…social norms have to be evaluated on the basis of their outcomes, like everything else. And that might prompt people to think that they should break norms and rules fairly frequently. But we wanted to push against that…
Get this episode by subscribing to our podcast on the world’s most pressing problems and how to solve them: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app.
How honest should we be? How helpful? How friendly? If our society claims to value honesty, for instance, but in reality accepts an awful lot of lying – should we go along with those lax standards? Or, should we attempt to set a new norm for ourselves?
Dr Stefan Schubert, a researcher at the Social Behaviour and Ethics Lab at Oxford University, has been modelling this in the context of the effective altruism community. He thinks people trying to improve the world should hold themselves to very high standards of integrity, because their minor sins can impose major costs on the thousands of others who share their goals.
In addition, when a norm is uniquely important to our situation, we should be willing to question society and come up with something different and hopefully better.
But in other cases, we can be better off sticking with whatever our culture expects, both to save time, avoid making mistakes, and ensure others can predict our behaviour.
In this interview Stefan offers a range of views on the projects and culture that make up ‘effective altruism’ – including where it’s going right and where it’s going wrong.
Stefan did his PhD in formal epistemology, before moving on to a postdoc in political rationality at the London School of Economics, while working on advocacy projects to improve truthfulness among politicians. At the time the interview was recorded Stefan was a researcher at the Centre for Effective Altruism in Oxford.
We also discuss:
- Should we trust our own judgement more than others’?
- How hard is it to improve political discourse?
- What should we make of well-respected academics writing articles that seem to be completely misinformed?
- How is effective altruism (EA) changing? What might it be doing wrong?
- How has Stefan’s view of EA changed?
- Should EA get more involved in politics, or steer clear of it? Would it be a bad idea for a talented graduate to get involved in party politics?
- How much should we cooperate with those with whom we have disagreements?
- What good reasons are there to be inconsiderate?
- Should effective altruism potentially focused on a more narrow range of problems?