Science | Citizenship | PSHE

The new philosophy you need to know now

Is effective altruism a good idea? Supporters advocate using evidence-based reasoning to maximise good and mitigate long-term threats to humanity. Is this just too neat? US midterm elections are often a dull affair. Turnout is low, and many people use them to give whichever party is in power a good kicking. But this time, in the north-west corner of the country, something more interesting is happening. A young lawyer named Carrick Flynn is running for Congress in Oregon. And he is proposing a new way of doing politics, based on the principles of effective altruism. The effective altruism movement is founded on the principle that each individual has the same worth. As such, we should give to those who are most in need. Followers of the movement seek to maximise the efficiency of their time and money. They assess the relative importance of different charitable causes and donate only to the most important. And they calculate how much of the money they give to a particular charity will actually go towards the cause they favour. Now, Flynn is seeking to bring its ideas to the heart of government. Some are enthusiastic about Flynn’s run. They think his data-driven approach to doing good will help direct Congress towards better outcomes. But it is not always easy to tell at first glance whether one cause is more important than another, or which charities spend their money most effectively. As a result, companies have sprung up to calculate the impact of different causes.  Some ask exactly how much good it does to have so many people dedicated entirely to working out what causes are better than others. Others suggest effective altruism is not really altruistic at all. They think it is wrong to see each individual as an identical unit. It is natural, they say, for human beings to form attachments to particular groups of people, and it is more authentically good for them to help those people. Is effective altruism a good idea? Do-gooder Yes: It is estimated that $46 billion has been donated through effective altruism. Effective altruism encourages people both to think about how to use their money, and to give more. No: Data cannot tell us how to be good people, and people are not identical units of happiness or unhappiness. We should rely on our instincts to tell us how to do good in the world. Or... Only you can decide if you want to do good for a particular cause or work with a certain charity. But effective altruism can help you do the most possible good within that cause.     KeywordsMidterm elections - Elections are held halfway through each US president’s four-year term. All the seats in the House of Representatives and some in the Senate are up for grabs.

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