Richard Y Chappell

Academic philosopher, blogs at

Topic Contributions


Impact is very complicated

Interesting, thanks.  Note that the top-rated comment there is Toby Ord making just this Parfitian line of criticism.

Impact is very complicated

Wouldn't that incentivize bad choices like (a) and (b)?

Impact is very complicated

But there's no objectively rigorous way to decide who gets how much of the credit!

Why are you talking about "credit" at all?  This is a confused concept.  See sec 3.3.1 of Parfit's Ethics:

According to the Share-of-the-Total view, when a group collectively brings
about some outcome, each member counts as producing their “share” of the
total. For example, if 5 people work together to save 100 lives, each participant
is credited with saving 20 lives. But if our moral decision-making were guided
by this kind of accounting procedure, it could lead to foolish decisions with
obviously detrimental results, such as:

(a) unnecessarily joining a group of benefactors (who together save 100 lives)
who could do just as well without you, when you could instead have saved
10 additional lives independently, or

(b) single-handedly saving 50 lives instead of joining a group that needs you in
order to save 100.

As these cases demonstrate, it does not really matter what “share of the total”
gets attributed to you on the basis of the group that you join (as though group
size were inherently morally significant). What matters is just performing the
act, of those available to you, that results in the most lives being saved (or, more
generally, the most good being done), in total. In case (a), you can bring it about
that 110 lives are saved, rather than just 100, if you act independently. In case
(b), you can bring it about that 100 lives are saved, rather than just 50, if you
contribute to the group. These are the numbers that matter. No moral insight is
gained by dividing any of these numbers by the contributing group size to yield
some kind of agential “share”. To think otherwise, Parfit argues, is simply
a mistake.

Tentative Reasons You Might Be Underrating Having Kids

Yes, I'm well aware that homeschooling is an immense amount of work -- especially if doing it as an individual household.  That's a big part of why I'd be so excited to see more experimentation with "pods" or small clusters of (educationally aligned) households.  This might involve group homeschooling (which would still be significant work on the part of the parents, but would see non-trivial efficiency gains over each family going solo). Or it might involve "micro-schools", where they hire teachers to do the bulk of the work, in an informal/alternative setting with tiny class sizes that allow for genuinely individualized learning. (My wife has actually looked a fair bit into the logistics of such an idea.  I could probably share some details in a future post if there was interest.)  Or there might be other possibilities I haven't considered, that could secure many of the benefits of "fully homeschooling" with less of the costs.

Anyway, I'm glad that the traditional school system is working out well enough for you and "most parents" that you know.  But it's not for everyone, and it would be really helpful for those of us who are committed to alternative education to have more and better options. (Even if you, personally, are no longer interested in those options.)

New substack on utilitarian ethics: Good Thoughts

Having looked into it more, I gather that after subscribing, you're presented with the list of other substacks that I recommend, and a highlighted option to subscribe to them (selected by default). It's bad form on substack's part that the button to decline ("maybe later") is not so prominent, so you may be led to accidentally over-subscribe to other newsletters.  Sorry about that!

(Though it's easy enough to unsubscribe at any time, at least.)

'Beneficentrism', by Richard Yetter Chappell

Thanks Peter!

Right, I agree that beneficence should be impartial.  What I had in mind was that one can combine a moderate degree of impartial beneficence with significant partiality in other areas of one's life (e.g. parenting). Thanks for flagging that this didn't come through clearly enough.

re: "central life project", this is deliberately vague, and probably best understood in scalar terms: the more, the better. My initial aim here is just to get more people on board with adopting it as a project that they take seriously.  I don't think I can give a precise specification of where to draw the line.  But also, I don't really want to be drawing attention to the baseline minimum, because that shouldn't be the goal.

Tentative Reasons You Might Be Underrating Having Kids

EAs often have creative ideas around education, and it would be very exciting to see experiments in these areas.

Yes! I would love to see more experimentation in this area, e.g. EA home/micro/un-schooling pods.

New substack on utilitarian ethics: Good Thoughts

That's odd!  Is it possible that you clicked this commenter's profile (or a blogroll link) by mistake?  If anyone else is having this issue, let me know and I'll try looking into it further.

Virtues for Real-World Utilitarians

For readings on utilitarianism, I'd encourage you to check out the whole website at  If you read our entire online textbook, you'll know more about the topic than basically anyone who doesn't already have a Ph.D. in the area.  For philosophy more broadly, you probably already know about the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy -- it's a fantastic resource, though the entries vary a fair deal in how accessible they are to non-experts.

For chatting about the topic, you're welcome to reach out but I can't promise that I'd respond. Your best bet is probably to follow some philosophy blogs (and participate in the comments sections), such as PEA Soup, Fake Nous, Hands and Cities, or my own Good Thoughts. You might also try a smart philosophy student, like Matthew Adelstein of Bentham's Bulldog, who is likely to have more time and so may be more open to discussing topics that you propose, or doing some kind of online reading group together.

Good luck!

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