The Effective Altruism website defines EA as: “We use evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on.” The Introduction to Effective Altruism post in our forum also says: “It is a research field which uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible.”
So I guess this is more or less considered the definition of EA. But as I read more about EA, I am beginning to feel like this definition may be insufficient. It looks like the EA focus splits across two schools of thought—Evidence-based giving and hits-based giving. But this definition seems like it is all about Evidence-based giving. It feels like the ‘GiveWell-ness’ of it all is represented but what about the ‘OpenPhil-ness’?
This exclusion of hits-based giving from the definition seems problematic since 80000hours.org (one of the top 5 ways through which people actually find EA) considers Expected Value thinking (the foundation of Hits Based giving if I understand it correctly) as one of the key ideas of EA. But then you see the definition and it is not really there. In addition, the incompleteness of the definition could also make it difficult for someone to see why EA does GCR work, in my opinion. Please correct me if I am wrong but it feels like GCRs doesn’t necessarily have high-quality evidence for why we should work on it but Expected Value thinking is what really makes it worth it.
I had only mentioned two sources of definitions above. But there could be more that I may have missed. If you know of more please mention them in the comments/answers and I will add them to this list:
Effective altruism is: (i) the use of evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to maximize the good with a given unit of resources, tentatively understanding ‘the good’ in impartial welfarist terms, and (ii) the use of the findings from (i) to try to improve the world.