Effective altruism is a philosophy and growing social movement that applies evidence and analysis to determine the most effective ways to improve the world.
Many people want to make the world a better place, but not all good intentioned acts have the same impact. Some have no discernable impact, some actually make things worse, but the very best actions can make an incredibly large difference. By seeking and acting on evidence and using critical thinking we can all make a significant positive impact on the world.
To learn more, check out these two excellent TED talks by moral philosophers Peter Singer and Will MacAskill:
Consider all causes and actions, and then act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact now and in the future.
Apply evidence, science and reason to determine the most effective ways to improve the world.
Value all sentient life, regardless of nationality, creed, ancestry, religion, or species
Effective altruists aim to consider all causes and actions, and then act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, through their donations, volunteer work, or their career. There are many different problems in the world we can work on, so it is important for us to prioritise in order to make the largest impact.
Generally effective altruists look at three factors to decide what to work on:
Will progress on the cause drastically improve a large number of lives?
Can a dedicated effort in support of the cause create a measurable difference?
How much has the cause been overlooked or undervalued? We may be able to make more progress on a cause that few others are working on.
Common cause areas effective altruists work on
Global Health and Poverty
There are nearly 1 billion people living on the equivalent of the buying power of $2.50 per day, resulting in extreme hardship and disease. Much of this suffering can be easily prevented. The charity evaluator GiveWell thoroughly analyses charities and recommends charities they believe to be the most cost-effective. You can donate to some of GiveWell’s highest rated charities here. One example of a highly rated charity is the Against Malaria Foundation, which distributes insecticide treated bed nets for about $5 each. GiveWell’s research suggests this may be one of the most cost effective ways of reducing deaths, with approximately $5000 worth of nets on average saving one child’s life.
Around the world, tens of billions of animals are raised in inhumane conditions in factory farms every year across the world, resulting in extreme suffering on a very large scale. It might be possible to greatly reduce, or perhaps eliminate this suffering. Animal Charity Evaluators recommends several evidence-based charities focussed on reducing animal suffering. The research on animal charities is not as robust as the research on global poverty charities, but the preliminary estimates suggest each dollar donated to an effective animal charity can cause several animals to not be born into a life of suffering on factory farms, so this may be a very cost-effective way of reducing suffering.
Reducing catastrophic risks
Effective altruists care not only about sentient beings living now, but also the future of our planet. There are many possible catastrophic risks, like nuclear war, pandemics and threats from developing unsafe artificial intelligence, and there may be actions we can take now to ensure our future is bright. As these catastrophic risks are large in scale, and usually very neglected, reducing these risks may be the highest impact actions we can take.
Donating to charity is a common way of doing good, but many people can make a larger difference through their career. 80000 hours provides career advice for people wanting to make a significant impact through their career.