Solidarity Over Charity: Mutual Aid as a Moral Alternative to Effective Altruism

Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal (forthcoming)
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Effective Altruism is a popular social movement that encourages individuals to donate to organizations that effectively address humanity’s most severe poverty. However, because Effective Altruists are committed to doing the most good in the most effective ways, they often argue that it is wrong to help those nearest to you. In this paper, I target a major subset of Effective Altruists who consider it a moral obligation to do the most good possible. Call these Obligation-Oriented Effective Altruists (OOEAs), and their movement Obligation-Oriented Effective Altruism (OOEA). I argue that insofar as this variety of OOEA seems to commit us to refrain from helping the people right in front of us, there is something intuitively wrong about it. In response, I introduce an alternative model that embraces partiality: Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid is a network of community members, usually from the same geographical region, who share a commitment to offer, receive, and exchange material goods, wealth, and social support. I recommend Mutual Aid as a liberatory model, which—through empathy, solidarity, and care—mobilizes community building and provides a catalyst for community advocacy. As such, we should resist the claims of OOEAs that partially distributing our funds to people or causes we care about is morally wrong or even less than ideal. We do not have a moral obligation to use our funds “effectively;” rather, we have a broader obligation to address human suffering, and Mutual Aid is one moral alternative for discharging this duty.



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Savannah Pearlman
Indiana University, Bloomington

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