I’m crossposting this as an example of someone teaching EA concepts in an academic setting, so that I can tag it for later reference. I don’t know when this was last taught, so it may not be up-to-date.
Phil 250: Changing the World
We tend to lead with our hearts when trying to do good. This means we focus on causes that are familiar and local, and we don’t think very hard about which causes matter the most, or try very hard to measure how much of a difference we are actually making.
In this course, we will consider the most pressing global problems, thinking rigorously about how to compare their moral significance as well as their tractability. And we will evaluate how we can best use our own comparative advantage to make greatest possible difference.
We will focus on four areas of concern: (i) global health and poverty, (ii) animal welfare, (iii) environmental preservation, and (iv) the long-term survival of human civilization. Our conceptual tools will be drawn from a variety of disciplines. We will use moral philosophy to help us think about which issues we should care about most; and we will evaluate the efficacy of interventions by drawing from economics, sociology, environmental science, and development studies.
The overarching ethical question will be: what are the most important global causes? This raises many more specific ethical questions, like:
Should we care more about people who live nearby than those who live far away? How can we compare the value of various human goods—for example, bodily health and political freedom?
Which animals should we care about, and how much? Do species matter in addition to individual animals? What about ecosystems? What is our goal in preserving the natural world?
Do the lives of present people matter more than the lives of future people, especially those in the distant future? How much should we care about the possibility that humans could go extinct?
The overarching practical question will be: what are the most effective things we can do? This also breaks down into many questions, such as:
How effective are various efforts to improve global health and poverty? What are the comparative benefits, going forward, of improving technology, education, healthcare, and social institutions around the world?
How much do farmed and wild animals suffer? What are the most effective ways to reduce animal suffering? What steps can we take to protect the environment with our lifestyles and resources?
What are the most significant threats to the long-term survival of human civilization? How can we best ensure that technological advances are safe and beneficial?
And finally, for all of these causes, how can a single individual make the most difference on the margin with a career, volunteer work, or donations?
1. The Question of the Course
Singer, The Drowning Child and the Expanding Circle
2. Global Inequality & Marginal Utility
MacAskill, Doing Good Better, ch. 1
Hillebrandt, Median GDP per capita
Check out the How rich am I? calculator
3. Motives for Altruism
Singer, Famine, Affluence, and Morality
Soares, Altruistic Motivations
I. How to be less wrong about the world
Manley, Reason Better, ch. 2 (use “anonymous guest access”)
5. What Most Lives are Like
6. Fear & Media Bias
Rosling, Factfulness, ch. 4
7. Roots of Apathy 1: Historical Pessimism
Rosling, Factfulness, ch. 2 & 3
Here are the Lancet infographics
8. Roots of Apathy 2: Typical Effectiveness
9. Roots of Apathy 3: Scope Insensitivity
10. Roots of Apathy 4: Neglecting the Future
Roberts, Discount Rates
II. Some important global problems
11. Measuring Badness
MacAskill, Doing Good Better, ch. 2
12. Communicable Disease
Recommended: IHME’s Global Disease Burden tool
13. Gender Disparities in Global Poverty
Hoijmakers, excerpts from Women’s Empowerment Cause Area Report
14. Air Pollution
15. Factory Farming
Anomaly, What’s wrong with factory farming?
Excerpts from The illogic of the larder
Optional: Huemer, The conscience of a human being
Optional: Klein, The moral status of animal suffering (reply to Huemer)
16. Micronutrient Deficiency
Ritchie and Roser, Micronutrient Deficiency
17. Limits to Free Movement
Clemens, Don’t close the golden door (link doesn’t work on the mobile app)
Optional: Clemens, Economics and emigration
Optional: CDG Policy Brief, Migration is what you make it
18. Existential Risk
Halstead, excerpts from Existential Risk Cause Area Report
III. How can we do the most good?
20. Measuring Effectiveness
MacAskill, Doing Good Better, ch. 4 & 5
Other readings TBA
21. Poverty Traps and Health
Banerjee and Duflo, Poor Economics, chs 1 & 3
22. Consumer Choices, Collective Action
MacAskill, Doing Good Better, ch. 6 & 8
Wagner, Cold, Hard Economics
23. Careers, Part 1
24: Careers, Part 2