All of Ed_Talks's Comments + Replies

The totalitarian implications of Effective Altruism

Thanks for your three comments, all of which make excellent points. To briefly comment on each one:


The distinction you draw between (a) do the most good (with your entire life) and (b) do the most good (with whatever fraction of resources you've decided to allocate to altruistic ends) is a really good one. I firmly agree with your recommendation that the EA materials make it clearer that EA is recommending (b). If EA could reformulate its objectives in terms of (b) this would be exactly the type of strengthened weak-EA I am arguing for in my piece... (read more)

The totalitarian implications of Effective Altruism

Thanks for this, and I can definitely see the parallels here. 

Interestingly, from an initial read of the extracts you helpfully posted above, I can see Popper's argument working for or against mine. 

On one hand, it is not hard to identify a utopian strain in EA thought (particularly in long-termism as you have pointed out). On the other, I think there is a strong case to be made that EA is doing exactly what Popper suggests when he says:  Work for the elimination of concrete evils rather than for the realization of abstract goods. Do not aim... (read more)

I agree 100% that the EA community's efforts in areas like malaria and direct cash transfers are falling quite firmly within the 'elimination of concrete evils' camp. IIRC you differentiate between the philosophical foundations and actual practice of effective altruism in your essay. So even if most EA work currently is part of the aforementioned camp, the philosophical foundations might not actually imply this.
The totalitarian implications of Effective Altruism

Thanks for the recommendation. This dovetails nicely with my 4th recommendation (identify a firm philosophical foundation for the weakened form of EA I am proposing). The 'spheres of personal liberty' concept sounds like a decent starting point for a reformulation of the principle. 

The totalitarian implications of Effective Altruism

Thanks for engaging with my piece and for these interesting thoughts - really appreciate it. 

 I agree that, on a personal level, turning 'doing the most good' into an instrumental goal towards the terminal goal of 'being happy' sounds like an intuitive and healthy way to approach decision-making. My concern however is that this is not EA, or at least not EA as embodied by its fundamental principles as explored in my piece. 

The question that comes to my mind as I read your comment is: 'is instrumental EA (A) a personal ad hoc exemption to EA ... (read more)

Fair! And I think your last para is mostly valid too.
The totalitarian implications of Effective Altruism

This is a really interesting parallel - thank you!  

It ties neatly into one of my major concerns with my piece -whether it can be interpreted as anti-rationality / a critique of empiricism (which is not the intention). 

My reflexive reaction to the claim that "enlightenment is totalitarian" is fairly heavy scepticism (whereas, obviously, I lean in the opposite direction as regards to EA), so I'm curious what distinctions there are between the arguments made in Dialectic and the arguments made in my piece. I will have a read of Dialectic and think through this further.