In Dominic Roser, Stefan Riedener & Markus Huppenbauer (eds.), Effective Altruism and Religion: Synergies, Tension, Dialogue. Nomos. pp. 17-45 (2022)

Calvin Baker
Princeton University
This article considers the contemporary effective altruism (EA) movement from a classical Indian Buddhist perspective. Following barebones introductions to EA and to Buddhism (sections one and two, respectively), section three argues that core EA efforts, such as those to improve global health, end factory farming, and safeguard the long-term future of humanity, are futile on the Buddhist worldview. For regardless of the short-term welfare improvements that effective altruists impart, Buddhism teaches that all unenlightened beings will simply be reborn upon their deaths back into the round of rebirth (samsāra), which is held to be undesirable due to the preponderance of duhkha (unsatisfactoriness, dis-ease, suffering) over well-being that characterizes unenlightened existence. This is the samsāric futility problem. Although Buddhists and effective altruists disagree about what ultimately helps sentient beings, section four suggests that Buddhist-EA dialogue nonetheless generates mutually-instructive insights. Buddhists – including contemporaries, such as those involved in Socially Engaged Buddhism – might take from EA a greater focus on explicit prioritization research, which seeks knowledge of how to do the most good we can, given our finite resources. EA, for its part, has at least two lessons to learn. First, effective altruists have tended to assume that the competing accounts of welfare converge in their practical implications. The Buddhist conception of the pinnacle of welfare as a state free from duhkha and, correspondingly, the Buddhist account of the path that leads to this state weigh against this assumption. Second, contrasting Buddhist with effective altruist priorities shows that descriptive matters of cosmology, ontology, and metaphysics can have decisive practical implications. If EA wants to give a comprehensive answer to its guiding question – “how can we do the most good?” – it must argue for, rather than merely assume, the truth of secular naturalism.
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References found in this work BETA

Effective Altruism.Theron Pummer & William MacAskill - 2020 - International Encyclopedia of Ethics.
Effective Altruism: How Big Should the Tent Be?Amy Berg - 2018 - Public Affairs Quarterly 32 (4):269-287.
The Philosophical Core of Effective Altruism.Brian Berkey - 2021 - Journal of Social Philosophy 52 (1):93-115.
Effective Justice.Roger Crisp & Theron Pummer - 2020 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 17 (4):398-415.

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