Cause neutrality

If one accepts a formCause neutrality (sometimes called cause impartiality[1] or strategic cause selection[2]) is the view that causes should be prioritized based on impartial assessments of consequentialism, this implies that they should select actions so as to make the world as good as possible according to their values, and disregard anyimpact rather than on other considerations like(such as saliency or personal attachment). It is generally considered to be a personal history with a cause. "Neutrality" is this disregard for irrelevant considerations. This concept is also sometimes called "cause impartiality."core idea in effective altruism.

Suppose you value the welfare of all humans equally and suppose that dementia research is not the most effective way to help humans. Then being cause-impartial or cause-neutral means you should not fund dementia research, even if dementia has personal significance to you (e.g. because it affected a family member).

Two subcases of neutrality are:

  • Cause neutrality: the idea that we should prefer the focus area (or cause area) that most advances our values without regard to other considerations.
  • Means neutrality: the idea that we should prefer the method that most advances our values without regard to other considerations.

Schubert, Stefan (2017) Understanding cause-neutrality, Centre For Effective Altruism, March 10 (updated 30 December 2020).

  1. ^

    Schubert, Stefan (2017) Understanding cause-neutrality, Centre For Effective Altruism, March 10 (updated 30 December 2020).

  2. ^

    Karnofsky, Holden (2012) Strategic cause selection, The GiveWell Blog, May 2 (updated 25 July 2016).

"Neutrality" is this disregard for irrelevant considerations.

...

Two subcases of neutrality are...cause neutrality [and] means neutrality.

There are also other considerations which one should, or arguably should, be neutral about. One example is what resources to use - e.g. money or time. Another is whether to pursue high or low risk interventions: many effective altruists believe that you should be risk neutral and simply maximise expected value.

Still others may include neutrality with respect to how diversified your altruistic investments should be (meaning you shouldn't, e.g. be biased in favour of splitting your donations), and neutrality with respect to a charity's level of overhead (the opposite of overhead bias). Again, the idea would be that one should simply look at what maximises impact and not assign any intrinsic value to, e.g. a low overhead.

One option would be to have a more general article on neutrality. The article on cause-neutrality could be on a level below in the hierarchy. Another option would be to briefly mention the other aspects of neutrality I mentioned here in this article. But it's also possible to retain the current approach - I'm unsure how important the more general neutrality concept is.

5Pablo1mo
Okay, I've revised the lead section of the entry, created a separate entry on means neutrality [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/topics/means-neutrality], and added a disambiguation page [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/topics/neutrality] on neutrality. In the future, we may want to add an entry on resource neutrality and perhaps other types of neutrality.
2Pablo1mo
Yes, good points. I'll take a look shortly.

If one accepts a form of consequentialism, this implies that they should select actions so as to make the world as good as possible according to their values, and disregard any other considerations.considerations like a personal history with a cause. "Neutrality" is this disregard for irrelevant considerations. This concept is also sometimes called "cause impartiality."

If one accepts a form of consequentialism, this implies that they should select actions so as to make the world as good as possible,possible according to their values, and disregard any other considerations. "Neutrality" is this disregard for non-consequentialist considerations. This concept is also sometimes called "cause impartiality."

Suppose you value the welfare of all humans equally,equally and suppose that dementia research is not the most effective way to help humans. Then being cause-impartial or cause-neutral means you should not fund dementia research, even if dementia has personal significance to you (e.g. because it affected a family member).

BibliographyFurther reading

If one accepts a form of consequentialism, this implies that they should select actions so as to make the world as good as possible, according to their values, and disregard any other considerations. "Neutrality""Neutrality" is this disregard for non-consequentialist considerations.

Related entries

cause prioritization

Further readingBibliography

Hutchinson, Michelle. 2016.Michelle (2016) Giving What We Can is cause neutral., Effective Altruism Forum, April 22.
A discussion of cause neutrality.

MacAskill, W.William & Meissner, D. 2020.Darius Meissner (2020) Cause Impartiality. In Introduction to , in 'Utilitarianism and practical ethics', Utilitarianism.

Sentience Politics. 2016.Politics (2016) The benefits of cause-neutrality., Sentience Politics, April.
A discussion of the practice and benefits.

If one accepts a form of [consequentialism](https://concepts.effectivealtruism.org/concepts/consequentialism)consequentialism, this implies that they should select actions so as to make the world as good as possible, according to their values, and disregard any other considerations. "Neutrality" is this disregard for non-consequentialist considerations.

-  

  • Cause neutrality: the idea that we should prefer the focus area (or cause area) that most advances our values without regard to other considerations.
    -  
  • Means neutrality: the idea that we should prefer the method that most advances our values without regard to other considerations.

Further reading
---------------

Hutchinson, Michelle. 2016. [Giving What We Can is cause neutral](http://effective-altruism.com/ea/wj/giving_what_we_can_is_cause_neutral/)neutral.\
*A discussion of cause neutrality.*

MacAskill, W. & Meissner, D. 2020. [Cause Impartiality](https://www.utilitarianism.net/utilitarianism-and-practical-ethics#cause-impartiality)Impartiality. In [Introduction to Utilitarianism](https://www.utilitarianism.net/)Utilitarianism.

Sentience Politics. 2016. [The benefits of cause-neutrality](https://sentience-politics.org/philosophy/the-benefits-of-cause-neutrality/)neutrality.\
*A discussion of the practice and benefits.*

If one accepts a form of [consequentialism](https://concepts.effectivealtruism.org/concepts/consequentialism), this implies that they should select actions so as to make the world as good as possible, according to their values, and disregard any other considerations. "Neutrality" is this disregard for non-consequentialist considerations.

Suppose you value the welfare of all humans equally, and suppose that dementia research is not the most effective way to help humans. Then being neutral means you should not fund dementia research, even if dementia has personal significance to you (e.g. because it affected a family member).

Note that the implications of neutrality vary with the value system that one holds. If the person in the above example instead placed special weight on the welfare of those suffering from dementia, then supporting dementia research might actually be the best course of action.

Two subcases of neutrality are:

-   Cause neutrality: the idea that we should prefer the focus area (or cause area) that most advances our values without regard to other considerations.
-   Means neutrality: the idea that we should prefer the method that most advances our values without regard to other considerations.

Further reading
---------------

Hutchinson, Michelle. 2016. [Giving What We Can is cause neutral](http://effective-altruism.com/ea/wj/giving_what_we_can_is_cause_neutral/).\
*A discussion of cause neutrality.*

MacAskill, W. & Meissner, D. 2020. [Cause Impartiality](https://www.utilitarianism.net/utilitarianism-and-practical-ethics#cause-impartiality). In [Introduction to Utilitarianism](https://www.utilitarianism.net/).

Sentience Politics. 2016. [The benefits of cause-neutrality](https://sentience-politics.org/philosophy/the-benefits-of-cause-neutrality/).\
*A discussion of the practice and benefits.*

Created by Aaron Gertler at 1y