Effective altruism: Part. 1

If you don’t know what it is, you should.

Essentially, effective altruism is the act of creating the greatest good, for the greatest number of people. We can use research that effectively determines how much it is to save a life, and donate our money accordingly to charities that will save the most amount of people they can with the money they have. How to be an altruist, effectively.

It’s a utilitarian viewpoint, one underpinned with research in order to establish exactly how the money you donate can be used to save the most amount of lives and therefore, morally, make the greatest difference. You might be surprised to learn that giving to an organisation that protects people from Malaria is one of the best ways to do this. According to givewell.org, the Malaria Consortium is the top listed charity, followed by Against Malaria and Helen Keller International.

Based on a book by Peter Singer in 1971 regarding global ethics, the concept of allocating a percentage (and according to Singer, a very large one) to the global poor is a moral obligation of anyone in a position to do so. If you have dispensable income, anything above what you need is to be allocated to a charity like those aforementioned. If you’re reading this, you almost certainly fall into that category.

His philosophy is thus:

‘If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, then we ought, morally, to do it’.[1]  For example, it is of no comparable moral significance for someone to go without a luxurious new piece of clothing, provided they have a set of clothes to wear already, in favour of donating such funds to save people of starvation. Yet, this mild version of his proposition leaves room for error on the grounds of subjectivity, where any person deems what is or is not morally significant for themselves. Singer then strengthens his argument by explaining that we should go far beyond this to provide as much help as possible, to the point of ‘marginal utility’.[2] That is, to the point where it would then begin to impinge on our basic needs. His argument may seem extreme, however Singer attributes this reaction to a lack of significant moral reform amongst Western society, and entrenched views of what it means to be charitable and generous rather than fulfilling a duty of what we morally ought to do. Rather, donating a significant proportion of our income to the global poor is an act to uphold justice and the acceptance of human rights to fulfil our duty to the impoverished. It is not to be mistaken for an act of charity, which would be a supererogatory act (one that is above the accepted call of duty). Instead, it is a duty that we ought to perform and a right that the impoverished of the world have to receive.  

For a little perspective…

Credit: Ourworldindata.org

For more wholesomeness from the man himself, check out this video.

Some useful websites to explore:



[1] P. Singer, ‘Famine, Affluence and Morality’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 3, 1972, p. 6, < https://d2l.deakin.edu.au/d2l/le/content/913448/viewContent/5086497/View>, accessed 3 September 2020.

[2] Singer, op. cit., p.5.