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Probably Good Concepts

Effective Altruism

3 Minute Read

Summary

Effective Altruism is a social movement that uses evidence and reason to identify the most effective ways to help others. Its top identifying features are the goal of doing the most good you can with the resources you have, the use of empirical evidence and careful analysis as the primary methods to discern what is promising, and the application of its conclusions to real-world action.

Overview

Some ways of doing good are vastly better than others. The Against Malaria Foundation is able to provide a child with another year of healthy life for every $100 donated, and has saved tens of thousands of children’s lives to date. On the other hand, a large majority of well-established charities fail to achieve their purported outcomes when evaluated. In fact, in many domains, the best charities can be 100 times more effective than the average charity in their field. 

 

Many people want to help others, but it’s not always easy to identify the best ways of doing so. Effective Altruism is a movement and philosophy which researches, discusses, popularizes and acts upon key insights on how we can use our resources to really make a difference. The movement engages with moral theory, up-to-date empirical findings on the effectiveness of interventions, and in-depth analysis in its attempts to tackle this important challenge. In its endeavor to identify conclusions about objectively promising opportunities, it continues to engage with a diversity of views, open questions, and subjective approaches that continue to be explored and debated.

 

The movement was inspired and catalyzed by the work and advocacy of philosophers Peter Singer, Will MacAskill and Toby Ord, which explored both the question of our obligation towards others, as well as the question of how to take moral ideas off the page and put them into practice. The movement began when several Oxford philosophers, quantitatively-minded donors, and online communities found a mutual interest in looking for ways to improve the world that actually work. Today it includes tens of thousands of “aspiring Effective Altruists” across hundreds of cities around the world.

 

Over time, the movement has also increased the scope of its focus and methodologies. Early Effective Altruism research and advocacy focused on charities and donations, but quickly expanded to applying similar principles to inform career decisions, scientific research, political action and more. In a similar fashion, Effective Altruism in its early days focused primarily on interventions with measurable outcomes and strong empirical evidence, such as GiveWell’s analysis on highly effective charities. Today the community continues to support and fund such important work, but has also expanded to work that aims to achieve much more revolutionary change at the cost of lower confidence.

 

Though still a young movement, individuals and organizations that identify as part of Effective Altruism have directed hundreds of millions of dollars to highly effective charities in global health and development, saving tens of thousands of lives. Others in the movement have supported corporate campaigns for humane treatment of animals improving the lives of more than 100 million farm animals. Yet others have supported critical work in mitigating and preparing for catastrophic risks such as global pandemics and disruptive technologies, and more.

 

Probably Good sees itself as part of the Effective Altruism community, and much of our methodologies and goals have been inspired by it.