Toon alles (3)

Peter Singers logica van effectief altruïsme

6 juni 2017, 18:00
Effectief altruïsme verbreedt je morele horizon, volgens Peter Singer
Effectief altruïsme verbreedt je morele horizon, volgens Peter Singer
Wat is de logica van ‘effectief altruïsme’ eigenlijk? Die vraag beantwoordt Peter Singer in een uiterst boeiend artikel dat in juli 2016 gepubliceerd werd op het online forum van de Boston Review over politiek en literatuur. Singer, door The New Yorker betiteld als 'de invloedrijkste, levende filosoof', is een van de gedachtevaders van deze stroming in de ‘praktische ethiek’ en was afgelopen weekeinde in Utrecht om de Nederlandse stichting EAN te helpen lanceren.

The logic of effective altruism’ door Peter Singer*

I met Matt Wage in 2009 when he took my Practical Ethics class at Princeton University. In the readings relating to global poverty and what we ought to be doing about it, he found an estimate of how much it costs to save the life of one of the millions of children who die each year from diseases that we can prevent or cure. This led him to calculate how many lives he could save, over his lifetime, assuming he earned an average income and donated 10 percent of it to a highly effective organization, such as one providing families with bed nets to prevent malaria, a major killer of children. He discovered that he could, with that level of donation, save about one hundred lives. He thought to himself, “Suppose you see a burning building, and you run through the flames and kick a door open, and let one hundred people out. That would be the greatest moment in your life. And I could do as much good as that!”

Two years later Wage graduated, receiving the Philosophy Department’s prize for the best senior thesis of the year. He was accepted by the University of Oxford for postgraduate study. Many students who major in philosophy dream of an opportunity like that—I know I did—but by then Wage had done a lot of thinking about what career would do the most good. Over many discussions with others, he came to a very different choice: he took a job on Wall Street, working for an arbitrage trading firm. On a higher income, he would be able to give much more, both as a percentage and in dollars, than 10 percent of a professor’s income. One year after graduating, Wage was donating a six-figure sum—roughly half his annual earnings—to highly effective charities. He was on the way to saving a hundred lives, not over his entire career but within the first year or two of his working life and every year thereafter.

Wage is part of an exciting new movement: effective altruism. At universities from Oxford to Harvard and the University of Washington, from Bayreuth in Germany to Brisbane in Australia, effective altruism organizations are forming. Effective altruists are engaging in lively discussions on social media and websites, and their ideas are being examined in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even the Wall Street Journal. Philosophy, and more specifically practical ethics, has played an important role in effective altruism’s development, and effective altruism shows that philosophy is returning to its Socratic role of challenging our ideas about what it is to live an ethical life. In doing so, philosophy has demonstrated its ability to transform, sometimes quite dramatically, the lives of those who study it. Moreover, it is a transformation that, I believe, should be welcomed because it makes the world a better place.

Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can.
Most effective altruists are millennials—members of the first generation to have come of age in the new millennium. They are pragmatic realists, not saints, so very few claim to live a fully ethical life. Most of them are somewhere on the continuum between a minimally acceptable ethical life and a fully ethical life. That doesn’t mean they go about feeling guilty because they are not morally perfect. Effective altruists don’t see a lot of point in feeling guilty. They prefer to focus on the good they are doing. Some of them are content to know they are doing something significant to make the world a better place. Many of them like to challenge themselves to do a little better this year than last year.

Effective altruism is notable from several perspectives. First, and most important, it is making a difference to the world. Philanthropy is a very large industry. In the United States alone there are almost one million charities, receiving a total of approximately $200 billion a year, with an additional $100 billion going to religious congregations. A small number of these charities are outright frauds, but a much bigger problem is that very few of them are sufficiently transparent to allow donors to judge whether they are really doing good. Most of that $200 billion is given on the basis of emotional responses to images of the people, animals, or forests that the charity is helping. Effective altruism seeks to change that by providing incentives for charities to demonstrate their effectiveness. Already the movement is directing tens of millions of dollars to charities that are effectively reducing the suffering and death caused by extreme poverty.

*gepubliceerd op 6 juli 2016 op het forum van Boston Review
gerelateerde items