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Corrupting Effectiveness: Utilitarianism and Moral Impartiality toward Future Persons in Pragmatic Evaluation of Altruistic Interventions.

Scheyer, Peter (2019) Corrupting Effectiveness: Utilitarianism and Moral Impartiality toward Future Persons in Pragmatic Evaluation of Altruistic Interventions. [Preprint]

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Abstract

In recent years billions of philanthropic dollars have been deployed through a movement and philosophy known as Effective Altruism, notably through the organizations Open Philanthropy, GiveWell, Good Ventures, and the over 3,200 persons taking the ‘Giving What We Can’ pledge to limit their personal income and donate the remainder to charity. Effective Altruism, or EA, explicitly aims to ‘use evidence and reasoning to determine the most effective ways to benefit others.’
Within the EA community there are competing viewpoints on how to evaluate effectiveness, which forms of evidence and reasoning are best, and several leading philosophers with their own adherents and value systems. The discussions surrounding the employment of these viewpoints can grow heated, with one commenter complaining that ‘Effective Altruism markets itself as being centered on addressing global poverty, when in fact it is centered on manipulating people into believing in the imaginary AI doomsday.’
This complaint highlights a major schism within EA. On one side is the empirical evaluation of existing altruistic interventions according to their own internal justifications - the attempts to judge the most effective way to solve current issues like global poverty, using hard data and statistics. On the other side is the a logically based rationalist effort to determine undervalued new interventions, bring them appropriate funding, and potentially solve issues which are ignored by mainstream altruism.
From within the community, these two parts of the current EA community are often considered two sides of the same coin. Extrapolations of techniques used to evaluate current interventions often provide the justification for attempting new interventions, and can highlight areas worth a closer examination or the allocation of more funding.
Over time, a single paradigm has come to dominate many of these extrapolations, leading to the complaint above. Nicholas Beckstead, a program officer at Open Philanthropy, laid out the argument underpinning this paradigm in a 2013 doctoral thesis titled ‘On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future.’ The argument in this thesis, which we will call the Far Future Trillions Argument (FFTA), is central to many of the most heated discussions in how to best employ the billions of dollars of the Effective Altruism.
After careful consideration it is our reasoned opinion that the Far Future Trillions Argument and its resulting recommendations, while internally coherent and defensible, are not within the remit of a movement characterized by the use of evidence in determining the effectiveness of altruistic interventions. This overall conclusion is based on seven separate arguments.
The first argument is based on empirical evaluation of foreign aid interventions, and concludes that characteristics of the FFTA are inimical to effective interventions. Our second and third arguments conclude that the FFTA lacks certain characteristics of pragmatic models, and requires empirically fallacious methodological assumptions to connect far future outcomes with present interventions. Fourth and fifth, we argue that the purely rationalist, philosophical nature of the FFTA divorces it from evidence in a way that inherently foils the determination of the effectiveness of interventions based upon it. Our sixth and seventh arguments take issue with the ongoing privileged employ of the version of utilitarianism and moral impartiality toward future persons used in the FFTA and its offshoot justifications, asserting that the inclusion of a full and wider scope of normative justifications is necessary for pragmatic modeling.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Scheyer, Peterpscheyer@gmail.com0000-0003-0680-2664
Keywords: Effective Altruism, Utilitarianism, Applied Rationality, Philosophy of Altruism, Pragmatism, Deontology, Virtue Ethics
Subjects: General Issues > Logical Positivism/Logical Empiricism
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > Science vs. Pseudoscience
General Issues > Thought Experiments
Depositing User: Peter Scheyer
Date Deposited: 08 Jan 2019 02:56
Last Modified: 08 Jan 2019 02:56
Item ID: 15565
Subjects: General Issues > Logical Positivism/Logical Empiricism
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > Science vs. Pseudoscience
General Issues > Thought Experiments
Date: 6 January 2019
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/15565

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