The goal of this week is to introduce participants to some criticisms of effective altruism and related ideas, including utilitarianism, the repugnant conclusion, and large-scale systemic change. We hope this week will provide an opportunity for participants to ask about any questions, concerns, and disagreements they haven’t been able to bring up so far, and for there to be a productive discussion about the importance of critical thinking in EA, and how to approach criticisms.
- A key concept for this week is the importance of forming independent impressions. In the long run, you’re likely to gain a deeper understanding of important issues if you think through the arguments for yourself. But (since you can’t reason through everything) it can still sometimes make sense to defer to others when you’re making decisions.
- Criticisms of EA are healthy, and the community/movement should continually address them and improve.
- Many people have uncertainty about various aspects of EA, including people who are highly involved
- There is a lot of disagreement within the community, what brings people together is the desire to do the most good and figuring out how.
During the Session
In-session exercise (10 mins)
- Collate your questions/criticisms/confusions into a Google doc and look at each others’ and upvote the ones that you share.
- Discuss the exercise. What were your biggest criticisms, questions, or confusions?
- Which of the criticisms from the readings felt most salient to you? Why?
- Which of these criticisms are fundamental to the EA framework, and which are criticisms of implementations or features of the community?
Resources helpful for addressing common misconceptions
We’ve found that these resources can be helpful in addressing concerns that participants have about EA. We’d recommend that you skim them at least once, so you can point your participants to further reading if some of these objections come up. In particular, many of them discuss common misconceptions or ways that EA has changed since its inception.
- Effective Altruism is a Question (not an ideology)
- How not to be a “white in shining armor”
- [GiveWell] just did something radical: asked recipients where the money should go
- Is it ever okay to take a harmful job in order to do more good?
- 80,000 Hours thinks that only a small proportion of people should earn to give long term
- Frequently Asked Questions and Common Objections (about EA)
- What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard
- Some quick notes on [the term] "effective altruism"