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Virtue ethics
& Effective Altruism:
What can EA learn
from virtue ethics?
MIKKO KANGASSALO
EA TAMPERE, TOPICAL DISCUSSIONS, APRIL 12, 2024
The goal
 Give some insight into:
What normative ethics do Effective
Altruists (EAs) subscribe to?
What is utilitarianism?
What is virtue ethics?
What can EAs learn from virtue ethics?
General lessons
Example case: Sam Bankman-Fried
Six(+) virtues for EAs
What is cosmopolitan virtue ethics?
Basics: Areas of ethics
Area Interested in Example question
Metaethics The nature of moral
claims, meaning of
moral terms.
”How should we understand:
’good’, ’bad’, ’right’, ’wrong’,
’duty’, ’justice’… ?”
Normative
ethics
Description and
justification of moral
principles and rules.
”What kind of moral
principles should people aim
to act/live in accordance with?”
Applied ethics Solving moral problems
by applying the theories
of normative ethics.
”What should we think/do
about: euthanasia, abortion,
environmental protection,
eating meat, war… ?”
Descriptive
ethics
The empirical nature of
our moral thinking,
beliefs, and actions.
”How does morality in fact
show up in human thinking
and action?”
Basics: Areas of ethics
Area Interested in Example question
Normative
ethics
Description and
justification of moral
principles and rules.
”What kind of moral
principles should people aim
to act/live in accordance with?”
Applied ethics Solving moral problems
by applying the theories
of normative ethics.
”What should we think/do
about: euthanasia, abortion,
environmental protection,
eating meat, war… ?”
 Effective Altruism
 Interested in applying ethics to effectively solve other-
regarding moral problems in the world
 Applying ethics implies normative ethics that are being
applied
 Choices between theories of normative ethics is implied
Basics: Three views of normative ethics
Primary ethical concern:
ACTOR ACTION CONSEQUENCES
Virtue Ethics Deontology Consequentialism
Focus:
Character of the
actor; virtues and
vices; eudaimonia.
Focus:
Universalizability of
the action; duty;
imperatives/rules.
Focus:
Consequences of
the action.
Aristotle
(ancient Greece)
384–322 BCE
Immanuel Kant
(Enlightenment era
Germany)
1724–1804
John Stuart Mill
(Enlightenment era
England)
1806–1873
Statistics
 Among Effective Altruists
(2019):
Consequentialism and utilitarianism
Primary ethical concern:
CONSEQUENCES
Consequentialism
Focus:
Consequences of
the action.
John Stuart Mill
(Enlightenment era
England)
1806–1873
 Often used synonymously, but…
 Consequentialism is a broad ethical theory
 Judgments of “right” and “wrong” are grounded in the
consequences or outcomes of actions
 The ‘morally right’ act (or omission) is one that produces
a ‘good’ outcome or consequence
 Utilitarianism is a subset of consequentialism
 Positive utilitarianism:
The best action is one that ‘maximizes utility’, where
‘utility’ is usually ~‘well-being or happiness of the greatest
number’ (or ‘preferences of the greatest number’ in
preference utilitarianism)
 Negative utilitarianism:
The best action is one that ‘minimizes disutility’, where
‘disutility’ is usually ~‘suffering of the greatest number’
A primer: Utilitarianism in EA
 Cost-benefit analysis (CBA): Methods for evaluating the social
costs and benefits between alternative lines of action (in
monetary terms), to maximize positive impact
 Particularly notable influence from utilitarianism within EA
 CBA can give us a good idea of:
 How to calculate what I should do (with my resources), if I want to
maximize positive impact?
 What should you do?
 But doesn’t answer:
 How to start and continue doing?
 How to be (while doing)?
 How to improve your habits?
 How to motivate yourself?
 How to relate to other people?
 How to relate to yourself?
 Why should I care about any of this?
 …?
 Same applies to, for example, the ITN framework
Statistics
 Among Effective Altruists
(2019):
 Among philosophers
(2020):
 Exclusive:
 Virtue ethics 25.0%
 Consequentialism 21.4%
 Deontology 19.7%
 Inclusive:
 Virtue ethics 37.0%
 Deontology 32.1%
 Consequentialism 30.6%
 Other 18.2%
Virtue ethics (Aristotle)
 Focus not on action per se
 Not so much “how to do good?” (action)
rather “how to be(come) good?” (character)
 Ultimate goal:
Eudaimonia (flourishing/good life):
 The highest human good, achieved through living a
rational life in accordance with virtue
(i.e., rational activity done well)
 Path to eudaimonia:
Cultivation of character (first nature → second nature)
 Virtues (aretê): Positive traits/states/dispositions of
character that enable one to live rationally
Vices (kakia): Negative traits/states/dispositions of
character that prevent one from living rationally
 Habits (~hexis): Stable traits/states/dispositions of
character, either virtuous or vicious, shaped by consistent
practice
Primary ethical concern:
ACTOR
Virtue Ethics
Focus:
Character of the
actor; virtues and
vices; eudaimonia.
Aristotle
(ancient Greece)
384–322 BCE
Interlude – Two questions
What kind of habits or manners
do you admire in others?
What kind of habits or manners
would you like to improve in yourself?
How can virtues help?
 Virtues: Positive traits of character that
enable one to live rationally
 Character trait: A tendency to act in a
certain way, that can be developed
E.g., honest person tends to instinctively
be honest; compassionate person tends
to be compassionate, etc.
→ Aristotle’s virtue ethics sees cultivation
of virtues – that is, development of
positive character traits into stable,
consistent habits – as what constitutes
the good, flourishing life (eudaimonia)
How can virtues help?
 General reasons to cultivate virtues:
 We often suffer from akrasia: weakness of will, acting (or
omitting) against our better judgement
 Our instinctive reactions and actions are often, upon
reflection, subpar
 Due to temptations, impatience, quick-temperedness,
inconsiderateness, lack of compassion in the moment…
 We seem to underestimate the negative consequences
of unvirtuous traits of character
 Even white lies may cascade into bigger lies, even righteous
anger may breed more anger, not being courageous now
may turn into a lifetime of cowardice…
 Cultivating virtues creates relevant habits that
strengthen our will and improve our instinctive
reactions, and in the process counteract any
negative consequences of unvirtuous character
Two types of virtues (Aristotle)
 Of our “rational” part:
Epistemic virtues (aka intellectual virtues), e.g.:
 Theoretical wisdom(/reason) (sophia)
 Practical wisdom or prudence (phrónêsis)
 Applied wisdom (technê) …
 Of our “irrational” part:
Moral virtues (aka character-related virtues), e.g.:
 Courage
 Justice
 Temperance …
 The four cardinal virtues in antiquity:
 Courage, Justice, Prudence (practical wisdom), Temperance
Primary ethical concern:
ACTOR
Virtue Ethics
Focus:
Character of the
actor; virtues and
vices; eudaimonia.
Aristotle
(ancient Greece)
384–322 BCE
What might EA learn from virtue ethics?
 Under strict utilitarian thinking:
We may answer “how to do good?”
(i.e., what should be the goal of our
actions)
For example:
“study for a good career that aligns
with your interests and skills; for you this
might mean career in X”
“donate to charities that maximizes
well-being; for example, charity Y”
 What might be missing?
 Under virtue ethical thinking:
 We may answer “how to be good?”
(e.g., how should we pursue our goals)
 For example:
“cultivate a diligent character (that every
day does actions to build towards a
career for good that aligns with your
interests and skills)”
“cultivate a compassionate character
(that every day meditates on the suffering
of others so as to motivate a habit of
donating to charities that maximizes
others’ well-being)”
 How to cultivate virtues in character
(e.g., diligence, compassion)?
What might EA learn from virtue ethics?
Cultivation of virtues (Aristotle)
 Epistemic virtues
 Result from being taught, studying, practicing, experience
 One cannot have epistemic virtues “in excess”
 Moral virtues
 Learned through emulation (of exemplars), practice,
habituation, discipline (external: feedback, legislature; internal)
 In time, they become a pleasurable habit
 (Compare to a skill like archery; or “training the moral muscle”)
 Moral virtues found at a situationally & individually varying
“golden mean” between a deficiency and excess
 E.g., the virtue of courage is between the vices of cowardice
(deficiency) and rashness (excess)
 (Situational, individual variation: e.g., temperance and alcohol)
 The role of society, education system, externalities:
 Social context can either support or oppose cultivation of
virtues (e.g., politics, education, upbringing, legislation, health,
wealth, family, friends...)
Main epistemic virtues (Aristotle)
 Theoretical wisdom (sophia)
 Application of reason for the pursuit of
knowledge & understanding for its own sake
 Effectively: (proto-)science
 Practical wisdom (phrónêsis)
 Application of reason to everyday life
 Enables one to deliberate well about what is
good and beneficial for oneself and others,
leading to good decisions and moral actions
(in accordance with moral virtues)
 Sets the practical standard for moral virtues to
follow (i.e., involves the skill to intuitively
perceive where the situational mean for moral
virtues lies, in a given context, for oneself)
Moral virtues (Aristotle)
SPHERE OF ACTION
OR FEELING
EXCESS MEAN: MORAL VIRTUE DEFICIENCY
Fear and confidence Rashness
Courage
in the face of fear
Cowardice
Pleasure and pain
Licentiousness /
self-indulgence
Temperance in the face
of pleasure and pain
Insensibility
Getting and spending
(minor)
Prodigality
Liberality with
wealth and possessions
Illiberality /
meanness
Getting and spending
(major)
Vulgarity /
tastelessness
Magnificence with great
wealth and possessions
Pettiness /
stinginess
Honour and dishonour
(major)
Vanity
Magnanimity with
great honors
Pusillanimity
Honour and dishonour
(minor)
Ambition /
empty vanity
Proper ambition with
normal honors
Unambitiousness /
undue humility
Anger Irascibility Patience/good temper
Lack of spirit /
unirascibility
Self-expression Boastfulness
Truthfulness with
self-expression
Understatement /
mock modesty
Conversation Buffoonery Wittiness in conversation Boorishness
Social conduct Obsequiousness
Friendliness in
social conduct
Cantankerousness
Shame Shyness
Modesty in the face of
shame or shamelessness
Shamelessness
Indignation Envy
Righteous indignation in
the face of injury
Malicious
enjoyment /
spitefulness
+ Justice, that is
built into the act
of practicing all
moral virtues in
relation to other
people; divided
into distributive or
general justice
(~proportionality
according to
contributions or
needs) and
corrective or
special justice
(~fairness in
exchange and
transactions)
Recap: Virtue ethical considerations
of Effective Altruism
 Usual advices often valued in EA:
 “Donate to X, Y, or Z”, “Donate to effective charities”, “Build an
effective career”, “Earn to give”, etc. [for reasons 1, 2, 3]
 But: these do not say anything about how to become a
good person more broadly
 For example, how to make compassion your motivation, instead
of praise and attention (vanity)?
 Or, how to think about your character and habits when following
the usual advices (or to consistently follow them)?
 Or, how to ensure your actions for good consequences do not
backfire due to a bad character/habit?
Case example: Sam Bankman-Fried
(see Harris & MacAskill, 2024)
 Crypto entrepreneur (FTX exchange)
 Identified as an EA, seeming sincere
 Earned to give, donated to effective charities
 Peaked 41st richest American in the Forbes 400
 Very utilitarian, calculative in thinking, neuroatypical
 Committed fraud (either carelessness or calculated risk)
 “Mishandled”/”stole” $8 billion in customer money
 Sentenced to 25 years in U.S. prison
 Caused immense reputational damage for the EA movement
 [Some media figures (falsely) equate SBF with EA]
BUT:
BACKGROUND:
Case example: Sam Bankman-Fried
(see Harris & MacAskill, 2024)
SBF was either recklessly negligent or
a very calculative utilitarian who made
a serious calculation error (or both)
→ Either one may be root cause for failure
Thought about “how to do good?”
→ Aim to maximize utility (earn to give)
Didn’t think about “how to be good (in the
process)?”
→ Cultivate good character and respective habits
What kinds of virtues or virtuous habits would
you have recommended to SBF?
Framing and overlaps
Primary ethical concern:
ACTOR CONSEQUENCES
Virtue Ethics Consequentialism
Focus:
Character of the
actor; virtues and
vices; eudaimonia.
Focus:
Consequences of
the action.
Aristotle
(ancient Greece)
384–322 BCE
John Stuart Mill
(Enlightenment era
England)
1806–1873
 Consequentialism as a form of
virtue ethics?
 It leads to good consequences to
cultivate a good character!
 Virtue ethics as a form of
consequentialism?
 Part of a good character is to pay
attention to consequences (of
actions and traits of character)!
 Problems seem to arise when we
myopically focus on one and
neglect the other: only focusing
on either the actor (character) or
the consequences (of actions)
Risks in reframing virtue ethics in consequentialist terms
 Talk may drift back to mere “consequences” and “utility”; subtly
forgetting the importance of ‘character’, ‘virtues’, ‘habits’, ‘eudaimonia’
 Reasoning may drift back to solely “cost-benefit analyses” [slow thinking];
subtly forgetting the role of (cultivating) ‘practical wisdom’ [skillful, fast,
habitually and experientially honed actions]
 Reasoning to the right action vs. perceiving the right action
 Seeing people as targets for virtues like compassion may drift back to
seeing people merely as factors in an abstract equation of calculative
reasoning
 E.g., do you (or should you) visit a friend in a hospital because you care
about them (via compassionate motivation), or because you performed a
cost-benefit analysis about the act of visiting (overthinking)?
 Also related to maintaining motivation: Mere cost-benefit thinking may not
keep one motivated in the long run. Unlike systematically cultivating the
virtue of compassion for fellow humans (and other sentient beings)
Six virtues for EAs (Schubert & Caviola, 2023)
 Tentatively suggested virtues that could be valued and cultivated
among EAs, based on two rough criteria:
 Importance: should be impactful (according to utilitarian standards)
 Tractability: should be acquirable (psychologically realistic)
Six virtues for EAs (Schubert & Caviola, 2023)
 [1] Effectiveness-focus: Aim to choose the most effective actions
 To combat psychological obstacles: status quo bias, salience bias, biased cause-attachments
 [2] Truth-seeking: Aim to do careful thinking and extensive research to find the most effective
options
 To combat: cognitive biases, motivated reasoning, laziness, unwillingness
 [3] Collaborativeness: Aim to work together to work more effectively (divide labour, share
insights and advice)
 To combat: feeling of compromising one’s own work, pride
 [4] Determination: Aim to be determined in the execution of your plans
 To combat: “intention-behavior gap”, weak executive function, akrasia (weakness of will)
 [5] Moderate altruism: Aim not to share too much of your resources (money, time, etc.)
 To combat: burnout, making EA unattractive for others
 [6] Moral expansiveness: Aim for moral impartiality, making distant beneficiaries (spatially,
temporally, biologically) part of your moral circle
 To combat: narrow moral circle
Six virtues for EAs (Schubert & Caviola, 2023)
 In the process, it helps to:
 Make virtues part of your identity (wanting to be virtuous is the first step!)
 Have a supportive community of virtue – and these virtues in fact seem to
be encouraged among EAs
Some additional
more general virtues for EAs
In my experience, these are also virtues that are often seen among EAs
(though, my sample may have a selection bias based on my interests at EAGx conferences)
 Compassion towards other sentient beings (primary influence: Buddhism)
 Considered open-mindedness in the face of new ideas (Scientific Skepticism)
 Honesty to oneself and others when making evaluations (various influences)
 Humility amidst the sea of information, knowledge claims, and justifications
unexplored (Academic & Scientific Skepticism, Pyrrhonism)
 Integrity in thinking and in endeavours deemed likely impactful (various influences)
 Intellectual curiosity to hear new perspectives and viewpoints (or “scout mindset”,
similar to truth-seeking; Aristotle, Julia Galef, various others)
 Justice when dealing with others (Aristotle)
 Kindness towards other sentient beings (various influences)
 Temperance/Moderation in commitments, communication, and conduct (similarities
to moderate altruism; most ancient Greek traditions)
Why again?
 Cultivating virtues and respective habits…
 strengthens our will
 improves our instinctive reactions
 counteracts any negative consequences
of unvirtuous character
How again?
 Epistemic virtues
 Result from being taught, studying,
practicing, experience
 Moral virtues
 Learned through emulation (of exemplars),
practice, habituation, discipline
 In time, they become a pleasurable habit
A cosmopolitan future?
 So, utilitarianism is not the only ethical game in
town
 And Effective Altruism is not bound by utilitarianism
 But also:
Aristotle’s virtue ethics is not the only game
in the virtue ethics neighbourhood!
 Comparative virtue ethics: Comparing different
traditions
 Fusion virtue ethics: Fusing or combining
elements from different traditions
 Cosmopolitan virtue ethics: Exploring, trying out,
listening and speaking, comparing and
contrasting, and mostly living at the intersection
of different traditions
→ Virtue ethics nomad
→ A useful perspective for a global movement
(like EA)
Possibility space for morals
 Moral ecology: a distinct moral culture
and environment people grow up in
 There are various systematized moral
ecologies
 All of the existing and possible moral
ecologies constitute the possibility
space for morals
 Various differences between traditions
outside of Aristotelianism, like:
 Academic Skepticism, Buddhism,
Confucianism, Cynicism, Daoism,
Epicureanism, Pyrrhonism, Secular Humanism,
Stoicism. . .
[+ various more (mono-/poly)theistic
traditions]
Possibility space for morals
 We can learn a lot from different
traditions:
→ Different theories to ground/evaluate
virtues
→ Different frameworks to work with
virtues
→ Different methods to cultivate virtues
→ Different ways of being in the world
→ Different consequences for human
relations!
→Various forms of overlapping communities
 Some examples on next slides…
1. Vision of eudaimonia 2. ~Moral virtues supporting eudaimonia 3. Methods to cultivate virtues & thus attain eudaimonia
Aristotelianism Rational activity in accordance with virtue
(that serves our telos; final cause or the
highest, ultimate or final good of humans)
The four cardinal virtues: Justice/fairness, temperance,
courage/fortitude, practical wisdom / prudence (plus many
others, with all moral virtues in reference to a situational
‘middle way’ aka “the golden mean”)
Gathering practical wisdom (phronesis) & theoretical
wisdom (sophia), training & habituation, moral
education, following exemplars, just and educative
organization of society
1. Vision of eudaimonia 2. ~Moral virtues supporting eudaimonia 3. Methods to cultivate virtues & thus attain eudaimonia
Aristotelianism Rational activity in accordance with virtue
(that serves our telos; final cause or the
highest, ultimate or final good of humans)
The four cardinal virtues: Justice/fairness, temperance,
courage/fortitude, practical wisdom / prudence (plus many
others, with all moral virtues in reference to a situational
‘middle way’ aka “the golden mean”)
Gathering practical wisdom (phronesis) & theoretical
wisdom (sophia), training & habituation, moral
education, following exemplars, just and educative
organization of society
[Effective
Altruism (EA)]
“Doing good better” Effectiveness-focus, truth-seeking, collaborativeness,
determination, moderate altruism, moral expansiveness (also
habits of mind like humility, kindness, compassion, honesty,
integrity…)
Rationality, science, applied ethical thinking, practicing
psychological self-awareness (and open-mindedness for
methods to mitigate one’s biases, motivated reasoning,
etc.), peer-support, making virtues part of your identity
1. Vision of eudaimonia 2. ~Moral virtues supporting eudaimonia 3. Methods to cultivate virtues & thus attain eudaimonia
Aristotelianism Rational activity in accordance with virtue
(that serves our telos; final cause or the
highest, ultimate or final good of humans)
The four cardinal virtues: Justice/fairness, temperance,
courage/fortitude, practical wisdom / prudence (plus many
others, with all moral virtues in reference to a situational
‘middle way’ aka “the golden mean”)
Gathering practical wisdom (phronesis) & theoretical
wisdom (sophia), training & habituation, moral
education, following exemplars, just and educative
organization of society
Buddhism
(naturalized)
Mitigation (or eradication) of dukkha (~=
unsatisfactoriness, incl. suffering); one might
say ataraxia (~= tranquillity) as attained
through a transformative enlightenment
Esp. the four divine abodes (brahma-vihāras): compassion
(karuṇā), loving-kindness (mettā), sympathetic joy (muditā),
equanimity(-in-community) (upekkhā); also right resolve, right
livelihood, right speech, right action
Mindfulness, meditation, consciously ethical conduct;
more broadly awareness of the Four Noble Truths and
following the Noble Eightfold Path (naturalized)
Confucianism Social harmony as attained by following
social roles and obligations (perhaps also
indirectly resulting in ~ataraxia)
Centrally, the five constant virtues (wǔcháng, 五常) of a junzi:
Benevolence (rén, 仁), righteousness (yì, 义), ritual propriety (lǐ,
礼), practical wisdom (zhì, 智), trustworthiness/fidelity (xìn, 信)
Education/self-cultivation, following exemplars, reflective
practice, ceremonial observance, filial piety (xiào, 孝)
Daoism
(Taoism)
Following the Dao (~ aligning or living in
accordance with the Way/Flow/Path)
The three treasures: compassion (cí, 慈), frugality (jiǎn, 俭),
humility (bù gǎn wéi tiān xià xiān, 不敢为天下先). Also others
implicit in wu-wei (non-action/effortless action): e.g.,
simplicity/minimalism, spontaneity, balance, harmony,
sensitivity (to the state of the flow)
Observance of nature (to understand the natural flow
and patterning one’s life accordingly), meditation (e.g.,
tai chi, qigong), philosophical contemplation (e.g., via
Tao Te Ching), realizing the harmony in the dualistic
contrast between things (yin-yang)
[Effective
Altruism (EA)]
“Doing good better” Effectiveness-focus, truth-seeking, collaborativeness,
determination, moderate altruism, moral expansiveness (also
habits of mind like humility, kindness, compassion, honesty,
integrity…)
Rationality, science, applied ethical thinking, practicing
psychological self-awareness (and open-mindedness for
methods to mitigate one’s biases, motivated reasoning,
etc.), peer-support, making virtues part of your identity
Epicureanism Ataraxia as attained by moderate
hedonism (avoidance of pain, particularly
mental pain)
The four cardinal virtues (developed as a byproduct of habits
of mind like elimination of irrational fears, and appropriate
control of one’s desires)
Practicing the proper understanding of pleasure and
pain
Pyrrhonism Ataraxia as attained by eschewing
dogmatism via epoché (= suspension of
judgment)
The four cardinal virtues (developed as a byproduct of habits
of mind like empiricism; humility; and appearance-
recognition, i.e. recognition of our perception as
appearances)
Right thinking (the Pyrrhonist logos), elimination of
dogmatism, following the Pyrrhonist criteria of action;
also helped by The Ten Modes of Aenisidemus, Five
Modes of Agrippa, and various maxims
[Secular
humanism]
~ Rational, ethical, and just activity in the
pursuit of knowledge, happiness, and
ethical relationships, guided by a
commitment to universal human rights and
dignity
Rationality, compassion and/or empathy, forward-looking
responsibility, equality, respect for diversity
Scientific skepticism, education, critical thinking, activism
and volunteering; also helped by respect for the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, A Secular
Humanist Declaration, Humanist Manifesto III, Declaration
of Modern Humanism, and/or, for example, the Seven
Tenets of the Satanic Temple
Stoicism Ataraxia as attained by living a life of virtue
according to nature, that results in apatheia
(= absence of unhealthy passions)
The four cardinal virtues Journaling, Stoic meditations, reframing, practicing
Buddhism
Stoicism
Simplified example: Anger and “self”/”soul”
Anger
encouraged
Anger
discouraged
Self/soul exists
No self/soul exists
Aristotelianism
(Utilitarianism)
Confucianism
Daoism
Pyrrhonism
(Marxism)
[ChatGPT-4
suggestion]
→ Very different implications on how
we see the world and virtuous/vicious
conduct therein, and how we relate
to ourselves and others
Statistics
 Among Effective Altruists
(2019):
 Among philosophers
(2020):
 Exclusive:
 Virtue ethics 25.0%
 Consequentialism 21.4%
 Deontology 19.7%
 Inclusive:
 Virtue ethics 37.0%
 Deontology 32.1%
 Consequentialism 30.6%
 Other 18.2%
Statistics
 Among Effective Altruists
(2019):
 Among philosophers
(2009 vs. 2020):
 Exclusive (2009 vs. 2020):
 Virtue ethics 18.2% → 25.0%
 Consequentialism 23.6% → 21.4%
 Deontology 25.9% → 19.7%
 Inclusive (only 2020):
 Virtue ethics 37.0%
 Deontology 32.1%
 Consequentialism 30.6%
 Other 18.2%
Conclusion
 Most EAs are currently consequentialists (utilitarians)
 Yet, virtue ethics can help us “do good even better”!
 Helps us to stay good and be good in character, while
pursuing doing good (~virtuous utilitarians, or vice versa)
 Strengthens our will, improves instinctual habits,
counteracts negative consequences of unvirtuousness
 Cosmopolitan virtue ethics can help us map the
possibility space for morals
 Helps us to think about what kind of character, virtues,
and broader system of thinking we might want to cultivate
 Offers many methods for cultivating virtues
 Different things might work for different people, so it helps
you to find out what might work for you (what kind of system
of thinking, what kind of cultivation methods, what virtues)
 Also brings us closer to deep questions of life, like ones about
philosophy of personal identity (self/no-self), value of
different emotions (anger/no-anger), moral responsibility (in
what way/form justified), etc. – that utilitarianism has not
thought about by default, even though what we answer (or
don’t answer) to them can have important consequences!
References:
 On Aristotle’s virtue ethics:
 Aristotle, ., & Reeve, C. D. C. (Ed.). (2014). Nicomachean ethics. Hackett Publishing Company.
 Hursthouse, R., & Pettigrove, G. (2023). Virtue ethics. In E. N. Zalta & U. Nodelman (Eds.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
Fall 2023 Edition. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2023/entries/ethics-virtue/
 Kraut, R. (2022). Aristotle’s ethics. In E. N. Zalta & U. Nodelman (Eds.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2022 Edition.
https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2022/entries/aristotle-ethics/
 Pakaluk, M. (2005). Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: An introduction. Cambridge University Press.
https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511802041
 Saylor.org Academy. (n.d./2010–2024). PHIL103: Moral and political philosophy: Virtue ethics [Course page]. Saylor.org.
https://learn.saylor.org/mod/book/view.php?id=30521&chapterid=6466
 On cosmopolitan virtue ethics:
 Flanagan, O. (2011). The bodhisattva’s brain: Buddhism naturalized. MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/7414.001.0001
 Flanagan, O. (2017). The geography of morals: Varieties of moral possibility. Oxford University Press.
https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190212155.001.0001
 Pigliucci, M., Cleary, S. C., & Kaufman, D. A. (2020). How to live a good life: A guide to choosing your personal philosophy. Vintage
Books.
 My other public summaries of Aristotle’s and other forms of virtue ethics, so far:
 Kangassalo, M. (2019). The epistemic condition for moral responsibility: An examination of the searchlight view, George Sher’s
alternative, and a pragmatic view [Master’s thesis, Tampere University]. Trepo. http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:tuni-201908273031
(specifically see sect. 2.1, 6.6, also notes for sect. 2.1)
 Kangassalo, M. (2021). How habits of media consumption relate to scientific literacy: A quantitative and qualitative analysis
[Master’s thesis, Tampere University]. Trepo. http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:tuni-202109227211 (specifically see sect. 2.2.1)
 Some other general sources referred to:
 Bourget, D., & Chalmers, D. J. (2014). What do philosophers believe?. Philosophical Studies, 170(3), 465–500.
https://philpapers.org/rec/BOUWDP
 Bourget, D., & Chalmers, D. J. (2023). Philosophers on philosophy: The 2020 PhilPapers Survey. Philosophers’ Imprint, 23(1).
https://philarchive.org/rec/BOUPOP-3
 Kangassalo, M. (2023, September). General map of metaethics. Google Drive.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/197Y63gmnT3v7bWAdbBdWYhvZ1p-FWcmN/view
 ~Casual EA-related sources explored on the topic:
 c.trout (2022, December 1). SBF’s comments on ethics are no surprise to virtue ethicists [Forum post]. Effective Altruism Forum.
https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/FydrC9mQgh8YdNTQN/sbf-s-comments-on-ethics-are-no-surprise-to-virtue-ethicists
 Gemma. M. (2023, December 27). When virtue ethics meets Effective Altruism [Blog post]. Folded Papers. Substack.
https://foldedpapers.substack.com/p/when-virtue-ethics-meets-effective (see also a related Reddit thread at
https://www.reddit.com/r/theschism/comments/18rwanz/when_virtue_ethics_meets_effective_altruism/ )
 Panickssery, A. (2022, June 3). Just say no to utilitarianism [Blog post]. Arjun Panickssery. Substack.
https://arjunpanickssery.substack.com/p/just-say-no-to-utilitarianism
 Pontes, A. (2021, January 28). #5 Cultivating virtues is utilitarian [Audio podcast essay]. Ghostless Machine. YouTube.
https://youtu.be/fj5p5WfoVzU (written version at https://medium.com/humanist-voices/cultivating-virtues-is-utilitarian-1b0714f769f1 )
 ~Professional EA-related sources explored on the topic:
 Berkey, B. (2021). The philosophical core of Effective Altruism. Journal of Social Philosophy, 52(1), 93–115. https://doi.org/10.1111/josp.12347
 Dullaghan, N. (2019, December 5). EA Survey 2019: Community demographics & characteristics. Rethink Priorities.
https://rethinkpriorities.org/publications/eas2019-community-demographics-characteristics
 Harris, S. (Host), & MacAskill, W. (2024, April 1). Sam-Bankman-Fried & Effective Altruism: A conversation with Will MacAskill (Episode #361)
[Audio podcast episode]. In Making Sense. YouTube. https://youtu.be/xvemCG8QIaM
 Oakley, J. (2019, January 23). Justin Oakley – Virtue ethics and antimicrobial prescribing policy @ EAGxAustralia 2018 [Video of a conference
presentation]. Effective Altruism Australia. https://youtu.be/V0DzD8mnJI8
 Schubert, S. (2023, June 22). Virtues for Effective Altruists | Stefan Schubert | EAGxCambridge 2023 [Video of a conference presentation].
Centre for Effective Effective Altruism. YouTube. https://youtu.be/Q-mrT4Sb7GQ
 Schubert, S., & Caviola, L. (2023). Virtues for real-world utilitarians. In H. Viciana, A. Gaitán, & F. Aguiar (Eds.), Experiments in Moral and
Political Philosophy, Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003301424 (2022 draft of the Chapter retrieved from PsyArXiv Preprints at
https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/w52zm )
 Wiblin, R. (Host), & Harris, K. (2022, September 8). Andreas Mogensen on whether Effective Altruism is just for consequentialists [Audio podcast
episode]. In The 80,000 Hours Podcast. 80,000 Hours. https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/andreas-mogensen-deontology-and-
effective-altruism/ (especially between 01:08:15–01:13:15)
 Some complementary perspectives I came across while preparing the presentation:
 Chappell, R. Y. (2019). Overriding virtue. In H. Greaves & T. Pummer (Eds.), Effective Altruism: Philosophical Issues, Oxford University Press, pp.
218–226. https://philpapers.org/rec/CHAOV
 EA Lifestyles, & Bill (2023, July 7). Effective Altruism and eastern ethics [Forum post]. Effective Altruism Forum.
https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/HdzcvrDnKnkQ65MW2/effective-altruism-and-eastern-ethics
References:

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Virtue ethics & Effective Altruism: What can EA learn from virtue ethics?

  • 1. Virtue ethics & Effective Altruism: What can EA learn from virtue ethics? MIKKO KANGASSALO EA TAMPERE, TOPICAL DISCUSSIONS, APRIL 12, 2024
  • 2. The goal  Give some insight into: What normative ethics do Effective Altruists (EAs) subscribe to? What is utilitarianism? What is virtue ethics? What can EAs learn from virtue ethics? General lessons Example case: Sam Bankman-Fried Six(+) virtues for EAs What is cosmopolitan virtue ethics?
  • 3. Basics: Areas of ethics Area Interested in Example question Metaethics The nature of moral claims, meaning of moral terms. ”How should we understand: ’good’, ’bad’, ’right’, ’wrong’, ’duty’, ’justice’… ?” Normative ethics Description and justification of moral principles and rules. ”What kind of moral principles should people aim to act/live in accordance with?” Applied ethics Solving moral problems by applying the theories of normative ethics. ”What should we think/do about: euthanasia, abortion, environmental protection, eating meat, war… ?” Descriptive ethics The empirical nature of our moral thinking, beliefs, and actions. ”How does morality in fact show up in human thinking and action?”
  • 4. Basics: Areas of ethics Area Interested in Example question Normative ethics Description and justification of moral principles and rules. ”What kind of moral principles should people aim to act/live in accordance with?” Applied ethics Solving moral problems by applying the theories of normative ethics. ”What should we think/do about: euthanasia, abortion, environmental protection, eating meat, war… ?”  Effective Altruism  Interested in applying ethics to effectively solve other- regarding moral problems in the world  Applying ethics implies normative ethics that are being applied  Choices between theories of normative ethics is implied
  • 5. Basics: Three views of normative ethics Primary ethical concern: ACTOR ACTION CONSEQUENCES Virtue Ethics Deontology Consequentialism Focus: Character of the actor; virtues and vices; eudaimonia. Focus: Universalizability of the action; duty; imperatives/rules. Focus: Consequences of the action. Aristotle (ancient Greece) 384–322 BCE Immanuel Kant (Enlightenment era Germany) 1724–1804 John Stuart Mill (Enlightenment era England) 1806–1873
  • 6. Statistics  Among Effective Altruists (2019):
  • 7. Consequentialism and utilitarianism Primary ethical concern: CONSEQUENCES Consequentialism Focus: Consequences of the action. John Stuart Mill (Enlightenment era England) 1806–1873  Often used synonymously, but…  Consequentialism is a broad ethical theory  Judgments of “right” and “wrong” are grounded in the consequences or outcomes of actions  The ‘morally right’ act (or omission) is one that produces a ‘good’ outcome or consequence  Utilitarianism is a subset of consequentialism  Positive utilitarianism: The best action is one that ‘maximizes utility’, where ‘utility’ is usually ~‘well-being or happiness of the greatest number’ (or ‘preferences of the greatest number’ in preference utilitarianism)  Negative utilitarianism: The best action is one that ‘minimizes disutility’, where ‘disutility’ is usually ~‘suffering of the greatest number’
  • 8. A primer: Utilitarianism in EA  Cost-benefit analysis (CBA): Methods for evaluating the social costs and benefits between alternative lines of action (in monetary terms), to maximize positive impact  Particularly notable influence from utilitarianism within EA  CBA can give us a good idea of:  How to calculate what I should do (with my resources), if I want to maximize positive impact?  What should you do?  But doesn’t answer:  How to start and continue doing?  How to be (while doing)?  How to improve your habits?  How to motivate yourself?  How to relate to other people?  How to relate to yourself?  Why should I care about any of this?  …?  Same applies to, for example, the ITN framework
  • 9. Statistics  Among Effective Altruists (2019):  Among philosophers (2020):  Exclusive:  Virtue ethics 25.0%  Consequentialism 21.4%  Deontology 19.7%  Inclusive:  Virtue ethics 37.0%  Deontology 32.1%  Consequentialism 30.6%  Other 18.2%
  • 10. Virtue ethics (Aristotle)  Focus not on action per se  Not so much “how to do good?” (action) rather “how to be(come) good?” (character)  Ultimate goal: Eudaimonia (flourishing/good life):  The highest human good, achieved through living a rational life in accordance with virtue (i.e., rational activity done well)  Path to eudaimonia: Cultivation of character (first nature → second nature)  Virtues (aretê): Positive traits/states/dispositions of character that enable one to live rationally Vices (kakia): Negative traits/states/dispositions of character that prevent one from living rationally  Habits (~hexis): Stable traits/states/dispositions of character, either virtuous or vicious, shaped by consistent practice Primary ethical concern: ACTOR Virtue Ethics Focus: Character of the actor; virtues and vices; eudaimonia. Aristotle (ancient Greece) 384–322 BCE
  • 11. Interlude – Two questions What kind of habits or manners do you admire in others? What kind of habits or manners would you like to improve in yourself?
  • 12. How can virtues help?  Virtues: Positive traits of character that enable one to live rationally  Character trait: A tendency to act in a certain way, that can be developed E.g., honest person tends to instinctively be honest; compassionate person tends to be compassionate, etc. → Aristotle’s virtue ethics sees cultivation of virtues – that is, development of positive character traits into stable, consistent habits – as what constitutes the good, flourishing life (eudaimonia)
  • 13. How can virtues help?  General reasons to cultivate virtues:  We often suffer from akrasia: weakness of will, acting (or omitting) against our better judgement  Our instinctive reactions and actions are often, upon reflection, subpar  Due to temptations, impatience, quick-temperedness, inconsiderateness, lack of compassion in the moment…  We seem to underestimate the negative consequences of unvirtuous traits of character  Even white lies may cascade into bigger lies, even righteous anger may breed more anger, not being courageous now may turn into a lifetime of cowardice…  Cultivating virtues creates relevant habits that strengthen our will and improve our instinctive reactions, and in the process counteract any negative consequences of unvirtuous character
  • 14. Two types of virtues (Aristotle)  Of our “rational” part: Epistemic virtues (aka intellectual virtues), e.g.:  Theoretical wisdom(/reason) (sophia)  Practical wisdom or prudence (phrónêsis)  Applied wisdom (technê) …  Of our “irrational” part: Moral virtues (aka character-related virtues), e.g.:  Courage  Justice  Temperance …  The four cardinal virtues in antiquity:  Courage, Justice, Prudence (practical wisdom), Temperance Primary ethical concern: ACTOR Virtue Ethics Focus: Character of the actor; virtues and vices; eudaimonia. Aristotle (ancient Greece) 384–322 BCE
  • 15. What might EA learn from virtue ethics?  Under strict utilitarian thinking: We may answer “how to do good?” (i.e., what should be the goal of our actions) For example: “study for a good career that aligns with your interests and skills; for you this might mean career in X” “donate to charities that maximizes well-being; for example, charity Y”  What might be missing?
  • 16.  Under virtue ethical thinking:  We may answer “how to be good?” (e.g., how should we pursue our goals)  For example: “cultivate a diligent character (that every day does actions to build towards a career for good that aligns with your interests and skills)” “cultivate a compassionate character (that every day meditates on the suffering of others so as to motivate a habit of donating to charities that maximizes others’ well-being)”  How to cultivate virtues in character (e.g., diligence, compassion)? What might EA learn from virtue ethics?
  • 17. Cultivation of virtues (Aristotle)  Epistemic virtues  Result from being taught, studying, practicing, experience  One cannot have epistemic virtues “in excess”  Moral virtues  Learned through emulation (of exemplars), practice, habituation, discipline (external: feedback, legislature; internal)  In time, they become a pleasurable habit  (Compare to a skill like archery; or “training the moral muscle”)  Moral virtues found at a situationally & individually varying “golden mean” between a deficiency and excess  E.g., the virtue of courage is between the vices of cowardice (deficiency) and rashness (excess)  (Situational, individual variation: e.g., temperance and alcohol)  The role of society, education system, externalities:  Social context can either support or oppose cultivation of virtues (e.g., politics, education, upbringing, legislation, health, wealth, family, friends...)
  • 18. Main epistemic virtues (Aristotle)  Theoretical wisdom (sophia)  Application of reason for the pursuit of knowledge & understanding for its own sake  Effectively: (proto-)science  Practical wisdom (phrónêsis)  Application of reason to everyday life  Enables one to deliberate well about what is good and beneficial for oneself and others, leading to good decisions and moral actions (in accordance with moral virtues)  Sets the practical standard for moral virtues to follow (i.e., involves the skill to intuitively perceive where the situational mean for moral virtues lies, in a given context, for oneself)
  • 19. Moral virtues (Aristotle) SPHERE OF ACTION OR FEELING EXCESS MEAN: MORAL VIRTUE DEFICIENCY Fear and confidence Rashness Courage in the face of fear Cowardice Pleasure and pain Licentiousness / self-indulgence Temperance in the face of pleasure and pain Insensibility Getting and spending (minor) Prodigality Liberality with wealth and possessions Illiberality / meanness Getting and spending (major) Vulgarity / tastelessness Magnificence with great wealth and possessions Pettiness / stinginess Honour and dishonour (major) Vanity Magnanimity with great honors Pusillanimity Honour and dishonour (minor) Ambition / empty vanity Proper ambition with normal honors Unambitiousness / undue humility Anger Irascibility Patience/good temper Lack of spirit / unirascibility Self-expression Boastfulness Truthfulness with self-expression Understatement / mock modesty Conversation Buffoonery Wittiness in conversation Boorishness Social conduct Obsequiousness Friendliness in social conduct Cantankerousness Shame Shyness Modesty in the face of shame or shamelessness Shamelessness Indignation Envy Righteous indignation in the face of injury Malicious enjoyment / spitefulness + Justice, that is built into the act of practicing all moral virtues in relation to other people; divided into distributive or general justice (~proportionality according to contributions or needs) and corrective or special justice (~fairness in exchange and transactions)
  • 20. Recap: Virtue ethical considerations of Effective Altruism  Usual advices often valued in EA:  “Donate to X, Y, or Z”, “Donate to effective charities”, “Build an effective career”, “Earn to give”, etc. [for reasons 1, 2, 3]  But: these do not say anything about how to become a good person more broadly  For example, how to make compassion your motivation, instead of praise and attention (vanity)?  Or, how to think about your character and habits when following the usual advices (or to consistently follow them)?  Or, how to ensure your actions for good consequences do not backfire due to a bad character/habit?
  • 21. Case example: Sam Bankman-Fried (see Harris & MacAskill, 2024)  Crypto entrepreneur (FTX exchange)  Identified as an EA, seeming sincere  Earned to give, donated to effective charities  Peaked 41st richest American in the Forbes 400  Very utilitarian, calculative in thinking, neuroatypical  Committed fraud (either carelessness or calculated risk)  “Mishandled”/”stole” $8 billion in customer money  Sentenced to 25 years in U.S. prison  Caused immense reputational damage for the EA movement  [Some media figures (falsely) equate SBF with EA] BUT: BACKGROUND:
  • 22. Case example: Sam Bankman-Fried (see Harris & MacAskill, 2024) SBF was either recklessly negligent or a very calculative utilitarian who made a serious calculation error (or both) → Either one may be root cause for failure Thought about “how to do good?” → Aim to maximize utility (earn to give) Didn’t think about “how to be good (in the process)?” → Cultivate good character and respective habits What kinds of virtues or virtuous habits would you have recommended to SBF?
  • 23. Framing and overlaps Primary ethical concern: ACTOR CONSEQUENCES Virtue Ethics Consequentialism Focus: Character of the actor; virtues and vices; eudaimonia. Focus: Consequences of the action. Aristotle (ancient Greece) 384–322 BCE John Stuart Mill (Enlightenment era England) 1806–1873  Consequentialism as a form of virtue ethics?  It leads to good consequences to cultivate a good character!  Virtue ethics as a form of consequentialism?  Part of a good character is to pay attention to consequences (of actions and traits of character)!  Problems seem to arise when we myopically focus on one and neglect the other: only focusing on either the actor (character) or the consequences (of actions)
  • 24. Risks in reframing virtue ethics in consequentialist terms  Talk may drift back to mere “consequences” and “utility”; subtly forgetting the importance of ‘character’, ‘virtues’, ‘habits’, ‘eudaimonia’  Reasoning may drift back to solely “cost-benefit analyses” [slow thinking]; subtly forgetting the role of (cultivating) ‘practical wisdom’ [skillful, fast, habitually and experientially honed actions]  Reasoning to the right action vs. perceiving the right action  Seeing people as targets for virtues like compassion may drift back to seeing people merely as factors in an abstract equation of calculative reasoning  E.g., do you (or should you) visit a friend in a hospital because you care about them (via compassionate motivation), or because you performed a cost-benefit analysis about the act of visiting (overthinking)?  Also related to maintaining motivation: Mere cost-benefit thinking may not keep one motivated in the long run. Unlike systematically cultivating the virtue of compassion for fellow humans (and other sentient beings)
  • 25. Six virtues for EAs (Schubert & Caviola, 2023)  Tentatively suggested virtues that could be valued and cultivated among EAs, based on two rough criteria:  Importance: should be impactful (according to utilitarian standards)  Tractability: should be acquirable (psychologically realistic)
  • 26. Six virtues for EAs (Schubert & Caviola, 2023)  [1] Effectiveness-focus: Aim to choose the most effective actions  To combat psychological obstacles: status quo bias, salience bias, biased cause-attachments  [2] Truth-seeking: Aim to do careful thinking and extensive research to find the most effective options  To combat: cognitive biases, motivated reasoning, laziness, unwillingness  [3] Collaborativeness: Aim to work together to work more effectively (divide labour, share insights and advice)  To combat: feeling of compromising one’s own work, pride  [4] Determination: Aim to be determined in the execution of your plans  To combat: “intention-behavior gap”, weak executive function, akrasia (weakness of will)  [5] Moderate altruism: Aim not to share too much of your resources (money, time, etc.)  To combat: burnout, making EA unattractive for others  [6] Moral expansiveness: Aim for moral impartiality, making distant beneficiaries (spatially, temporally, biologically) part of your moral circle  To combat: narrow moral circle
  • 27. Six virtues for EAs (Schubert & Caviola, 2023)  In the process, it helps to:  Make virtues part of your identity (wanting to be virtuous is the first step!)  Have a supportive community of virtue – and these virtues in fact seem to be encouraged among EAs
  • 28. Some additional more general virtues for EAs In my experience, these are also virtues that are often seen among EAs (though, my sample may have a selection bias based on my interests at EAGx conferences)  Compassion towards other sentient beings (primary influence: Buddhism)  Considered open-mindedness in the face of new ideas (Scientific Skepticism)  Honesty to oneself and others when making evaluations (various influences)  Humility amidst the sea of information, knowledge claims, and justifications unexplored (Academic & Scientific Skepticism, Pyrrhonism)  Integrity in thinking and in endeavours deemed likely impactful (various influences)  Intellectual curiosity to hear new perspectives and viewpoints (or “scout mindset”, similar to truth-seeking; Aristotle, Julia Galef, various others)  Justice when dealing with others (Aristotle)  Kindness towards other sentient beings (various influences)  Temperance/Moderation in commitments, communication, and conduct (similarities to moderate altruism; most ancient Greek traditions)
  • 29. Why again?  Cultivating virtues and respective habits…  strengthens our will  improves our instinctive reactions  counteracts any negative consequences of unvirtuous character How again?  Epistemic virtues  Result from being taught, studying, practicing, experience  Moral virtues  Learned through emulation (of exemplars), practice, habituation, discipline  In time, they become a pleasurable habit
  • 30. A cosmopolitan future?  So, utilitarianism is not the only ethical game in town  And Effective Altruism is not bound by utilitarianism  But also: Aristotle’s virtue ethics is not the only game in the virtue ethics neighbourhood!  Comparative virtue ethics: Comparing different traditions  Fusion virtue ethics: Fusing or combining elements from different traditions  Cosmopolitan virtue ethics: Exploring, trying out, listening and speaking, comparing and contrasting, and mostly living at the intersection of different traditions → Virtue ethics nomad → A useful perspective for a global movement (like EA)
  • 31. Possibility space for morals  Moral ecology: a distinct moral culture and environment people grow up in  There are various systematized moral ecologies  All of the existing and possible moral ecologies constitute the possibility space for morals  Various differences between traditions outside of Aristotelianism, like:  Academic Skepticism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Cynicism, Daoism, Epicureanism, Pyrrhonism, Secular Humanism, Stoicism. . . [+ various more (mono-/poly)theistic traditions]
  • 32. Possibility space for morals  We can learn a lot from different traditions: → Different theories to ground/evaluate virtues → Different frameworks to work with virtues → Different methods to cultivate virtues → Different ways of being in the world → Different consequences for human relations! →Various forms of overlapping communities  Some examples on next slides…
  • 33. 1. Vision of eudaimonia 2. ~Moral virtues supporting eudaimonia 3. Methods to cultivate virtues & thus attain eudaimonia Aristotelianism Rational activity in accordance with virtue (that serves our telos; final cause or the highest, ultimate or final good of humans) The four cardinal virtues: Justice/fairness, temperance, courage/fortitude, practical wisdom / prudence (plus many others, with all moral virtues in reference to a situational ‘middle way’ aka “the golden mean”) Gathering practical wisdom (phronesis) & theoretical wisdom (sophia), training & habituation, moral education, following exemplars, just and educative organization of society
  • 34. 1. Vision of eudaimonia 2. ~Moral virtues supporting eudaimonia 3. Methods to cultivate virtues & thus attain eudaimonia Aristotelianism Rational activity in accordance with virtue (that serves our telos; final cause or the highest, ultimate or final good of humans) The four cardinal virtues: Justice/fairness, temperance, courage/fortitude, practical wisdom / prudence (plus many others, with all moral virtues in reference to a situational ‘middle way’ aka “the golden mean”) Gathering practical wisdom (phronesis) & theoretical wisdom (sophia), training & habituation, moral education, following exemplars, just and educative organization of society [Effective Altruism (EA)] “Doing good better” Effectiveness-focus, truth-seeking, collaborativeness, determination, moderate altruism, moral expansiveness (also habits of mind like humility, kindness, compassion, honesty, integrity…) Rationality, science, applied ethical thinking, practicing psychological self-awareness (and open-mindedness for methods to mitigate one’s biases, motivated reasoning, etc.), peer-support, making virtues part of your identity
  • 35. 1. Vision of eudaimonia 2. ~Moral virtues supporting eudaimonia 3. Methods to cultivate virtues & thus attain eudaimonia Aristotelianism Rational activity in accordance with virtue (that serves our telos; final cause or the highest, ultimate or final good of humans) The four cardinal virtues: Justice/fairness, temperance, courage/fortitude, practical wisdom / prudence (plus many others, with all moral virtues in reference to a situational ‘middle way’ aka “the golden mean”) Gathering practical wisdom (phronesis) & theoretical wisdom (sophia), training & habituation, moral education, following exemplars, just and educative organization of society Buddhism (naturalized) Mitigation (or eradication) of dukkha (~= unsatisfactoriness, incl. suffering); one might say ataraxia (~= tranquillity) as attained through a transformative enlightenment Esp. the four divine abodes (brahma-vihāras): compassion (karuṇā), loving-kindness (mettā), sympathetic joy (muditā), equanimity(-in-community) (upekkhā); also right resolve, right livelihood, right speech, right action Mindfulness, meditation, consciously ethical conduct; more broadly awareness of the Four Noble Truths and following the Noble Eightfold Path (naturalized) Confucianism Social harmony as attained by following social roles and obligations (perhaps also indirectly resulting in ~ataraxia) Centrally, the five constant virtues (wǔcháng, 五常) of a junzi: Benevolence (rén, 仁), righteousness (yì, 义), ritual propriety (lǐ, 礼), practical wisdom (zhì, 智), trustworthiness/fidelity (xìn, 信) Education/self-cultivation, following exemplars, reflective practice, ceremonial observance, filial piety (xiào, 孝) Daoism (Taoism) Following the Dao (~ aligning or living in accordance with the Way/Flow/Path) The three treasures: compassion (cí, 慈), frugality (jiǎn, 俭), humility (bù gǎn wéi tiān xià xiān, 不敢为天下先). Also others implicit in wu-wei (non-action/effortless action): e.g., simplicity/minimalism, spontaneity, balance, harmony, sensitivity (to the state of the flow) Observance of nature (to understand the natural flow and patterning one’s life accordingly), meditation (e.g., tai chi, qigong), philosophical contemplation (e.g., via Tao Te Ching), realizing the harmony in the dualistic contrast between things (yin-yang) [Effective Altruism (EA)] “Doing good better” Effectiveness-focus, truth-seeking, collaborativeness, determination, moderate altruism, moral expansiveness (also habits of mind like humility, kindness, compassion, honesty, integrity…) Rationality, science, applied ethical thinking, practicing psychological self-awareness (and open-mindedness for methods to mitigate one’s biases, motivated reasoning, etc.), peer-support, making virtues part of your identity Epicureanism Ataraxia as attained by moderate hedonism (avoidance of pain, particularly mental pain) The four cardinal virtues (developed as a byproduct of habits of mind like elimination of irrational fears, and appropriate control of one’s desires) Practicing the proper understanding of pleasure and pain Pyrrhonism Ataraxia as attained by eschewing dogmatism via epoché (= suspension of judgment) The four cardinal virtues (developed as a byproduct of habits of mind like empiricism; humility; and appearance- recognition, i.e. recognition of our perception as appearances) Right thinking (the Pyrrhonist logos), elimination of dogmatism, following the Pyrrhonist criteria of action; also helped by The Ten Modes of Aenisidemus, Five Modes of Agrippa, and various maxims [Secular humanism] ~ Rational, ethical, and just activity in the pursuit of knowledge, happiness, and ethical relationships, guided by a commitment to universal human rights and dignity Rationality, compassion and/or empathy, forward-looking responsibility, equality, respect for diversity Scientific skepticism, education, critical thinking, activism and volunteering; also helped by respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, A Secular Humanist Declaration, Humanist Manifesto III, Declaration of Modern Humanism, and/or, for example, the Seven Tenets of the Satanic Temple Stoicism Ataraxia as attained by living a life of virtue according to nature, that results in apatheia (= absence of unhealthy passions) The four cardinal virtues Journaling, Stoic meditations, reframing, practicing
  • 36. Buddhism Stoicism Simplified example: Anger and “self”/”soul” Anger encouraged Anger discouraged Self/soul exists No self/soul exists Aristotelianism (Utilitarianism) Confucianism Daoism Pyrrhonism (Marxism) [ChatGPT-4 suggestion] → Very different implications on how we see the world and virtuous/vicious conduct therein, and how we relate to ourselves and others
  • 37. Statistics  Among Effective Altruists (2019):  Among philosophers (2020):  Exclusive:  Virtue ethics 25.0%  Consequentialism 21.4%  Deontology 19.7%  Inclusive:  Virtue ethics 37.0%  Deontology 32.1%  Consequentialism 30.6%  Other 18.2%
  • 38. Statistics  Among Effective Altruists (2019):  Among philosophers (2009 vs. 2020):  Exclusive (2009 vs. 2020):  Virtue ethics 18.2% → 25.0%  Consequentialism 23.6% → 21.4%  Deontology 25.9% → 19.7%  Inclusive (only 2020):  Virtue ethics 37.0%  Deontology 32.1%  Consequentialism 30.6%  Other 18.2%
  • 39. Conclusion  Most EAs are currently consequentialists (utilitarians)  Yet, virtue ethics can help us “do good even better”!  Helps us to stay good and be good in character, while pursuing doing good (~virtuous utilitarians, or vice versa)  Strengthens our will, improves instinctual habits, counteracts negative consequences of unvirtuousness  Cosmopolitan virtue ethics can help us map the possibility space for morals  Helps us to think about what kind of character, virtues, and broader system of thinking we might want to cultivate  Offers many methods for cultivating virtues  Different things might work for different people, so it helps you to find out what might work for you (what kind of system of thinking, what kind of cultivation methods, what virtues)  Also brings us closer to deep questions of life, like ones about philosophy of personal identity (self/no-self), value of different emotions (anger/no-anger), moral responsibility (in what way/form justified), etc. – that utilitarianism has not thought about by default, even though what we answer (or don’t answer) to them can have important consequences!
  • 40.
  • 41. References:  On Aristotle’s virtue ethics:  Aristotle, ., & Reeve, C. D. C. (Ed.). (2014). Nicomachean ethics. Hackett Publishing Company.  Hursthouse, R., & Pettigrove, G. (2023). Virtue ethics. In E. N. Zalta & U. Nodelman (Eds.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2023 Edition. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2023/entries/ethics-virtue/  Kraut, R. (2022). Aristotle’s ethics. In E. N. Zalta & U. Nodelman (Eds.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2022 Edition. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2022/entries/aristotle-ethics/  Pakaluk, M. (2005). Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: An introduction. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511802041  Saylor.org Academy. (n.d./2010–2024). PHIL103: Moral and political philosophy: Virtue ethics [Course page]. Saylor.org. https://learn.saylor.org/mod/book/view.php?id=30521&chapterid=6466  On cosmopolitan virtue ethics:  Flanagan, O. (2011). The bodhisattva’s brain: Buddhism naturalized. MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/7414.001.0001  Flanagan, O. (2017). The geography of morals: Varieties of moral possibility. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190212155.001.0001  Pigliucci, M., Cleary, S. C., & Kaufman, D. A. (2020). How to live a good life: A guide to choosing your personal philosophy. Vintage Books.  My other public summaries of Aristotle’s and other forms of virtue ethics, so far:  Kangassalo, M. (2019). The epistemic condition for moral responsibility: An examination of the searchlight view, George Sher’s alternative, and a pragmatic view [Master’s thesis, Tampere University]. Trepo. http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:tuni-201908273031 (specifically see sect. 2.1, 6.6, also notes for sect. 2.1)  Kangassalo, M. (2021). How habits of media consumption relate to scientific literacy: A quantitative and qualitative analysis [Master’s thesis, Tampere University]. Trepo. http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:tuni-202109227211 (specifically see sect. 2.2.1)  Some other general sources referred to:  Bourget, D., & Chalmers, D. J. (2014). What do philosophers believe?. Philosophical Studies, 170(3), 465–500. https://philpapers.org/rec/BOUWDP  Bourget, D., & Chalmers, D. J. (2023). Philosophers on philosophy: The 2020 PhilPapers Survey. Philosophers’ Imprint, 23(1). https://philarchive.org/rec/BOUPOP-3  Kangassalo, M. (2023, September). General map of metaethics. Google Drive. https://drive.google.com/file/d/197Y63gmnT3v7bWAdbBdWYhvZ1p-FWcmN/view
  • 42.  ~Casual EA-related sources explored on the topic:  c.trout (2022, December 1). SBF’s comments on ethics are no surprise to virtue ethicists [Forum post]. Effective Altruism Forum. https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/FydrC9mQgh8YdNTQN/sbf-s-comments-on-ethics-are-no-surprise-to-virtue-ethicists  Gemma. M. (2023, December 27). When virtue ethics meets Effective Altruism [Blog post]. Folded Papers. Substack. https://foldedpapers.substack.com/p/when-virtue-ethics-meets-effective (see also a related Reddit thread at https://www.reddit.com/r/theschism/comments/18rwanz/when_virtue_ethics_meets_effective_altruism/ )  Panickssery, A. (2022, June 3). Just say no to utilitarianism [Blog post]. Arjun Panickssery. Substack. https://arjunpanickssery.substack.com/p/just-say-no-to-utilitarianism  Pontes, A. (2021, January 28). #5 Cultivating virtues is utilitarian [Audio podcast essay]. Ghostless Machine. YouTube. https://youtu.be/fj5p5WfoVzU (written version at https://medium.com/humanist-voices/cultivating-virtues-is-utilitarian-1b0714f769f1 )  ~Professional EA-related sources explored on the topic:  Berkey, B. (2021). The philosophical core of Effective Altruism. Journal of Social Philosophy, 52(1), 93–115. https://doi.org/10.1111/josp.12347  Dullaghan, N. (2019, December 5). EA Survey 2019: Community demographics & characteristics. Rethink Priorities. https://rethinkpriorities.org/publications/eas2019-community-demographics-characteristics  Harris, S. (Host), & MacAskill, W. (2024, April 1). Sam-Bankman-Fried & Effective Altruism: A conversation with Will MacAskill (Episode #361) [Audio podcast episode]. In Making Sense. YouTube. https://youtu.be/xvemCG8QIaM  Oakley, J. (2019, January 23). Justin Oakley – Virtue ethics and antimicrobial prescribing policy @ EAGxAustralia 2018 [Video of a conference presentation]. Effective Altruism Australia. https://youtu.be/V0DzD8mnJI8  Schubert, S. (2023, June 22). Virtues for Effective Altruists | Stefan Schubert | EAGxCambridge 2023 [Video of a conference presentation]. Centre for Effective Effective Altruism. YouTube. https://youtu.be/Q-mrT4Sb7GQ  Schubert, S., & Caviola, L. (2023). Virtues for real-world utilitarians. In H. Viciana, A. Gaitán, & F. Aguiar (Eds.), Experiments in Moral and Political Philosophy, Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003301424 (2022 draft of the Chapter retrieved from PsyArXiv Preprints at https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/w52zm )  Wiblin, R. (Host), & Harris, K. (2022, September 8). Andreas Mogensen on whether Effective Altruism is just for consequentialists [Audio podcast episode]. In The 80,000 Hours Podcast. 80,000 Hours. https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/andreas-mogensen-deontology-and- effective-altruism/ (especially between 01:08:15–01:13:15)  Some complementary perspectives I came across while preparing the presentation:  Chappell, R. Y. (2019). Overriding virtue. In H. Greaves & T. Pummer (Eds.), Effective Altruism: Philosophical Issues, Oxford University Press, pp. 218–226. https://philpapers.org/rec/CHAOV  EA Lifestyles, & Bill (2023, July 7). Effective Altruism and eastern ethics [Forum post]. Effective Altruism Forum. https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/HdzcvrDnKnkQ65MW2/effective-altruism-and-eastern-ethics References: