Nine important questions we must ask when considering effective altruism.

Posted: 8 November 2021

By Luke Upton

Most of us are keen to make a difference, whether its litter picking in the park, joining the Parents Teacher Association (PTA), or acknowledging the challenges of racial equality or taking steps to try and mitigate our impacting climate change. We see things we don’t like, or want to improve, and are moved to try and do something. But quite what that ‘something’ is, is the challenge and one that can feel difficult, confusing and at times overwhelming.

One response to the question of ‘what can I do’, is that of effective altruism, which is both a philosophy and a social movement. It advocates the use of high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to determine the best ways to help benefit others most effectively.

Who gets involved?

Those who embrace this approach, form a community, and are often called effective altruists. Whilst naturally many can be found in the charity/non-profit sector, it also filters out into commercial organisations and an approach where policies, projects and partnerships that are estimated to do good are prioritised.

There’s an important aspect of this approach that needs to be noted, and that is that everything is carefully assessed. And this where the effective part, of effective altruism becomes important – its about doing the best with whatever resources are available – as opposed to only dome some amount of good. To find the best option, evidence and reasoning is applied to make the decision. It is not, about just doing what feels good of appears to be the most appealing option.

For a process that is effectively about deciding the distribution of resources, philosophers have played a big role in creating modern effective altruism and much of the writing about it poses questions about the use of evidence, decision making and what good results look like.

There are a number of key questions that leading philosophers have asked that we all need to consider.

  1.  Perhaps the biggest is ‘How can we do the most good?’
  2. Then there’s ‘What counts as the most good?’
  3. And what about these?
  4. Does everyone’s suffering count equally?
  5.  What about giving priority to your family or those around you, how do you decide?
  6. What about other values like justice, freedom and equality
  7. What are the chances of success, and what does success look like?
  8.  Is effective altruism as an ‘opportunity’ or an ‘obligation’
  9. What happens if I don’t do anything?

There is no single answer to these questions, we must ask them ourselves, and trust in the data and research to help guide our answers as to how better the world around us.

To help guide us a little more, have a watch of this Ted Talk, from Peter Singer, who has asked many of the above big questions.

What do you think? How do you best approach decision making?

Contact the team at Impactful today to find out more about how effective altruism can work for you – [email protected]

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