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Welcome to the Giving Thought Podcast, a bi-weekly exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society from the Charities Aid Foundation’s in-house think-tank, Giving Thought.

In each episode your host Rhodri Davies (formerly with co-host Adam Pickering) explores a big issue, theme or trend and analyses what it means for philanthropy and civil society around the world.

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Jul 23, 2019

In episode 54, we take a look at Effective Altruism. Why has this approach to philanthropy based on utilitarian philosophy gained so many admirers - and so many critics - over the last few years? Including:


-What is Effective Altruism (EA)?

-How is it informing new approaches to philanthropy?

-Why are so many tech philanthropists EA advocates?

-Could the emergence of data-driven, AI approaches to philanthropy put EA in the driving seat?

-What is the historical lineage of Utilitarian thinking?

-What role did religion play in giving birth to the idea that philanthropy needs to be effective?

-How did the Charity Organization Society and the Scientific Philanthropy movements take this idea forward, and are they the intellectual forebears of EA?

-What, if anything, is genuinely new about EA?

-Is EA merely theoretical because it doesn't reflect how philanthropy actually works or what motivates donors?

-Does the focus on outcomes come at the expense of other considerations such as justice, democracy or individual agency?

-Do EA metrics favour short-term, tangible interventions over longer-term campaigns for social change?

-Does EA dictate working within existing structures and systems, rather than driving the reforms to those structures and systems that many believe are needed for real change?

-Does EA lead to a bias against local giving in favour of giving overseas? And can this have unintended consequences in terms of how other perceive us?

-Existential threats and "Pascal's Mugging"


Related Content

EA organisations:

The History of Utilitarianism & Rationality in Philanthropy

  • The History of Utilitarianism”, Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
  • Peter Singer’s seminal paper “Famine, Affluence & Morality
  • Schneewind, J.B. (1996) “Philosophical Ideas of Charity: Some Historical Reflections” in Schneewind (ed) Giving: Western Ideas of Philanthropy
  • Roberts, M.J.D. (1998) “Head vs Heart: Voluntary Associations and Charity Organization in England, c. 1700-1850” in Cunningham & Innes (eds) Charity, Philanthropy and Reform: From the 1690s to 1850
  • William Rathbone’s memoir Social Duties
  • Simey, M (1992) Charity Rediscovered: A Study of Philanthropic Effort in 19th Century Liverpool


Criticism of Effective Altruism