A (Very) Strongly Worded Criticism of Effective Altruism

Today in class, we talked about the concept of effective altruism. In a simple sense, effective altruism calls for the public to realize that major problems such as poverty plague our world today, and we should take action to mitigate/resolve these problems. In his TED talk, world renowned effective altruist Peter Singer makes the claim that we should aim to reduce poverty in the world by donating money to charities he deems as legitimate. Having watched his TED talk, I was convinced that the effective altruism movement was plausible. However, I stumbled upon an interesting article published late last year in which the authors harshly criticize effective altruism and even go as far as to refer to it as “defective altruism.” In this article (link below), the authors point out that effective altruism is not at all effective at what it aims to do. That is, they claim that one should not be motivated to donate to a charity simply because one has been told to do so; rather, they should do so based on facts and should “be informed and see their donation as an investment.” In the authors’ words, “Being an informed donor means using facts to help make a giving decision, and looking beyond the slogans and the emotion triggered by appeals.” The authors believe that donating to a charity because of “emotions triggered by appeals” defeats the purpose of effective altruism, because such an action cannot be considered altruistic (since an altruistic act is one that is done out of selfless concern for others and independent of outside influence). Could they be right in their criticism?

Source: http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/the_elitist_philanthropy_of_so_called_effective_altruism

20 thoughts on “A (Very) Strongly Worded Criticism of Effective Altruism

  1. I believe that altruism is the selfless desire to help others, and that altruism is most effective when it is based on an informed decision to help what the person knows will have a lasting effect. For example, a family sending money to a foreign country could help the people of that country, or it could simply become lost in the process of donation. The family considers themselves altruists for this deed, but the habitants of the country would disagree. Therefore, their altruism is not necessarily effective. In essence, I agree with your interesting upheaval of the ideas embedded in effective altruism!

  2. They could be right in their criticism because people sometimes donate money to impress others and just for selfish reasons. Although they donate money, it isn’t a completely altruistic act because of their reasons behind donating. For the example Kevin mentioned, I agree that it isn’t effective but wouldn’t it still be altruistic because even though they didn’t receive the money, the family still decided to send the money.

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