Excited vs. obligatory altruism

Excited altruism and obligatory altruism are two contrasting views about the reasons for engaging in effective altruism. According to obligatory altruism, we should act altruistically because this is what morality requires of us; failing to do so would be morally wrong. By contrast, excited altruism stresses that being able to make a significant difference in the life of others is an exciting opportunity. On this approach, emphasis is given to the fact that altruistic actions can have a large positive impact on others, as well as improving the altruist’s own life.

Holden Karnofsky (Karnofsky 2013; see also Sotala 2014) offers a clear articulation of the excited altruist perspective:

Critics of effective altruism worry that we’re trying to choose causes based on calculations about how to help the world as much as possible, rather than based on what causes excite us… I think such people fundamentally misunderstand effective altruism. I think they imagine that we have passions for particular causes, and are trying to submerge our passions in the service of rationality. That isn’t the case. Rather, effective altruism is what we are passionate about. We’re excited by the idea of making the most of our resources and helping others as much as possible.

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