Key Terms & Jargon

Core Ideas

Effective altruism: Effective altruism (EA) is the name of a growing social movement and an idea – based around using evidence and reason to find the most effective possible ways of doing good in the world. An effective altruist is someone who identifies with and tries to act according to the principles of Effective Altruism.

Cost-effectiveness: The cost-effectiveness of a charitable intervention simply refer to how much good it does with a certain amount of resources. The cost-effectiveness of a donation to a charity typically refers to how much good the donation does on the margin e.g. if you donate $100 to a charity, how much extra impact will be produced.

Impartiality: Impartiality is the valuing of all lives equally, independent of location, age, gender, etc.

Cause-neutrality: One is cause-neutral if one chooses where and how to help (e.g. which charity to donate to), only based on how much doing so would help. That is to say, one does not have a “pet cause.”

Prioritization: Cause areas can be evaluated in terms of their scale (how large is the problem and how much would it help to solve it), tractability (how easy is it to make progress) and neglectedness (how many resources are already dedicated to this problem) . Counterfactual reasoning: Counterfactual reasoning looks at how much impact an action has relative to what would have happened otherwise. Your counterfactual impact would then be the amount of extra good done through your action.

Leveraging donations: Sometimes, charitable donations can be leveraged to increase their effect. For example, instead of donating $1000 to charity, one might use the $1000 to hold a fundraiser event which results in the donation of more than $1000.

Philosophy

Consequentialism: Consequentialism is the view that the rightness of an action depends only on its consequences, that is whether the states of the world it causes are good or bad. Most effective altruists are consequentialists. Moral philosopher and effective altruist Thomas Pogge is one notable exception; he subscribes to a deontological system of ethics (one in which people have duties to do or not do certain actions).

Utilitarianism: Utilitarianism is a particular consequentialist moral theory, which states that an act is good or bad according to the extent to which it increases happiness and decreases suffering. Other variants of utilitarianism, such as preference utilitarianism, seek to maximise the satisfaction of people’s preferences, whether or not this leads to pleasure.

Population ethics: Population ethics asks questions such as whether it is better to bring about a larger total amount of happiness in the world (e.g. by having a higher population that is less happy) or a smaller population who are happier on average, and whether we ought to count causing new happy people to be born in the future as equally important as making people who currently exist happy. Population ethics is a source of significant disagreement among philosophers in general and effective altruists.

Rationalism: Rationalism is an approach to improving one’s thinking and an associated community, interested in studying cognitive biases, statistics.

Earning to give: Earning to give refers to the practice of choosing a career not for its direct impact but for its salary, and then donating a significant portion of this salary to effective charities. Earning to give can sometimes be more effective than direct work, through your donations allowing others to do more good than you would directly.

Pledge (GWWC & TLYCS): Many effective altruists sign pledges to donate a significant portion of their incomes to charity. Members of Giving What We Can pledge at least 10% of their income to the charities they believe to be the most effective. TLYCS has a similar pledge. A more general pledge is available at http://effectivealtruismhub.com/donations.

X-Risk: An existential risk is a danger that is global in scope and terminal in intensity. That is, it threatens to “either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.” Examples include severe climate change, nuclear warfare, and unfriendly artificifial intelligence.

Meta-EA: A meta-EA charity is an organization which contributes indirectly by seeking to build the effective altruism movement or increase its efficiency. Examples include GiveWell, CEA, TLYCS, and MIRI.

More on EA

organizations

AMF : Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) is a non-profit organization that finances the distribution of long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets (LLINs) in areas with a high incidence of malaria, mainly in Africa. GiveWell has recommended the AMF as the best charitable organization on several occasions. As of 2017, GiveWell has estimated that it costs the AMF approximately $ 4.22 to distribute a LLIN and $ 3,000 to save the life of a child under the age of 5.

Animal Charity Evaluators is studying the most effective ways to reduce non-human animal suffering. Since many non-human animals live in extremely distressing conditions on industrial farms, animal suffering could be a very effective altruistic cause.

CEA : The Center for Effective Altruism (CEA) is a coalition of projects related to effective altruism. This organization also leads the Global Priorities Project and other special projects and educates the public about effective altruism.

Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR) organizes 4-day workshops on (no surprises here) rationality. They often give big discounts to efficient altruists, and many people say they benefit from their workshops.

Charity Science Foundation : In operation in Canada, Charity Science raises funds and makes grants to effective charities with high impact with a focus on poverty and overall health. They advise donors who seek to maximize their impact, conduct experiments on fundraising methods.

Effective Altruism Ventures is a venture capital fund designed to incubate projects that create a lot of social value.

FHI : The Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) is a research center in Oxford that is a leader in existential risk research. The main fields of research of the FHI are global catastrophic risk, applied epistemology, the increase of human beings and future technologies.

GiveWell : GiveWell is a non-profit organization that assesses charities to find exceptional donation opportunities. In particular, GiveWell is looking for charities that provide solid evidence of their impact-per-dollar and their ability to use more funding, and that can demonstrate their reliability and transparency. GiveWell recommends only a few charities at a time, and these recommendations inform donations from many successful altruists.

MIRI : The Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “ensure that the creation of forms of intelligence superior to human intelligence has a positive impact.” The main activity of MIRI is to conduct research on topics such as: How can a machine reason coherently about its own behavior? What is better formalization for decision-making under uncertainty? How can we specify the goals of an AI to make sure it matches our intentions, even if the AI ​​changes itself? Which AI interventions are most beneficial?

Raising for Effective Giving , an EAF project, encourages touring poker players to donate 2% of their winnings (sometimes tens of millions) to an effective charity.

Rethink Charity , formerly known as .impact, manages a range of EA initiatives that facilitate bottom-up interpersonal engagement. Initiatives include LEAN (an effective local altruism network), an EA hub (EA Hub), a student group for high impact charity (SHIC) and RC Forward (the first Canadian fund to channel agnostic donations to the cause for high impact charities).

SCI : The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) is a non-profit organization that works with local ministries of health in sub-Saharan Africa to treat children and adults at risk for schistosomiasis and other parasitic worms. GiveWell recommended SCI as a leading charity and, in 2013, estimated the cost of deworming a child at $ 0.80, with SCI paying around 70% of these costs (see “Leverage and Donations”) .

TLYCS : The Life You Can Save is a non-profit organization founded by the philosopher Peter Singer. It promotes effective giving – with an emphasis on reducing poverty and economic inequality – through public awareness. TLYCS seeks to create local groups of knowledgeable donors and a global online community, and encourages individuals to sign their charitable donation pledge.

80K : 80,000 Hours is an organization that offers free, one-on-one career counseling to people looking to use their careers to do the most good in the world. 80K also publishes general research on the social impact of careers on its website.

Several organizations focus on the existential risk and the distant future of humanity. The Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) , the Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) , and the Future of Life Institute (FLI) use the tools of mathematics, philosophy and science to research questions general on the future of humanity.

In addition, many authors and other sites have interesting material on effective altruism, some of which can be found here.