Effective Altruism

Peter Singer’s book, The Most Good You Can Do, is all about what he has termed effective altruism. He writes about individuals who seek ways in which they can have the greatest possible positive impact in the world because they feel compelled to help others.  These effective altruists, as he has named them, are secular individuals driven by compassion and a true understanding of themselves and the assistance they have received to live a comfortable life. The self awareness required to become an effective altruist helps individuals see the challenges that others face on a global scale, and drives effective altruists to aid those who are the least fortunate on our globe.


Singer describes effective altruists as being individuals who donate large amounts of money to charities that they have researched as being the most influential and impactful in the lives of those the charity is established to assist.  Singer explains that a common thread is the idea of living quite modestly to focus the most of ones resources towards the most effective charity possible. Many effective altruists will seek high paying positions and salaries because they understand that by earning more, they will be able to funnel more resources back towards those who are in the most need.  Combining these traits, Singer explains effective altruism with the following definition, “a philosophy and social movement which applies evidence and reason to working out the most effective ways to improve the world.”


The effective altruists that Singer explains are not limiting their impact to local causes and efforts and they are not donating to charities just because they have a good campaign video.  A system has been established around effective altruists to guide them in the best direction to do the most good possible with their money. The charities that they often support are well researched and spend most, if not all, of the money and resources they receive on the programs they implement. Often times the charities are in poorer countries where one dollar can go further, and where simple measures can be taken to actually save a life.  One of the charities that Singer mentions in his book is a charity that provides bed nets to people in Africa. Since a single bed net can protect from mosquitos and malaria, a small donation can save the lives of multiple people and help keep farmers and families healthy. It is hard to find a comparable charity in the United States or elsewhere where a donation of roughly $100 can help save an actual life.


For me the main glue that holds effective altruists together is the idea of moral secularism that requires individuals to be self aware enough to see that they have a responsibility to assist those less fortunate than themselves.  I believe that any effective altruist would be able to explain that they relied on the luck of being born into a good family or the luck of having people to support them on their journey to arrive at a place where they have some wealth and can live modestly.  They are called to action because moral decisions are socially derived, and by changing their perspective they can chose not to compete with others to acquire the most goods, but rather to do the most good.