Upcoming Dialogues

What Good Is Effective Altruism?: A Conversation on Charitable Giving, Reason, and Goodness

Monday, December 11th 2017, 7:00-9:00pm

“All lives have equal value.”
—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 

“UNICEF reports that in 2011, 6.9 million children under five died from preventable, poverty-related diseases. UNICEF thinks that that’s good news because the figure has been steadily coming down from 12 million in 1990. That is good. But still, 6.9 million is 19,000 children dying every day. Does it really matter that we’re not walking past them in the street? Does it really matter that they’re far away? I don’t think it does make a morally relevant difference. The fact that they’re not right in front of us, the fact, of course, that they’re of a different nationality or race, none of that seems morally relevant to me. What is really important is, can we reduce that death toll? Can we save some of those 19,000 children dying every day?”
—Peter Singer

“We want to give people more power to live the life they want to live. It’s a consequentialist moral framework. Justice as an end in itself, liberty as an end in itself — those aren’t things we’re interested in.”
—Holden Karnofsky of GiveWell

“The optimum population is modeled on the iceberg — eight ninths below the water line, one ninth above.”
—The Controller, Mustapha Mond, in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, ch. 16

If you had $8 billion and wanted to do as much good as you could, what would you do? More importantly, what should  you do? A growing movement of ethicists, philanthropists and economists would suggest that you should donate your funds as strategically as possible, so as to efficiently achieve the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people possible. Why fund an American homeless shelter that serves hundreds when, with the same amount of money, you can provide malaria medication to thousands in Africa? Why donate $10 a month to NPR when you could inoculate an entire village against Dengue fever at the same cost? This school of thought, often called Effective Altruism, is guiding the giving of many of today’s greatest philanthropists, not least Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett.

But is it anything more than Utilitarianism on algorithmic steroids? Does this calculated way of moral reasoning run roughshod over real moral duties we have towards friends, family, and neighbors (not to mention God and country)? Does it leave out of account real goods such as those that are fostered by the creative and performing arts? Might this humanitarian moral calculus ironically call for inhumane actions?

If you’re a STEM graduate student at New York University, you are cordially invited to join us Monday evening, November 6th to grapple with these questions and more over hors d’oeuvres and wine. Email us at socratichappyhour@gmail.com for location details and to RSVP.

For further details email our admin.


This Socratic Happy Hour dialogue is part of our ongoing SCI+FAI project, which seeks to foster deeper conversations around the big questions in science and religion. These dialogues are sponsored by Fuller Theological Seminary’s STEAM Project (Science & Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries), the John Templeton Foundation, and InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries.

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