Effective altruism (EA) is a philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to determining the most effective ways to improve the world. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions, and then act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based on their values. It is this broad, scientific approach that distinguishes effective altruism from traditional altruism or charity.
While a substantial proportion of effective altruists have focused on the nonprofit sector, the philosophy of effective altruism applies much more broadly, e.g., to prioritizing the scientific projects, companies, and policy initiatives which can be estimated to save and improve the most lives.
Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions, and then act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based on their values.
The ideas behind effective altruism have been present in practical ethics, particularly consequentialist ethics, for a long time, and have been reflected in the writings of philosophers such as Peter Singer and Peter Unger. However, a movement identifying with the name ‘effective altruism’ itself only came into being in the late 2000s.
According to William MacAskill, the name “effective altruism” was settled upon in late 2011 when the “Centre for Effective Altruism” (CEA) was chosen as the name for an umbrella organization that would cover both ‘Giving What We Can’ and ‘80,000 Hours.’ This was a largely internal name, but those who had followed a similar approach increasingly converged upon the name. (Wikipedia)
According to the Effective Altruism website, EA is about answering one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most? Or, to put it another way: how can I make the biggest difference I can? Rather than just doing what feels right, effective altruists use evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on. But it’s no use answering the question unless you act on it. Effective altruism is about following through. It’s about being generous with your time and your money to do the most good you can.
How can I make the biggest difference I can?
This involves five key questions:
1. How many people benefit, and by how much?
2. Is this the most effective thing you can do?
3. Is this area neglected?
4. What would have happened otherwise?
5. What are the chances of success, and how good would success be?
I will explore many of the details and implications of these questions in future posts.