Doing Good Better
Effective Altruism and How You Can Make a Difference
Do you care about making the world a better place? Perhaps you buy ethical products, donate to charity or volunteer your time in the name of doing good. But how often do you know what impact you really have?
In my book, I argue that many ways of making a difference achieve little, but that, by targeting our efforts on the most effective causes, we each have an enormous power to make the world a better place.
Learn more here.
Hi! I'm Will MacAskill, the CEO and cofounder of the Centre for Effective Altruism and an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Oxford University. I helped to create the effective altruism movement: the use of evidence and reason to help others by as much as possible with our time and money.
Through Giving What We Can, the Centre encourages people to commit to give at least 10% of their income to the most effective charities; so far we've raised over $800 million in lifetime pledged donations. Take the pledge here. :) The Centre also runs over 100 effective altruism local groups, hosts regular effective altruism conferences, and does research into high-impact policy and philanthropic opportunities.
I also cofounded 80,000 Hours, a YC-backed non-profit that provides research and advice on how you can best make a difference through your career.
My academic research is on the fundamentals of effective altruism, with a particular focus on how to act given moral uncertainty.
For speaking engagements and press inquiries, please contact Emma Gray-Starcevic.
For a full list of papers, see my Academia profile.
The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 113, no. 9 (September, 2016), pp. 1-21
I argue that meta decision theory has two important implications. First, it can explain the apparent divergence in our intuitions between the Standard Predictor, The Smoking Lesion, and The Psychopath Button. Second, it undermines both the intuitive argument in favor of EDT and, to some extent, the “Why Ain’cha Rich?” argument as well.
Mind, vol. 125, no. 500 (October, 2016), pp. 967-1004
I develop an analogy between decision-making under normative uncertainty and the problem of social choice, and then argue that the Borda Rule provides the best way of making decisions in the face of merely ordinal theories and intertheoretic incomparability.
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, vol. 17, no. 2 (April, 2014), pp. 269-283
I defend the idea that deliberately pursuing a lucrative career in order to donate a large proportion of one's earnings is typically ethically preferable to a career within the charity sector.
Ethics, vol. 123, no. 3 (April, 2013), pp. 508-520
I introduce a new problem for 'maximise expected value' accounts of decision-making under moral uncertainty: that, given non-zero credence in theories that posit large amounts of incomparability, the expected value of almost all options is undefined.
DPhil dissertation, March, 2014
What ought you to do when you don't know what you ought to do? I argue broadly in favour of the idea that we should treat moral uncertainty and empirical uncertainty analogously, with expected utility theory providing the correct formal framework. I provide some modifications to this idea in order to overcome some problems, and then chart its implications for practical ethics and decision theory.
Cofounder and President
80,000 Hours was founded in October 2011 to help people like you use the 80,000 hours you’ve got in your career to make a difference: we provide life-changing one-on-one career coaching to exceptional individuals, produce in-depth research on the careers that do the most to solve the world’s most pressing problems, and have a global community of like-minded world-changers.
Giving What We Can is an international society dedicated to eliminating poverty in the developing world. Our members come from many different walks of life, but are united in the belief that global poverty is one of the most important problems in the world today, and in the desire to do something about it. We see that our comparative wealth can prevent a significant amount of suffering if only we allow it to do so, and thus we have each taken the Pledge to Give: we will give at least 10% of our incomes to wherever we think it will do the most to relieve suffering in the developing world.
December 4, 2015
“Couple decides to give majority of their earnings to charity” is hardly a headline that you’d expect people to take umbrage at. But when you replace “couple” with “Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan,” suddenly everyone goes crazy.
December 2, 2015
The birth of their first child has prompted the Facebook tycoon and his wife Priscilla Chan to announce a $45bn charitable foundation. William MacAskill and Deborah Orr respond to the news.
December 2, 2015
Mark Zuckerberg and his partner Priscilla Chan announced yesterday that over the course of their lifetime they will donate 99% of their Facebook shares, currently valued at $45 billion, to their newly formed charitable foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
November 19, 2015
Donations to human charities dwarf those to animal charities. But the money we get could be used more effectively if people weren’t so sentimental about pets.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
November 17, 2015
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that nothing you do ever really matters. In a world still plagued by war, poverty and devastating natural disasters, you might believe that no one person can actually make a difference. But you’d be wrong.
October 9, 2015
Julia Wise is a social worker and her husband, Jeff Kaufman, is a software engineer. In 2013, their combined income was just under $245,000, putting them in the top 10% of US households. And yet, excluding taxes and savings, they lived on just $15,280, or 6.25% of their income.
September 25, 2015
As Peter Hurford entered his final year at Denison University, he needed to figure out what he was going to do with his life. He was 22, majoring in political science and psychology. He knew he wanted a career that would both be personally satisfying and would make a big difference to the world, but he had no idea where to start.
The Washington Post
September 10, 2015
We shouldn’t decry those earning to give. In the eyes of these people, there’s a catastrophe happening every day: 20,000 children dying from poverty, even though it costs just $3,500 to save one. In that context, asking “Will I be a better person if pursue this career?” rather than “Will I do the most good?” seems like moral narcissism.
August 28, 2015
Don't follow passions. Instead ask yourself: If you were to invest the time, how good would you become at this career, compared to other careers you might choose?
August 17, 2015
We asked more than 100 subjects to guess which of these 10 interventions we described would help, which would have no effect, and which would do harm. If they couldn’t guess any better than a chimpanzee choosing at random, we would expect them to get three or four out of 10 correct on average (because there are three options). In reality, people got four out of 10 — just a tiny bit better than chance. One person managed eight out of 10, and nobody did better than that.
August 3, 2015
An interview with Dylan Matthews about what effective altruism is, and why it suggests that getting a PhD in economics or starting a tech company could be better for the world than going to work for a charity.
July 28, 2015
Language pedants aren’t the saviors of the English language: more often than not, they are the ones doing the murdering.
August 18, 2014
The ice bucket challenge is a symbol for much that’s wrong with contemporary charity: a celebration of good intentions without regard for good outcomes. It is iconic for what I call donor-focused philanthropy—making charitable giving about the giver, rather than about those who need help.
August 14, 2014
Via the ice bucket challenge, celebrities and the general public have fun and receive publicity; at the same time, millions of dollars are raised for a good cause. It’s a win-win, right? Sadly, things are not so simple.
August 1, 2013
Modern-day philanthropy is merely a means of buying indulgences: giving those who created problems such as global poverty an easy conscience and a better brand. The mega-philanthropists makes themselves out to look like altruists, but really it’s all a facade, serving to hide the world’s real need for deep, systemic change. Or so says Warren Buffet’s son, Peter Buffett, in an op-ed for the New York Times.
June 5, 2013
One of the most basic concepts in science is that correlation does not imply causation—even though it is sometimes highly suggestive of it. For example, in post-war Germany, as the stork population fell, so did the human birth rate. But as I was deeply troubled to learn, storks do not cause babies—rather, economic growth led to both destruction of stork habitat, and to declining fertility rates. So it goes with vegetarianism and longevity.
May 16, 2013
Homeopaths Without Borders (HWB) has provided homeopathic care and education in Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Sri Lanka. Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, it has focused efforts there, too. Besides minor ailments, HWB also treats malaria, typhoid, cholera, dengue fever, advanced diabetes, and educates about the “beneficial effects” of these treatments. Laugh or cry? I can’t decide.
April 18, 2013
“Follow your passion” is the stupidest career advice I’ve ever heard. Why? Because my passion in life is for singing bad karaoke. My friend Dodgy Dave’s passion is for dealing crack cocaine. Some of my friends have many passions. Most of my friends have none.
April 3, 2013
There’s a formula to the typical business book: look at some successful companies, analyze them, make some true generalizations of those companies, and then advise others to do the same. The trouble is, this is basically useless.
March 5, 2013
More than 50% of Americans think the woman should be legally required to take her husband’s name in heterosexual marriages. The reason typically given is that having the same name increases a sense of family identity. But why should that mean that the woman takes the man’s name in heterosexual marriages.
February 27, 2013
Few people think of finance as an ethical career choice. Top undergraduates who want to “make a difference” are encouraged to forgo the allure of Wall Street and work in the charity sector. And many people in finance have a mid-career ethical crisis and switch to something fulfilling. Yet, while researching ethical career choice, I concluded that it’s in fact better to earn a lot of money and donate a good chunk of it to the most cost-effective charities—a path that I call “earning to give.”