23 July 2019

In episode 54, we take a look at Effective Altruism. Why has this approach to philanthropy based on utilitarian philosophy gained so many admirers - and so many critics - over the last few years? Including:

  • What is Effective Altruism (EA)?
  • How is it informing new approaches to philanthropy?
  • Why are so many tech philanthropists EA advocates?
  • Could the emergence of data-drive, AI approaches to philanthropy put EA in the driving seat?
  • What is the historical lineage of Utilitarian thinking?
  • What role did religion play in giving birth to the idea that philanthropy needs to be effective?
  • How did the Charity Organization Society and the Scientific Philanthropy movements take this idea forward, and are they the intellectual forebears of EA?
  • What, if anything, is genuinely new about EA?
  • Is EA merely theoretical because it doesn't reflect how philanthropy actually works or what motivates donors?
  • Does the focus on outcomes come at the expense of other considerations such as justice, democracy or individual agency?
  • Do EA metrics favour short-term, tangible interventions over longer-term campaigns for social change?
  • Does EA dictate working within existing structures and systems, rather than driving the reforms to those structures and systems that many believe are needed for real change?
  • Does EA lead to a bias against local giving in favour of giving overseas? And can this have unintended consequences in terms of how other perceive us?
  • Existential threats and "Pascal's Mugging"

useful links

Criticism of Effective Altruism

Schambra, W. (2014) “The Emerging Threat of Effective Altruism” in Breeze & Moody (eds) The Philanthropy Reader

Berger & Penna (2013) The Elitist Philanthropy of So-Called Effective Altruism in Stanford Social Innovation Review

Ashford, E. (2018) “Severe Poverty as an Unjust Emergency” in Woodruff (ed) The Ethics of Giving

Acemoglu, D. (2015) The Logic of Effective Altruism Boston Review

Dylan Matthews 2015 Vox article I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity. I came away … worried.

Law, Campbell & Gaesser (2019) Biased Benevolence: The Morality of Effective Altruism, journal pre-print on PsyArXiv

Nick Bostrom’s paper on Pascal’s Mugging

The chapter on “Criticisms of philanthropy” from Rhodr Davis' book which contains a subsection on 'telescopic philanthropy'

The History of Utilitarianism & Rationality in Philanthropy

The History of Utilitarianism Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

Peter Singer’s seminal paper Famine, Affluence & Morality

Schneewind, J.B. (1996) “Philosophical Ideas of Charity: Some Historical Reflections” in Schneewind (ed) Giving: Western Ideas of Philanthropy

Roberts, M.J.D. (1998) “Head vs Heart: Voluntary Associations and Charity Organization in England, c. 1700-1850” in Cunningham & Innes (eds) Charity, Philanthropy and Reform: From the 1690s to 1850

William Rathbone’s memoir Social Duties

Simey, M (1992) Charity Rediscovered: A Study of Philanthropic Effort in 19th Century Liverpool    

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Effective Altruism organisations

Effective Altruism

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About the Giving Thought podcast

The Giving Thought podcast is an exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society. Launched in 2017 it is recognised as an insightful and influential source of philanthropic debate.  Rhodri Davies director of our Giving Thought Think Tank hosts the podcast, discussing contemporary issues and interviewing sector experts. Episodes are also available free on iTunes and Libsyn.

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