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Philosophical discussion of utilitarianism understandably focuses on its most controversial features: its rejection of deontic constraints and the “demandingness” of impartial maximizing. But in fact almost all of the important practical implications of utilitarianism stem from a much weaker feature, one that I think probably ought to be shared by every sensible moral view. It’s just the claim that it’s really important to help others. As Peter Singer and other effective altruists have long argued, we’re able to do extraordinary amounts of good for others very easily (e.g. just by donating 10% of our income to the most effective charities), and this is very much worth doing.It’d be helpful to have a snappy name for this view, which assigns (non-exclusive) central moral importance to beneficence. So let’s coin the following:Beneficentrism: The view that promoting the general welfare is deeply important.Clearly, you don’t have to be a utilitarian to accept beneficentrism. You could accept deontic constraints. You could accept any number of supplemental non-welfarist values (as long as they don’t implausibly swamp the importance of welfare). You could accept any number of views about partiality and/or priority. You can reject ‘maximizing’ accounts of obligation in favour of views that leave room for supererogation. You just need to appreciate that the numbers count, such that immensely helping others is immensely important.Once you accept this very basic claim, it seems that you should probably be pretty enthusiastic about effective altruism. Not making any claims about “obligation” here, but just in terms of fittingness: we should care about what’s important, and effective altruism basically just is the attempt to put beneficentrism into practice, i.e. to act upon what we’ve just agreed is deeply important. (Of course, you might have any number of empirical disagreements with other effective altruists. . .

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