Bioethics Blogs

Five ways to become a really effective altruist

Written by Professor Julian Savulescu and Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

This is a cross-post of an article which was originally published in The Conversation

Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement which aims not only to increase charitable donations of time and money (and indeed more broadly to encourage leading a lifestyle which does good in the world), but also encourage the most effective use of these resources, usually by looking for measurable impacts such as lives saved per dollar.

For an effective altruist, the core question is: “Of all the possible ways to make a difference, how can I make the greatest difference?” It might be argued, for example, that charity work isn’t the best use of time; a talented financier may be better off working for a bank, and use their earnings to pay for others to work for charities instead.

To this end, those in the movement often perform complex calculations to determine which charities and careers do the most good – something that is frequently attacked. Charitable causes that effective altruists have argued should come lower in our list of priorities include charities like the ALS Association, which benefited from the viral ice bucket challenge, and the arts.

These comparisons are not based on the worthiness of the cause, the good it does or even the levels of suffering it alleviates, but the cost to benefit ratio. For example, Peter Singer, a moral philosopher and icon of the effective altruism movement, has argued that homelessness and infant mortality in the developed world should have a lower priority than equivalent causes in the developing world.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.