, if not impossible.

Blindspots: By "blindspots", I mean arguments that I've never seen being raised in the given discussions, though they seem to be crucial.

[The logic of the larder] blindspot in the Animal Welfare discussion: It's not crystal clear what is the net value of the lives of each factory-farmed species. For instance, if some species have net positive lives, then interventions that aim to reduce the number of factory-farmed animals will cause a loss of total value. Another thing to consider is that, because of the crops to sustain factory-farmed animals, they have a negative impact on the number of wild animals, and if we consider that the lives of wild animals are worse than the lives of some factory-farmed animals, then abolishing factory farms will have this other source of disvalue as well, by creating lives whose quality is even worse.

[Intelligence restart] blindspot in the Extinction Risk discussion: If only humanity goes extinct, couldn't some other species as intelligent as (or even more intelligent than) humans eventually evolve from other animals, say, from the surviving primates?

-Going by the foundational exposition which have aided my introduction to the E.A community,I must have to state,I appreciate the reasoning and facts basis,which remain the foundational tools,geared towards doing good,in relation to prioritizing matters,which will yield the most benefits,as one of the striking features of the e.a,that really attracted me,to joining this community. -My concerns have to do with certain moral truths,which at some point can be objective or subjectively inclined,thereby been relative,with respect to location,times and settings,as how can the e.a community,set standards as regards such,in relation to handling issues.

  • my criticism so far from what we've discussed,comes from the approach on climate issues,which the e.a community gives fair attention to,as it should be given a topnotch priority to, despite global influence,both on expenditures and engagements,by CSO's and several institutions. -finally,what I like about the e.a is it's incorporation of various categories of individuals,in relation to professions,which I see strength been harnessed in diversity , because of its underpinning ideals,which I subscribe too, because it's aids balancing inequalities and also giving voice,to the marginalized,while respectfully engaging all and sundry. B.
  • based on materials and study engagements with our facilitator,I really understood,what we discussed and the studies I undertook, despite grey areas,which were subsequently made clear. -after each topic discussions and engagements,for me personally ,I will gladly say, enlightenment was attained,as even on issues which I personally might not be cool with,the facts and reasoning, alongside discussions ushered in awareness.
  • one thing I found surprising was the issue of farm animals,which the e.a community is really engaging on,as based on indepth studies,I got to see reasons on how it makes sense, alongside the need to used plant based sources as alternative protein. The point is, giving my background as an African, initially I view it as a waste, because,in Africa,the bush is one of our source,were we kill different species of animals for food,asuch,I feel to reduce such, animal farming would aid minimizing such influences,but as it stand,the multiplying effect on both the animals and the environment, owing to animal farming and it's effect also to the animals themselves,based on evidential facts,which I came across, owing to the studies, aided my perceptional change, with respect to that. -one of the issues ,which was not surprising,but I have a different reservation about, have to do with the issue of farm animals ,which I stated above,as my hesitation to it,has to do with my reasoning of it, from an African perception,which I view animals,as just to be used as food, nonetheless,as stated above,the exposition via evidence and reasoning in line with e.a program, alongside other materials,have given me a different perception to that.which have aided my receptiveness to better light,of viewing the issues,as they need to be protected.
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I feel questions 1 and 2 are essentially the same, with the second having a more partitioned approach. Did I overlook some important difference between them?

Hi! Just want to point out a typo: "This chapter we’d like you (...)". Thanks! :-)

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