Criticism of Effective Altruism

For the past few years I’ve found myself thinking more and more about the ideas contained in the Effective Altruism movement, and as that has happened I’ve also found it reasonable to try and find arguments against it in an attempt to not be mistaken about those ideas leading to good.

Criticism I agree with

So far I’ve not found much compelling criticism, I found one point by my algorithms professor Thore Husfeldt in a Goodreads review that has stayed with me:

[…] The perspective is welcome, but also very narrow—it seems to me that there are other (also entirely neglected) disciplines such as moral psychology and political philosophy that should also be brought to the table. […]

It should be noted that I’ve found people bringing up similar points in verbal conversation, and I’ve yet to find a good response to this. But as a lazy excuse toward the wider field of social science: making predictions in social science is hard and making QALY estimates is easier.

As someone completely unfamiliar with moral psychology and political philosophy I won’t try to make any attempts at adressing the relevant issues within those disciplines. But I welcome perspectives on EA from these areas.

Criticism I don’t agree with

Effective Altruism is a cult/religion

This in my opinion a cheap blow. It is said that every cause wants to be a cult and as Elizer states therein:

Every group of people with an unusual goal—good, bad, or silly—will trend toward the cult attractor unless they make a constant effort to resist it. You can keep your house cooler than the outdoors, but you have to run the air conditioner constantly, and as soon as you turn off the electricity—give up the fight against entropy—things will go back to “normal”.

It would seem to me that effective altruists, following their own ideals, should not care much about being seen as a cult or religion until it hurts them. While this argument is parroted from time to time, I’ve found that people even outside the EA movement don’t tend to find it very compelling (but still surely has a somewhat negative effect on their view of EA).

An example of this argument in the wild: including a response by Julia Galef.