Earlier this semester, we watched a Ted Talk presentation by Peter Singer, who is a philosopher and author from Australia. Singer started the presentation off by showing the video of a little girl who got run over by a vehicle. The vehicle kept driving and three people passed by the poor little girl as she slowly died. Singer followed this sad scene by asking the audience, “Would you have stopped and helped?” As expected, every single hand shot up in the crowd in agreement. However, Singer criticizes everyone because 19,000 children die each year from poverty-related diseases that could be prevented.
This led to the discussion of effective altruism, which is a philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. One of Singer’s greatest beliefs is that helping more people is better than helping less. As an example, he states that it costs around $40,000 to help a blind man and guide dog be properly trained in America. That same $40,000 could cure 400 to 2,000 people in developing countries with a blind condition. Singer believes the easy answer is that assisting the people in the developing country is more important because it would help more people.
Personally, I do not agree with Singer with this mindset. Helping more people always sounds better on paper, but philanthropy is much more complex than that. If someone close to you became blind, most people’s instinct would be to help them. Singer’s ideology would tell you to avoid helping the person you love and give your money to people you have never met in your life. I believe that effective altruism is important when considering how to put philanthropy into action, but there is no formula for determining who to help.
Effective altruism uses reason to figure out how to help, not who to help. That leaves it to the altruist to decide who they should help according to their own personal judgement. Philanthropy is not measured by the number of people you can reach, but by the quality of impact you are able to make. If you have the opportunity to help someone in crucial need who you love, that takes priority.
Overall, effective altruism can help give you meaning and fulfillment. Whether you are helping a person you are close to or a complete stranger, you will leave feeling good and accomplished.
by Josh Harris ’16