Topic 1: Introduction to Effective Altruism


This week, we will be familiarizing ourselves with Effective Altruism (EA) – what it is, how it fits into the world, and what impact it can have. You’ll notice that we have the essential readings at the beginning of the list, which we expect will take approximately 1 hour to read overall. (The expected reading time for each resource will be in brackets next to the link). In addition, there are some optional texts which you’re welcome to read if you have some spare time.  

Note that this week, you will discuss these readings in-depth at a 1:1 session with your personal mentor.     

Essential readings (expected reading time 1h)

To get started, read ‘Introduction to Effective Altruism' (15 min), which presents an overview of the motivations behind the EA movement. It also introduces the main cause areas. 

Next, read this blog post ‘Doing Good Better: On Effective and Ineffective Altruism' (8 min) by Will MacAskill, a professor of Philosophy at Oxford and one of the founders of EA. He uses anecdotes to explain why the EA approach to philanthropy is important for ensuring the best possible outcomes for our interventions. 

Another prominent figure in the EA movement is Peter Singer, an Australian moral philosopher and professor of Bioethics at Princeton. His ideas have been very influential in EA. In the post ‘The drowning child and expanding circle’ (8 min) you can read his reasoning on how to live an ethical and fulfilling life and see how it motivates the EA approach to giving. 

Next, we will look at a specific concept, ‘Cause neutrality’ (4 min), which is used in evaluating cause areas more rationally, while still respecting an individual's values and ethics. 

Now that you have familiarised yourself with EA, please read through this blog post, FAQs and common objections (8 min), to clear up any questions or uncertainties you might have. Additionally, pay special attention to the section about utilitarianism, as its wider implications will be explored later in the programme. 

Optional readings

This short blog post ‘Importance, tractability, neglectedness framework’ (2 min) introduces the main framework EA uses to evaluate different cause areas. 

This article (30 min) is a great resource for an EA cause areas overview, as it gives a detailed explanation of many of them.  

Some people object to effective altruism on the grounds that it lacks joy or passion. In the blog post ‘Excited Altruism’ (5 min) you can find an EA’s response. 

In the blog post ‘You don’t have to be a utilitarian to be an EA’ (10 min), the author addresses the common misconception that EA is necessarily utilitarian. It highlights the inquisitive nature of the EA movement - fitting EA to individuals, not individuals to EA.