Career choice is a crucial decision in the life of most individuals. People spend more time on their jobs than on any other activity besides sleep—about 80,000 hours over the course of a typical life (MacAskill 2014: 269). Choosing the right career, therefore, may be one of the most impactful things an altruistically-motivated person can do.

Despite its high importance, career choice has received very limited attention. One of the earliest publications on the subject was a youth essay by Karl Marx, who held that we should choose the career "which offers us the widest scope to work for mankind". Such a career, Marx claimed, would be best not only altruistically but also for the person pursuing it, since "experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy." (Marx 1835) In contemporary philosophy, there is a small literature on whether it is permissible to pursue a non-altruistic rather than an altruistic career, but almost no discussion of how different careers should be ethically ranked (MacAskill 2014). Most of the relevant research on career choice has been conducted outside academia, primarily by the organization 80,000 Hours, which has developed a framework for comparing the social impact of different careers.

Holden Karnofsky has identified four alternative frameworks for making career choice decisions: paths to particular roles working on particular causes; aptitudes a candidate can build in a variety of roles and causes and apply to a variety of jobs; causes to which a candidate can contribute with their career; and heuristics, such as "Do work you can be great at" or "Do work that builds your career capital and gives you more options." (Karnofsky 2021) 80,000 Hours uses the paths framework, while Karnofsky himself has focused mostly on the aptitude framework, though he advises candidates to consider multiple frameworks....

(Read More)