Doing Good Better

How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference

by William MacAskill

Number of pages: 272

Publisher: Avery

BBB Library: CSR and NGO

ISBN: 9781592409105

About the Author

William MacAskill is a Scottish philosopher and notable figure within the effective altruism movement. He is a tutorial fellow in philosophy at Lincoln College, Oxford.


Editorial Review

Most people want to make a difference in their lives and you’re probably no exception. However, good intentions can all too easily lead to bad outcomes. The challenge for us is: When we try to help others, how can we ensure that we do so as effectively as possible? How can we ensure that we avoid accidentally causing harm, and succeed in having the greatest positive impact we can?

Book Reviews

“ Doing Good Better has plenty of surprising examples like these. MacAskill convincingly demonstrates ways in which the Fairtrade and anti-sweatshop movements could end up doing more harm than good.” – The Guardian

“In Doing Good Better, MacAskill sets out the thinking behind effective altruism. His main claim, familiar from the utilitarian tradition out of which the movement emerges, is that we should seek not only to do good, but to do the most good we can.” – London Review Books

“MacAskill sketches some of the ideas ethical altruists have developed to compare charities, ethical consumerism, career choice, and the hard-to-quantify issues of climate change, criminal justice reform, international labor mobility, and factory farming.” – The New Social Worker

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Wisdom to Share

When we try to help others, how can we ensure that we do so as effectively as possible?

Many people believe that altruism should denote sacrifice, but if you can do good while maintaining a comfortable life for yourself, that’s a bonus, and I’m very happy to call that altruism.

Determining whether something is effective means recognizing that some ways of doing good are better than others.

There are literally billions of potential recipients of our help. Each one is a worthy beneficiary, someone who has a real problem and whose life could be made better by our actions.

In order to make comparisons between actions, we need to ask: How many people benefit, and by how much? This is the first key question of effective altruism.

If we want to do as much good as we can, we need to think about what the consequences of our actions will be.

In the context of helping others, the difference between a good use of money and a great use of money is huge.

Maximizing expected value is generally regarded as the best strategy for making decisions when you know the value and the probabilities of each option.

Thinking explicitly about expected value is important because humans are often terrible at assessing low-probability high-value events.

In cases where people seem to neglect the risks of worst-case outcomes, helping to prevent these outcomes might be a particularly effective altruistic activity.

Earning to give enables you to start having a significant position impact via the very most cost-effective organization right from the beginning of your career.

If you can get one person to make the same changes you make, you’ve doubled your impact.