I would say that depends slightly on the circumstances. If for example you are a single parent and need $100 to spend on medicines for your children (even if it is for a non life-threatening condition), I would say that you need to fulfill that obligation before you should consider donating to AMF.
Thanks Darius! I agree that this is probably one of the strongest arguments against my model; what I gather from your reply is that we don’t need other moral theories since everything can already be explained by utilitarianism.
I agree with you that some sort of a consequentalist moral theory probably underpins the other moral theories (why should we be virtuous if it didn’t have a good consequences?). However—I think this is not giving enough credit to those theories, since if their moral prescriptions are correct according to utilitarianism, the theories themselves should be considered correct.
To take another example from physics: of course we know that quantum mechanics is more fundamental than classical mechanics (classical mechanics is the limit of quantum mechanics at large scales). This doesn’t mean that people consider classical mechanics “just quantum mechanics with some heuristics”—it is considered to be a field in its own right. The reason is that at the physical scale at which classical mechanics becomes useful, quantum mechanics becomes too cumbersome to use. Students who are asked to calculate the motion of a ball down an inclined plane don’t start with quantum mechanics, they go directly to classical mechanics, which is infinitely more useful for solving problems at that scale.
My argument is that at certain scales, virtue ethics and deontology should be considered emergent moral theories, either from utilitarianism or some other theory. But this doesn’t mean that they are “just utilitarianism with some heuristics”. They should be studied and practiced in their own rights, since the insights they give are more useful for how to live our daily lives or how we should structure a society. If utilitarianism + heuristics is just virtue ethics at some scale, why not just call it virtue ethics and use utilitarianism to justify why it is correct at that scale?
Thanks! I have only recently started thinking about it in terms of scale so I am mainly basing it on my own intuitions (I am also not a philosopher, so not sure if I would be able to formalize the arguments). However, if I were to try to make a prescriptive version I would probably start by saying that we have obligations to each other (i.e. like parents have obligations to their children), and at each “scale” or population size, some of these obligations cancel out (a state doesn’t have obligations to a particular child but to its children in general). At the largest scale, the only obligation left is to preserve life itself, which is why utilitarianism works so well here.
Nice post. Your friend wrote that
“Lately, I’ve been having an alarming amount of conversations arise about the burdens of loneliness, alienation, rootlessness, and a lack of belonging that many of my peers feel, especially in the Bay Area”,
which made me wonder if there are geographical areas or cities in the western world that have a particularly high level of connection and community? Maybe those cities could be studied and promising cultural characteristics be spread to other cities and communities?
Thanks for posting! I have an analytic background and have therefore found it particularly useful to shore up on “soft skills” from books like:
Working with emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman
Daring greatly, Brené Brown
The wilderness, Brené Brown
I also read articles and listen to podcasts from Harvard Business Review on emotional intelligence, leadership, and management.
Thanks for your comments Aaron and Lukas. From my own experience, I have definitely encountered more people with an always-working mentality within EA than outside it. Anectodally, almost all the people (~ 10) I have met who seriously consider meal replacements as adequate alternatives to home cooked food have been EAs. This might be an inverse causal effect (ambitious people might like the EA concept more than others), but it is still problematic if people feel the need to constantly optimize themselves and work harder due to the social pressure within EA.
Thanks for your comment, and I think you are correct on the mechanism of action. I have noticed that my own productivity has gone up since I started giving myself more unproductive time every day, as I am more able to focus and feel less distracted by thoughts. But it only works when I allow the unproductive time to be truly for myself, and not spent thinking about how this will make me more productive.
I think productivity is highly emphasized both within EA and within the wider society, especially in the context of work and studies. There is not nearly the same amount of emphasis placed on unproductive downtime and its value for our mental and physical well-being. I think that if most of our productive “output” comes over a long-term career, we need to value our own time more.
Another way of thinking about it is that being highly productive is not in itself a virtue, a bit like driving 150 km/h on the highway in a random direction doesn’t necessarily take you to where you need to go! So I would say its probably better to be driving a bit slower and taking lots of breaks along the way to check that you are going in the right direction.
Thanks for sharing, and thanks to everyone for adding their own perspectives to this discussion. I would like to offer my view, which is informed by having gone through difficult periods myself.
I think its a mistake to get too involved with the view that getting a job in an EA org is the only way to make a difference in the world, or indeed to ourselves. In order to stay healthy I think we need to realize that there are other things that matter in the world than EA, such as our relations and our wellbeing. If we get too emotionally attached to the idea of making a huge, cosmic difference to the world by working at an EA org, we can get carried away and forget that we also have a responsibility towards ourselves. As an added benefit, if we take care of ourselvces we are happier, more resilient, can take on more risk, and more willing to work towards a long-term goal, all of which are good personality traits to eventually have higher impact in life.