Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Is Effective Altruism "Inherently Utilitarian"?

A recent post at the Blog of the APA claims so.  Here's why I disagree...It's worth distinguishing three features of utilitarianism (only the weakest of which is shared by Effective Altruism):(1) No constraints.  You should do whatever it takes to maximize the good -- no matter the harms done along the way.(2) Unlimited demands of beneficence: Putting aside any intrinsically immoral acts, between the remaining options you should do whatever would maximize the good -- no matter the cost to yourself.(3) Efficient benevolence: Putting aside any intrinsically immoral acts, and at whatever magnitude of self-imposed burdens you are willing to countenance: you should direct your selected resources (time, effort, money) that are allocated for benevolent ends in whatever way would do the most good.EA is only committed to feature (3), not (1) or (2).  And it's worth emphasizing how incredibly weak claim (3) is.  (Try completing the phrase "no matter..." for this one.  What exactly is the cost of avoiding inefficiency?  "No matter whether you would rather support a different cause that did less good?" Cue the world's tiniest violin.)Most of the objections to utilitarianism instead relate to features 1 and 2, which simply do not carry over to EA at all.  So I think it's straightforwardly false and misleading to claim that EA is "inherently utilitarian" or inherits the putative "problematic structural features" of utilitarianism.  (EA is not [More]

Stable Actualism and Asymmetries of Regret

Jack Spencer has a cool new paper, 'The Procreative Asymmetry and the Impossibility of Elusive Permission' (forthcoming in Phil Studies).  I found reading it to be really helpful for clarifying my thoughts on the procreative asymmetry.Back in 'Rethinking the Asymmetry' (CJP, 2017), I argued for two main claims: (i) we have reason to bring good lives into existence, whereas "strong asymmetry" intuitions to the contrary can be explained away; and (ii) the intuition that we should prioritize existing lives is better accommodated by a form of modest partiality towards the (antecedently) actual than by Roberts' Variabilism (or any other strong-asymmetry-implying view).  To avoid incorrectly permitting miserable lives to be brought into existence, I argued, actualist partiality should be supplemented with a principle proscribing the predictably regrettable.To illustrate (borrowing the evocative names from Jack's examples), suppose that Joy will be happy if created, and Misery will be miserable if created.  We can coherently discount Joy's interest in coming to exist, without this consequently generating new grounds for regret (though if we happen to bring her into existence, we may subsequently be extra-happy about this). By contrast, if we create Misery due to discounting her interest in non-existence, her new status as actual undermines the very basis for our prior discounting.  Our decision, in this case, is predictably regrettable, in a way [More]

89 - Is Morality All About Cooperation?

What are the origins and dynamics of human morality? Is morality, at root, an attempt to solve basic problems of cooperation? What implications does this have for the future? In this episode, I chat to Dr Oliver Scott Curry about these questions. We discuss, in particular, his theory of morality as cooperation (MAC). Dr Curry is Research Director for Kindlab, at He is also a Research Affiliate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, and a Research Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, at the London School of Economics. He received his PhD from LSE in 2005. Oliver’s academic research investigates the nature, content and structure of human morality. He tackles such questions as: What is morality? How did morality evolve? What psychological mechanisms underpin moral judgments? How are moral values best measured? And how does morality vary across cultures? To answer these questions, he employs a range of techniques from philosophy, experimental and social psychology and comparative anthropology. You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify and other podcasting services (the RSS feed is here).  #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; } /* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block. We recommend moving [More]