Effective Altruism

Effective altruism is built on the simple but unsettling idea that living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good one can. In this course you will examine this idea's philosophical underpinnings; meet remarkable people who have restructured their lives in accordance with it; and think about how effective altruism can be put into practice in your own life.

About The Course

Effective altruists not only care about doing good, they care about doing the most good they can. Effective altruists take an evidence-backed and unsentimental approach to donating their time and money. In this course we discuss the underlying idea of effective altruism, as well as the practical implications of it.

The course starts by addressing global poverty. Are we doing something wrong if we do not help those who lack basic necessities like food, water and medicine? Is there a morally relevant difference between the suffering we can see nearby, and the suffering that is far away? You will hear two distinct arguments for why we have a duty to alleviate poverty, as well as some challenges to those arguments. We will also discuss the effectiveness of foreign aid, how to assess a charity’s effectiveness, and how to choose between different causes. 

Effective altruism is not only an abstract idea, but a growing social movement. We have invited a number of guests to this class to talk about the role that effective altruism plays in their lives—what motivates their giving; how they have made major life decisions like choosing a career; and how they balance obligations to their families with the responsibility to strangers. They also talk about the possibility of living less selfishly and what brings purpose and happiness to their lives. Some of our guests have agreed to be guest moderators in the discussion forums, so you will have a chance to ask them questions and hear their answers.

This course will also challenge you to apply what you have learned by participating in a Giving Game. Together with your fellow students you will evaluate the effectiveness of four different charities. The charity that wins, will receive $1000. This is not pretend money, but real dollars that therefore can do some real good. 

We will wind up the course by circling back to some foundational questions in ethics. What is the relationship between rationality, self-interest and ethics? How demanding is morality, and why exactly should we try to live an ethical life?


Frequently Asked Questions

Does Princeton University award credentials or reports regarding my work in this course? 

No, no credentials, statements of accomplishment, or other credentials will be awarded in connection with this course.

Recommended Background

You do not need a background in philosophy to take this course.