Effective Altruism and Systemic Change

Utilitas 31 (3):262-276 (2019)
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One of the main objections against effective altruism is the so-called institutional critique, according to which the EA movement neglects interventions that affect large-scale institutions. Alexander Dietz has recently put forward an interesting version of this critique, based on a theoretical problem affecting act-utilitarianism, which he deems as potentially conclusive against effective altruism. In this article I argue that his critique is not as promising as it seems. I then go on to propose another version of the institutional critique. In contrast to Dietz's version, it targets not the core principles of effective altruism but rather some important methodological assumptions made in EA research, namely diminishing marginal returns and low-hanging fruits. One key conclusion is that it may be time for critics of effective altruism to shift their attention from the theoretical core principles of effective altruism towards the methodological tools actually employed in practice by the EA movement.
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