2017 Uehiro Lectures
Effective Altruism and the Needy (TBC)
We are pleased to announce that the 2017 Annual Uehiro Lectures in Practical Ethics will be delivered in November 2017 by Professor Larry Temkin of Rutgers University.
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad Street, Oxford
For many years, I have argued, professionally, that those of us who are in a position to do so, must do much more than we typically do to help the world's needy. Moreover, personally, I have been a continuous supporter of international relief or development aid since my childhood. I have been honored to speak on behalf of a number of Effective Altruism organizations, and to help launch two chapters of Giving What We Can. Despite all that, I have some concerns about the Effective Altruism Movement that, until now, I have been reluctant to express publically, for fear that doing so would aid the forces of parochialism, selfishness, apathy, and skeptical resignation that dominate much of the world, when it comes to the matter of aiding the world’s needy. Still, philosophers have an obligation to pursue the arguments wherever they lead, and to not be blinded by their ideological commitments, however deeply held or longstanding. Accordingly, in these lectures I want to explore several worries, some theoretical and others practical, that I have regarding the Effective Altruism Movement.
My concerns will revolve around three related issues. First, I will challenge the implicit starting point of many Effective Altruists, that when it comes to the matter of international aid the sole question to be addressed is "How can we do the most good with whatever resources we spend on such aid?" Second, many Effective Altruists have been heavily influenced in their thinking by Peter Singer's famous pond example. I want to consider several variations of that example, and in so doing challenge the relevance and implications of Singer's original example for the real-world contexts in which aiding the needy arises. Third, I want to suggest that many Effective Altruists fail to take seriously important worries that have been raised about international relief efforts, and in so doing they abandon the expected utility/cost-effectiveness approach that serves as the philosophical underpinnings of their view, in favor of their pre-theoretical intuitions and commitments regarding who we should be helping most among the world’s needy. Ultimately, I shall suggest that the Effective Altruism Movement reflects an important concern that we need to bear in mind in thinking about the needy, but that other competing concerns must also be borne in mind, and that, in any event, the concern in question may actually support policies other than those that many Effective Altruists in fact support.
Larry S. Temkin is Distinguished Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He graduated number one from the University of Wisconsin/Madison (B.A.-Honors Degree, 1975), before pursuing graduate studies at Oxford University (1978-79), and Princeton (Ph.D., 1983). Temkin's book Inequality (Oxford University Press, 1993), was hailed by critics as "brilliant and fascinating," "an extraordinary achievement," and as "one of the most important six or seven
contributions to analytical political philosophy in the … whole of [the twentieth] century." His book Rethinking the Good: Moral Ideals and the Nature of Practical Reasoning (Oxford University Press, 2012) has been described as a "tour de force," "a genuinely awe-inspiring achievement," and "an utterly original work of philosophy, almost breathtakingly so." Temkin has lectured extensively worldwide, including for the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (funded by the Gates Foundation), and his individualistic approach to inequality has been adopted by the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation in their measurements of the Global Burden of Disease. Temkin has received fellowships from Harvard University's Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, All Souls College Oxford, the National Institutes of Health, the Australian National University, the National Humanities Center, the Danforth Foundation, and Princeton University’s Center for Human Values, where he was the Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching. He is also the recipient of eight major teaching awards. Temkin will be a Visiting Fellow at Corpus Christi College in Hilary Term 2018.