A Useful Distinction: Card-Carrying Effective Altruists Versus Philosophical Effective Altruists
Equating these two things leads to confusion and error
Suppose one thinks the following two things.
Everything that has ever been done by an effective altruist is bad.
One should do good as effectively as possible.
Would this person be an effective altruist? It’s not clear. On the one hand, they are broadly not on board with the effective altruist movement. On the other, they support the philosophical underpinning of EA.
I think we need two separate terms; card-carrying effective altruists and philosophical effective altruist. A philosophical effective altruist is one who thinks that, on a philosophical level, one ought to try to do good as effectively as possible. A card-carrying effective altruist is one who does things that are endorsed by most effective altruists—e.g. donating to the against malaria foundation, working in an effective careers, perhaps going to EA meetups.
Failing to distinguish these things results in confusion. For example, people will often criticize EAs by arguing that, for example, the against malaria foundation doesn’t do much good. Putting aside the truth of the claim, this certainly isn’t an argument against philosophical effective altruism. But it is a good reason to not be a card-carrying effective altruist.
Imagine that one was a socialist ideologically, but they thought that all actually existing socialist parties were dangerous. It would be useful to think of them as being a philosophical socialist, in that they want socialism, but not a card-carrying socialist. After all, they’re opposed to every actually existing socialist movement.
Getting clear on this can allow us to deal with critiques of EA in a less confused and more systematic way. For example, if one criticizes actually existing EA, we can say, “okay, but do you agree with the philosophical case for it?” If they do, then we can discuss the best ways to do good, if they’re right. Even if they don’t think EA is good, as long as they’re on board with the philosophy, there will no doubt be some orgs that they support that they think are doing good.
So, when someone criticizes things that the EA movement is doing, we shouldn’t dismiss it as not criticizing EA, because EA is just the philosophy. We should note that it’s a criticism of actually existing EA and, if correct, a reason to oppose some of the things that EA is doing.
This is good, but I'm not sure how useful. How can anyone, *in good faith*, tar all of EA with one brush? Like dismissing all concerns about cruelty to animals because some vegans are assholes.