A free course on Effective Altruism, taught by Peter Singer

Coursera is offering a free course in “Effective Altruism“—taught by the famous (and controversial) philosopher Peter Singer—starts on January 22.  Here’s the summary:

About this course: Effective altruism is built on the simple but unsettling idea that living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good one can. In this course you will examine this idea’s philosophical underpinnings; meet remarkable people who have restructured their lives in accordance with it; and think about how effective altruism can be put into practice in your own life.

It’s supposed to involve 10-15 hours of videos and assignments, and lasts nine weeks. You can see the syllabus and enroll (click blue button) here.

The 49 reviews give it 4.5 stars out of 5.  I’d take it myself but I have lots of commitments now, but if I had a bit more time I’d sign up. Again, it’s free, and you can sign up via Facebook or simply giving your email and creating a password.

h/t: Winnie


  1. mikeyc
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Week 9 looks interesting;

    “What is the relationship between rationality, self-interest and ethics? How demanding is morality, and why exactly should be (sic) try to live an ethical life?”

    Why, indeed.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:12 am | Permalink

      Oh, just offhand–so the world as a whole is a better place to live in?

  2. C. Morano
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I would like to see a course to scientifically assert the notion that morality is doing the most you can. Outside of judeo Christian and other mystical sects, how is this considered a foundation or principle of morality? Science must prove we are born enslaved to serve others. Reciprocal altruism is an oxymoron. That’s cooperation not altruism. Altruism is literally selfish sacrifice of one’s greater values for lesser values. That’s Jesus not reason and rationality. Serving or saving others whom one highly values is not sacrifice.

    • alangrohe
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      *sniffs air*
      Smells like teen Objectivism

  3. Posted January 15, 2018 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    If anyone takes it, I would love to hear how (if in any way) he addresses Brian Leiter’s “fix the system” type of criticisms of EA.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted January 15, 2018 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Here‘s a series of essays in which Singer presents his case for EA and then responds to a number of criticisms of it.

      The critics raise some good points that Singer does not (in my view) convincingly refute. For instance he blithely asserts that effective altruists will back systemic change if it can be shown to be effective, but to me this is just another way of saying that EA is inherently biased toward easy-to-measure bandaid interventions.

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        This is actually related to a general problem (and I say this as a consequentialist myself) of consequentialistic ethics, in fact: over what time period should one look for relevant results? (I am not a deontologist because the alternative is worse!)

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          Apparently there’s a school of EA led by Nick Bostrom that thinks the answer is forever, and that our overriding ethical obligation is therefore to the quadrillions of humans or human-like entities that could potentially exist someday throughout the universe, against which the actual suffering of mere billions of real people today is negligible.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Is there gonna be any math on the final? 🙂

    I’ma sign up anyway.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      Really, Ken? I’d love to hear your take on the matter afterwards!

  5. Posted January 15, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the heads up.
    I have signed up!

  6. Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this. Ethics is an important component in my continuous professional development profile. Membership of my professional body is contingent on achieving a number of ethics points each year. This course fits the bill.

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