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Hi Scott. I've had one paper published in philosophy, and I've had several others accepted to conferences. I'm certainly not as credentialed as Will, but I might be able to give some tips. My guess is that many of these are not particularly unique to philosophy. First, it's always good to reference other relevant philosophical work. We all know what hedonistic utilitarianism is, but if you're going to write a paper about the implications of effective altruism for a hedonistic utilitarian, you should still clearly define the concept and cite major works on the topic. Second, clear writing is always preferred over convoluted writing. Sometimes people think philosophers want to sound smart and intentionally use complicated language, but the reverse is true. Sure, philosophy sometimes does legitimately require an understanding of technical terms, but good philosophical writing aims to be as clear as possible. Third, a good format to follow is abstract, introduction, argument, conclusion. Abstracts are extremely useful because they allow people to get the gist of your argument very quickly. Fourth, it is often better to make a genuine contribution to a narrow problem than to not really contribute anything to a broad topic. Finally, a good practice is probably to just read some published philosophy work. That is the best way to get an idea of the writing quality and organizational nature of publishable papers. I believe Will has some of his papers posted on his site. I've read some of his work, and I think it's a good example of clear writing. That's probably a good place to start.

Most CFPs request papers that have been prepared for blind review as well, so be sure to do that.

That is really interesting about the improved economic prospects for dewormed children. That is indeed a strong argument for deworming this year rather than next year. These sorts of considerations need to be part of our analysis. It is unlikely that all methods of direct intervention will exhibit this sort of return, so it would seem that this ought to be part of our process when deciding which direct causes to donate to.

Thanks for those links. I was quite certain that this problem had probably been identified before, but I was unable to find anything written on it.

Isn't one purpose of effective altruism to be "clever in understanding human needs"? If we aren't spending dollars in any more effective ways than regular folks are when they spend their paychecks, we have failed miserably. In the current climate, it is still quite possible to do a tremendous amount of good with relatively few dollars. There are probably several organizations that can either save or drastically improve a life for less than $5,000. I can't imagine that ordinary people are spending their money during the course of their day in a manner that even approaches this sort of highly leveraged effectiveness.

The purpose of charity in the first place is to do more good than we would normally do when spending our money. Otherwise, we would have no good reason to ever donate to any charities. The purpose of effective altruism is to identify the very best ways of spending money in order to do the most good. If we aren't even beating the average Joe's personal spending habits, why are we here?

There is certainly an important difference here between cause and blameworthiness. In law, as in many cases in philosophy when one wants to make a moral appraisal, we are interested in more than mere causation. Culpability is often an additional requirement, and that can make things murky. Further, even more murkiness is introduced by the presence of moral luck, which some have argued might be highly intractable. However, for the purposes of EA assessments, I think basic counterfactual causation is sufficient. In precise terms, I think it is enough for a cause to be merely necessary, if not sufficient, for us to evaluate it as being useful. Let's say that I convince Smith to donate a million dollars to an effective charity. It is certainly true that such a donation wouldn't have been possible if Smith hadn't earned that million dollars, but it is also true that the donation wouldn't have occurred had I not made my pitch to Smith. We can say both factors (me pitching Smith and Smith earning the money) are necessary but not sufficient, assuming it is in fact true that Smith wouldn't have made a similar donation without me. This does open up the possibility that both Smith and I can say that we "caused" a million dollars to be donated to an effective charity, but I'm not sure that's actually problematic. Without either one of our actions occurring, the donation wouldn't have happened.

When extrapolating this concept over the course of multiple cause/effect cycles, however, I believe there may be an epistemic problem. Using Singer's vegetarian in the cafeteria example, it is very hard to know how many of the subsequent vegetarians would have come to accept vegetarianism through other channels. We might not even be able to attribute all of Singer's vegetarianism to this one individual, as it seems like Singer might be the sort of person who would have at some point accepted vegetarianism anyway. In other words, even playing the counterfactual game, it isn't clear what the otherwise outcome might have been. This seems to be a problem that we would face in any large set of cause/effect cycles.

freewheeling evolution will not lead to satisfactory levels of global human cooperation in time to prevent severe risks . Nor it will lead to the preservation of human values in the long run ; humans, human values, and human cooperation are in no way the end-point of evolutionary processes.

Excellent point; this is something I've considered many times myself. Humans post-1850 are the first species in the history of the world that has been able to reflect on the evolutionary processes that brought it here. As such, we are the first species with an opportunity to play an intentional, direct role in affecting those processes. Evolution doesn't select for morality per se, or values per se, but we will potentially have the capability of incorporating such considerations into the evolutionary process. As we continue to grow our ability to genetically modify humans, however, there is a possibility that we can intervene on a biological basis to improve the morality of the human species. It sounds very sci-fi, but also very realistic.

That's great to hear. I think it is important that media depictions of EA highlight the positive impact one can have through EA. In other words, present the opportunity to do incredibly good things rather than offering condemnation for inaction. I agree that TLYCS is in a good position to do just that.

Kerry, I would be interested in helping with evaluations. I'm sure there is probably a way to contact you through this site, but for the life of me, I can't find it. Let me know what the next step is.


I agree on the news front. The vast majority of news today is irrelevant to just about everyone's life. There is no good reason why I need to know about a mother who killed her children or some comments one famous person said about another famous person. That sort of information doesn't make me a better citizen or even make me more informed about the world in a meaningful way. I do listen to NPR when I'm in my car, and that has been useful to me, although it's worth pointing out that I am essentially multi-tasking while doing it, so I'm not using dedicated time.

A couple other things I am not doing:

  • Eating meat (one year strong, and I'm happy to report that it takes almost zero time now)
  • Participating in social media (I was an early adopter in 2004, but I've been off for two years)
  • Checking a smart phone (I don't have one)
  • Watching TV (I don't have service)
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