Aaron Gertler

I moderate the Forum, and I'd be happy to review your next post.

I'm a full-time content writer at CEA. I started Yale's student EA group, and I've also volunteered for CFAR and MIRI. I spend a few hours a month advising a small, un-Googleable private foundation that makes EA-adjacent donations. I also play Magic: the Gathering on a semi-professional level and donate half my winnings (more than $50k in 2020) to charity.

Before joining CEA, I was a tutor, a freelance writer, a tech support agent, and a music journalist. I blog, and keep a public list of my donations, at aarongertler.net.


The Farm Animal Welfare Newsletter
Replacing Guilt
Part 8: Putting it into Practice
Part 7: Increasing the Accuracy of Our Judgments
Part 6: Emerging Technologies
Part 5: Existential Risk
Part 4: Longtermism
Part 3: Expanding Our Compassion
Part 2: Differences in Impact
Load More (9/11)

Wiki Contributions

Load More


Is impersonal benevolence a virtue?

Thanks for the discussion! I realize that I was mostly explaining my own instincts rather than engaging with Hursthouse, but that's because I find her claims difficult to understand in the context of how to actually live one's life.

Open Thread: July 2021

Hello, Willa! I've activated the Markdown Editor for you — not sure why it wasn't working. (I'm the lead moderator/admin here.)

There's a lot of stuff on the Forum. Perhaps the best way to start out is to browse the top posts of all time and read whatever looks interesting. I don't love all the posts on that list, but they're a reasonable sample of the topics that get a lot of interest here.

The natural book recommendation would be Toby Ord's The Precipice if you haven't read it yet; I've liked the bits I've read, and reviews from outside of EA have been solid.

Open Thread: July 2021

Welcome! And well done to donate 50% — I only know a few people with ordinary jobs who've done this, and they're all among my favorite individuals. You're doing incredible good.

I feel that the Effective Altruism movement overvalues animal well-being vs human well-being.

The EA movement doesn't really have its own values, aside from a few baseline principles — it's a collection of individuals who agree on the principles but differ on many other things. If you were to ask something like "how valuable is saving a chicken from a year of constant suffering?", people in the movement would give you a vast range of answers.

If you think that a particular estimate you've seen from some EA-aligned organization is wrong, the EA Forum is a great place to make that argument!

 I also feel it ignores that improving human welfare is an avenue to improving animal welfare (people who are struggling don't have room to think about whether their chickens are free range).

It seems unlikely on its face that spending money on human welfare will do much for animals, relative to the incredible efficiency of e.g. cage-free campaigns. I don't think animal advocates ignore these side effects (I think almost everyone would agree that there's a link between economic prosperity and moral circle expansion). But I do think that they'd judge the side effects as very minor in the grand scheme of things. 

If you think the side effects aren't minor... sounds like another potential Forum post!

Note that there's been some conversation about the direct opposite idea — that wealthier people eat more animal products, which means that improving human welfare might lead to additional animal suffering (meat consumption has skyrocketed around the world in recent decades).

I haven't seen people actually use this as a reason not to support human-focused charities — again, this "side effect" is very small — but I think it illustrates how difficult and complicated these questions can be.

Open Thread: July 2021

Your instinct that there isn't a "go-to" place for all data is correct. Not sure about GDPR barriers, but it seems likely that a lot of things became unavailable (or were never available) because the people running those projects just got caught up in other things.

Fortunately, we have mechanisms for funding useful projects that no existing person maintains yet. If you're really interested in sorting through everything and making it available, that might be a good candidate for the EA Infrastructure Fund. And if you're busy with other things, you can even propose that they pay someone else to do this!

Is impersonal benevolence a virtue?

The best answer here, the one that actually lets us try to live our lives by reasonable ethical principles, seems to me like "morality isn't conflict-free and humans aren't perfectly consistent". The whole point of EA is that standard "ethical" systems often fail to provide useful advice on how to live a good life. No one can be perfectly virtuous or benevolent; all we can do is act well given our circumstances and the options in front of us.

How does this interface with the question of objective morality? You can either say "morality is objective and people are bound to fall short of it", or "morality is subjective and I'm going to do what seems best to me". Either way, as a subjectivist who judges other people through the lens of my own moral opinions, I'm going to judge you by how your actions affect others, rather than by whether they all hang together in a rigorous system.

Lant Pritchett on the futility of "smart buys" in developing-world education

Do you know of any studies showing that people in low-income countries regard their own education as a major source of intrinsic value, apart from its effects on other life outcomes?

I ask because I think most people in the developed world value education primarily because it will help them "succeed in life" (or "get a good job", "move up in the world", etc.). If you gave people in the U.S. a choice between e.g. the experience of being in school for 3 extra years, or an extra $5,000/year in salary, I'd expect almost everyone to choose a higher salary. And I would expect sentiments to be similar in the developing world, if not stronger.

I don't have access to data on this, and am generalizing from how I've seen people behave in my own life and in various nonfiction books and articles I've read. I'd be really curious to see data, and you seem like you might be familiar with relevant literature.

Education is one of many things you can do with your time; I don't see why we'd necessarily privilege it over "spending time with your family", "playing with your friends", or other ways to spend time — apart from its effects on economic welfare, health, and so on.

See GiveWell:

There are a limited number of experimental studies providing direct evidence that education interventions improve the outcomes that we consider most important, such as earnings, health, and rates of marriage and fertility among teenage girls. 

They certainly seem to differ from UNDP if UNDP considers education an intrinsic good, absent other effects on welfare. But I'm willing to bite the bullet and ask whether UNDP is actually right. Is education for its own sake important enough to justify pursuing interventions that provide more education, but less health or money, than other interventions?

How do you communicate that you like to optimise processes without people assuming you like tricks / hacks / shortcuts?

Yes, I recommend both of those things for... well, almost all communication, and this isn't an exception.

Writing about my job: pharmaceutical chemist

Thanks for posting this! 

I don't think I saw this mentioned, but do you think you might end up using these skills in a role with a more explicit connection to EA, if an opportunity comes along? I'm no chemist, but I can imagine this kind of expertise being useful for vaccine production (maybe?)

Not that I think this is essential — it sounds like you're living your dream, and that's an extremely good reason to have a job, EA considerations aside. Just curious if that's something you've thought about.

Propose and vote on potential EA Wiki entries

Thanks, have created this. (The "Donation writeup" tag is singular, so I felt like this one should also be, but LMK if you think it should be plural.)

Load More