Effective Altruism and Practical Ethics

Trent Eady, Baptiste Cumin, Nick Yeretsian

What should we prioritize: simply welfare, like life and health, or positive freedom and autonomous choice? In this real world ethical exercise, Effective Altruists at McGill (eamcgill.org) will present two charities representing these different values and let the audience decide between them. The charity the audience chooses will receive a large donation using money provided by moral philosopher Peter Singer’s non-profit organization The Life You Can Save.

Audience members will have the opportunity to argue in favour of The Against Malaria Foundation, which saves one human life per roughly $4500 donated by distributing bednets, or GiveDirectly, which gives unconditional money transfers to some of the world’s poorest people. The Against Malaria Foundation saves more lives than GiveDirectly, while GiveDirectly provides people with positive freedom in the form of financial resources and allows them to use those resources however they choose. How do we weigh these outcomes against each other? How do we evaluate the relative importance of welfare, in this case health and life, and freedom? In this exercise, the audience, not the presenters, will decide.

Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979. Print.
Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.
MacAskill, William. Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference. New York, NY: Gotham, 2015. Print.